At NAB, execs from Amazon, Netflix, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros. shared their insights into how virtualized workflows in the cloud are helping them meet international demand

Nadine Krefetz
May 3, 2017

As video distribution goes increasingly global, the biggest names in video are turnign to virtualized infrastructure in the cloud to meet viewer demands and increase efficiencies. In a panel called "Lessons from the Front Lines" at NAB last week, executives from Amazon, Netflix, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros discussed migrating their workflow to the cloud to meet the huge demand for content across the globe.

Delivering Worldwide

Both Netflix and Amazon disbribute content internationally, with Netflix in 190 countries and 30 languages, according to Chris Fetner, director, global media engineering and partnerships for Netflix. "The expectations are that (content is) going to release around the world at the same time," said Aaron Lovell, head of post production for Amazon Studios. "Everything we do is global, in a sense, and one single eight-episode series of a show is 64,000 lines of avails that we're managing, at least for Amazon Video." An avail provides details about the content and business rules for a piece of media, including information about the file like resolution type, length, metadata, as well as distribution information like licenses, location availability windows, languages, etc.

"A couple of the studios (last year) shared aggregate data," said Thomas Stilling, vice president, global enterprise operations for 20th Century Fox. "We realized that in a two-week period, four of the studios were sending out 500,000 avails that had very lengthy requirements." Multiply that by the other 50 weeks of the year and the math totally favors the cloud.

Standardless Wild West

The rapid increase in global delivery of video and associated data was a wake-up call for stakeholders to standardized workflows. "The volume went from small to immense in a couple of years supporting the content everywhere phonenomum from mobile to connected TV files and everything in between," said Stilling.

Amazon launched streaming services in 200 countries at the same time and the need for standards becomes crystal clear. "Across small (and) large partners, everyone was doing things differently and so you have this real challenge to ramp up and scale," said Lovell. As a result, organiztions like the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) is working towards creating schemas or a frameworks for the industry to follow.

Experiment, Fail, Move On

"The cloud allows you to fail fast and then move on," said Fetner, without the risk of investing in the wrong hardware, which costs thousands or even millions and becomes the "hardware that keeps giving" (and not in a good way) while it slowly depreciates. "The cloud doesn't have that liability," said Fetner.

Netflix has been using Amazon Web Services (AWS) for five years. "AWS has some very great packages where you can literally put a credit card on file and spin up a pretty elaborate service. There's so many great open-source tools that are also available. People can, with a very low financial barrier of entry, can get into cloud and get involved in highly elastic, highly complex workloads that leverage AWS."

New Licensing Terms

"I've seen a lot of good solutions. They're all cloud-based, they're all great, but then I'm kind of struck with a little bit of anxiety, 'Is this the right one? Is this one going to work?'," said Lovell. The previous enterprise licensing model of locking customers into a long-term commitment doesn't work for the cloud test-and-learn mentality of trying things out and not being locked in if something doesn't work. "Now we have to become really savvy about how we negotiate licenses," said Lovell. "The ones that want me to license it for a year aren't the ones that are going to work, because I need to experiment."

Planning for Day One

Even though the workflows may be moving to the cloud, the planning process needs to address the same issues that are involved with on-prem workflows. "It does take a lot of planning. You have to keep in mind that you're just doing it in a different place, but a lot of the stuff you still have to think about should be familiar, like the security side of things, like performance, like latency," said Callum Hughes, senior solutions architect for Amazon Studios. "Testing is a huge thing when you bring something into AWS or the cloud in general."

Not just testing, but testing at scale is important, because what tests fine at 2 gigs may not at 200 gigs. "You've got to work with the content that you actually are working with. Days of doing, 'Oh, well, we made this five-minute chunk work so it must all work,' those days are gone," said Lovell.

Multi Cloud Environments

"This notion of cloud peering has been around for a while. People like Amazon and Netflix pioneered it, but we're seeing it even with people like Abbott putting their platform on Azure," said Brian Lillie, chief customer officer and EVP technology services at Equinix. The order of magnitude of file sizes is pushing companies to rethink how things are done. Some of the M & E vertical, is a little behind the times in terms of the aggregation of supply chain partners, said Lillie, but they are seeing the potential. "(I'm getting requests like) 'We want to leave our data at rest, and we want to use post production tool sets from Amazon, render from Google, and Abbott for workflow'."

What's on the wish list? Eliminating file duplication and security. "When we start to figure out how we can actually do processes all the way up the supply chain, like (using) color correction tools," said Lovell. "Where our data can live in one location without actually being moved back and forth to post facilities."

Thousands of Engineers at No Cost

One of the bigger challenges that's being faced is dealing with the content flow of all these different solutions that have to be tied together, said Lovell. "Security engineers are going to have a fun time trying to figure out how that actually all works."

"We're a big studio, but I don't have a budget to pay a thousand security engineers that Amazon has on staff to manage the security of the platform," said David Sugg, executive director, technical solutions architecture and digital media engineering for Warner Bros. "They're better at it than we are and are more impacted by a security breach of my content than I will ever be because the cost to business for them is so much higher."

"It's really easy to have the most secure cloud in the world," said Sugg. "(But) you can't put bad code out and expect it to be magically secure. The cloud can be as useful, or as good, or as terrible and terrifying as you make it."