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Ignacio Revuelto Rosello, Product Marketing Manager at Imagine Communications, talks here about cloud-based techniques broadcasters can use to better protect their own revenue.

Ignacio notes that, across the broadcast industry, organisations often refer to ‘business continuity’ or ‘disaster recovery’, but the real issue is revenue protection. “If you are a broadcaster and cannot transmit the commercials you’re contracted to transmit, you cannot invoice for them, and you’ve lost money,” he said.

“As a mid-market station, you might expect to bill around $10,000 for a single commercial break in general programming. Going off air for a break during a live weekend football match might cost $400k or more in lost advertising revenue. This is likely to be a seven-figure sum for a 30-second spot in a major sport event. Can you afford to risk that loss of income?”

Outages also affect brand value. While broadcasters work to ensure a premium experience for viewers, ultimately, going off-air negatively impacts the brand as well, with the potential to impact ratings and market share as audiences switch to more reliable competitor channels.

Threats from All Sides

According to Ignacio, threats to revenue can come from many sources, and new ones are discovered over time. Natural disasters, human error and now pandemics are all legitimate threats to the bottom line. A new and growing risk now comes in the form of cybercrime. Cybersecurity Ventures estimates that global cybercrime costs are set to reach $10.5 trillion a year by 2025. Cybercrooks attack any size business, large or small.

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Researcher Sophos says that the average ransomware attack costs the victim $1.85 million. And even if you pay the ransom, typically you typically see only two-thirds of your data restored.

Ignacio said, “Can your business sustain a seven-figure loss through cybercrime? Very few could. So, along with all the other threats to your business driving us towards increasingly decentralized, remote working architectures, protection against cybercrime must be at the top of the list. It is vital to build the tightest security into everything you do, and the cloud can play a pivotal and practical role in doing it.”

Letting Go of Hardware

Broadcast engineers have been brought up with on-premises, hardware devices. They know from experience and knowledge how to deploy and architect this hardware to achieve the reliability and control they want, when and where they engage with customers to deliver services. Because these legacy systems are isolated both physically and in terms of the network of equipment – servers, computers, other devices – they need to interact with, content security and control are easy to impose.

First of all, Ignacio feels it is important to understand that establishing business continuity in the cloud is an excellent way of achieving rigorous levels of security. With the right supplier, the cloud delivers the reliability, resilience and security that are required to protect revenue.

“Regarding playout, for example, for premium channels at least, broadcasters expect very high availability,” he said. “A channel that is off air is not making money. Engineers have always seen five nines – 99.999% up time – as a minimum requirement. That sounds like very high availability, but arithmetic tells us that 0.001% equates to about 5 ¼ minutes of dead air a year – potentially an entire lost break and more.

Imagine Comms Ignacio Revuelto Rosello

Ignacio Revuelto Rosello, Product Marketing Manager, Imagine Communications

The Business of Availability

“A cloud provider’s entire business model is to deliver computing services for its clients the instant they are needed. In broadcast terms this means unimagined availability – maybe nine nines, or a fraction of a second of downtime a year, assuming, of course, that you have designed a robust system. Furthermore, this high availability comes with value-add features. Routine maintenance, upgrades and replacements become someone else’s job, someone entirely focused on those tasks.”

The broadcaster never needs to check the SMART status of disk drives in servers, or clean the air conditioning, or manage load transfers to allow for software upgrades. A cloud provider has the resources to handle business continuity with geographically diverse server farms, each with multiple power feeds.

Just as broadcasters can access the cloud’s effectively infinite scalability to launch pop-up channels for special events, it can also be used to launch a disaster recovery channel. The channel remains cost-effectively dormant – not consuming resources – waiting to be initialized should a crisis arise.

“The cloud is also an ideal environment for remote working. Indeed, every connection is a remote connection, even if it is in your machine room, because the storage and processing are somewhere else,” said Ignacio. “Given a reasonable internet connection, your master control operator could be anywhere in the world and still have exactly the same capabilities, response and user experience as if they were on site. A channel controller can monitor and manage playout from home as easily as from the network operations center (NOC).

“This also applies to live channels. All playout requirements – including the unpredictable interventions associated with fitting commercial breaks into live sports programming – can be hosted in the cloud, with operators sitting wherever it’s convenient and safe.”

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Outsourcing Security

Just as it is the cloud provider’s business to ensure very high availability without intervention from the client, so too is security. While cyberattacks continue to become more frequent, no broadcaster wants to risk the downtime due to incursions and ransom demands leading to loss of revenue and brand reputation, let alone the direct and indirect costs of mitigating the attack and the potential loss of critical assets.

Mitigating these risks is now part of the broadening scope of broadcast business continuity and revenue protection. Ignacio said, “We used to think a disaster recovery system was there in case of fire or flood. Now we have to add to the list pandemics that keep staff at home, and cyberattacks that rob you of control of your own assets.

“Building your own data security team would mean recruiting and managing a whole new category of workforce. That is a business and financial overhead you do not need. However, data security services are part of the core offering of a cloud provider, and no business, in any sector, should trust their data and processing if they can’t be sure it’s completely secure.
“The major cloud providers have an advantage here – they can afford to put together the best possible team, and software security experts will want to work for them because that is where the challenges are.”

Staying Flexible

Ignacio advises that moving to the cloud requires investment and careful decision-making on the part of the broadcaster, noting that relying on the right technology partners will help. “But, provided you get your architecture right, the cloud will deliver processing power and storage that flexes to your demands, gives you unimagined reliability, and achieves impressive levels of data security. As we move to decentralized platforms and remote access, the cloud can comfortably supply the level of service the media industry expects.”