Imagine Communications is working closely with Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. (“SBG”) to streamline and customise the distribution of U.S. broadcasters’ children’s programming by centralising playout operations in the public cloud. The new implementation, which went live-to-air in mid-October 2017 and is among the first — if not the first — instance of a major broadcaster moving a critical operation to a fully virtualized public environment, enables SBG to realize a variety of cost and business advantages by leveraging the agility, scalability and elasticity of a cloud-native and geo-dispersed environment.
KidsClick, a three-hour block of age-appropriate children’s programming airing daily on a number of broadcast stations, is SBG’s newest entry into the program content arena. By centralising the playout and ad trafficking operations of KidsClick in a virtualized environment using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment, SBG is empowered to deliver programming and advertising that can be customized to the requirements of individual affiliates. This approach significantly increases efficiency, flexibility and speed to market, when compared to a traditional on-premises approach.
“The scalability and customisation capabilities that the public cloud approach offers is unlike anything we could do using a traditional, on-premises model,” said Del Parks, CTO, SBG. “And since we’re only delivering this programming for a few hours a day, the flexibility of originating in the public cloud is a far superior alternative to purchasing traditional equipment that would sit idle for many hours at a time. We also gain experience and confidence in this operating model that we can use for future cloud deployments.”
KidsClick operations are powered by Versio™ Platform, Imagine’s modular, software-only and cloud-native playout solution designed for fully virtualized environments, both private and public. In the KidsClick model, an instance of Versio, running a unique playlist and ad load, is assigned to each time zone. In the future, stations may customise programming and deploy targeted advertising to a specific broadcast area. This inherently scalable approach enables different versions of content and new affiliates to be added to the KidsClick distribution system almost instantaneously, simply by spinning up a new instance of Versio. Required resources are automatically allocated in the cloud, and then released when those resources are no longer needed.
In addition to near-limitless scalability and resource elasticity, SBG can take advantage of running an operating business model and Software as a Service (SaaS) pricing scheme, eliminating dependence on capital expenditures normally associated with traditional channel expansion or technology refreshes. Powered by Zenium™, Imagine’s pure microservices platform, Versio Platform is designed to be futureproof, incorporating new capabilities and features as they become available, as opposed to the forklift upgrades that a hardware-based solution often requires. The agility enabled by Versio Platform makes it possible for SBG to spin up new channels and playlists in a short span of time and without the need to purchase or provision new equipment.
The deployment also utilises Imagine’s SelenioFlex™ File, a file-based processing solution that is running in the public cloud. SelenioFlex File resources can be applied to any pre-produced KidsClick content requiring transcoding, format conversion, bit-rate adjustments, audio processing or any other modifications before being played out to affiliates.
SBG has centralised operations for KidsClick at its Las Vegas Network Operations Center (NOC). SBG operators keep tabs on feeds coming out of the public cloud using EPIC™ MV multiviewers from Imagine Communications. Also powered by Zenium, the UHD-ready EPIC MV enables SBG to monitor from its Las Vegas NOC the quality of program content as it is being distributed to the various SBG affiliates. Imagine worked with LTN Global Communications, which provided a managed and secure path from the public cloud to the individual stations, to assure the successful and timely delivery of content to the SBG affiliates.
“This broadcast industry first is an important positive first step showcasing the power of Versio Platform running in a public cloud environment used to streamline operations, speed to market and tap into the flexibility and reliability of a virtualized environment for the distribution of broadcast content,” said Tom Cotney, CEO of Imagine Communications, adding that the project took roughly six months from concept to deployment. “SBG is demonstrating that even the largest broadcasters and media companies in the world have the potential to thoroughly improve the performance and efficiency of their operations by moving them to virtualized, geo-dispersed environments.”
The microservices-based nature of Versio Platform and other Imagine solutions provides complete portability of operations, enabling media companies to select a deployment model that best supports their current pace of transition and comfort level with next-generation architectures.