SVG Sit-Down: Microsoft’s Simon Crownshaw on How M&E Should Be Planning for a ‘Cloud-First’ Future

Its IBC 2022 booth showcased an end-to-end workflow in the cloud

Microsoft believes that media organizations are ready to pursue a cloud-first future and is looking help its customers navigate that journey in the coming years. With that in mind, its IBC booth in Amsterdam last month showcased how a live broadcast can run exclusively in the cloud from end to end.

Microsoft and several technology partners teamed up to produce live sports commentary on the convention floor to demonstrate how broadcasters can move content directly from the camera to the cloud and then to the customer. In addition, Microsoft showed how this content can be distributed immediately in multiple languages and how to use data to drive user engagement around that content.

SVG sat down with Simon Crownshaw, worldwide strategy director, media and entertainment, Microsoft, during the show to discuss the demos taking place at the booth, the company’s close partnership with the NBA (which resulted in the relaunch of the NBA App just after the show), why he believes the industry needs to adopt a cloud-first philosophy, and more.

Microsoft’s Simon Crownshaw: “You’re going to need the cloud to create [a more immersive experience]. The cloud is ready.”

What is Microsoft demonstrating here at the booth?
Our booth is based around bringing content all the way from the camera to the viewer. We have the same content running all the way through the booth: produced right off the camera, into the switcher, through the color correction and processing, all the way through distribution, and, lastly, the engagement piece. It’s a full end-to-end workflow in the cloud using the same content.

By doing that we are demonstrating that you can keep it all in the cloud and you don’t have to bring it down [on-premises] from one step to the next. And you can have that live experience and engagement that’s based around it, which is where we see the future.

This was an important chance for us to demonstrate Microsoft’s credibility, relevance, and the partners that we bring to the table. Everything is running natively on Azure; we are keeping that content fully in the cloud and doing it seamlessly without any issues. We’ve showed up at this IBC show differently than we ever have before: we are focused on the entire story from beginning to end.

How are you seeing the M&E market evolve today, and what role do you see the cloud playing in the future?
Whether we’re talking about linear, OTA, OTT, or whatever else it might be, everyone is expecting to experience content differently than we’ve ever done before. There are a lot of organizations in this space today who are still reluctant to think of going beyond their linear platform. But the global demand for content is not going to change; it’s only getting bigger and bigger. And in order to serve that surge in demand, you’re going to have to go to the cloud.

If you look at the MovieLabs 2030 Vision, which is now being applied more broadly — not just for studios but also for advertising and broadcast content — it’s heavily focused on the cloud. In this [technology roadmap], everything goes to the cloud first, has common ontology around data, and includes interoperability between ISVs to access the core benefits of the cloud. We know our partners want to get there but may be reluctant to leave behind some of the cash-cow models they have today.

But we’re coming up on do-or-die time because, at some point, someone is going to come along and do the same [task] much quicker in the cloud. I absolutely see that cloud-first [mentality] as the future. Everyone needs to be focused on always giving creative people the ability to choose exactly what they want to tell the story. And the cloud is how you do that.

You are also showcasing Microsoft partnership with the NBA here. Tell us a bit about how you two are working together.
We are extremely focused on our NBA partnership here [at IBC]. It’s a huge deal for us in terms of illustrating how we can truly bring Azure to life for the NBA. They are very excited about a lot of the native services that we offer around AI and ML, as well as some of the burst and rendering capabilities going on in the background [in Azure]. They are focused on offering more-personalized experiences for their fans, and we’re working closely with them to enable those experiences. We’re both very excited about the future. [Editor’s note: this interview was conducted before the announcement of the new NBA App.]

Where do you think we are in terms of the roadmap for fully virtualized, cloud-based live productions?
My honest answer is that I think we’re quickly accelerating but we have a very long way to go. It’s certainly easier for sports broadcasters to go that direction because of the nature of the one-off events, where you need to spin up and spin down. That gives the industry a logical direction moving forward when it comes to cloud and virtualization.

Is it viable yet for 24/7 broadcasting? I don’t think so. We’re not quite there in terms of the infrastructure. I do think that people are realizing that, in order to provide the types of experiences that the customers expect in the future, especially for sports, the cloud is where things are going to have to go. The access to GPUs, the processing capabilities, the overlaying of gamification, the advanced graphics engines, and things of that nature — you’re going to get that only from the cloud. In my mind, there’s no way you’re going get that from an on-prem infrastructure anymore.

Microsoft has emphasized its role in the 5G ecosystem as of late. How do you see 5G affecting sports production in the coming years?
From a Microsoft standpoint, I think the most important piece is how we are partnering with carriers and networks. The last mile is always the hardest, especially in sports. Our ability to bring in 5G into that equation is going to be critical. As we think about our Intelligent Cloud and the Intelligent Edge [platforms], we are focused on how we can bring those 5G carriers with us at every step of the way. We already have a huge presence with telcos, and we hope to grow that as we move forward. And we see more and more media organizations asking us how we can bring those 5G experiences to life in venues, on camera, and across the board.

Much of the concern from media organizations in relation to cloud is about security. How is Microsoft working to fortify its platforms to alleviate those concerns?
Microsoft is definitely becoming more relevant in the security conversation as we invest millions on security every year. It’s why you don’t see too many SaaS offerings around video content because people want to keep it in their own cloud. Content has to traverse many networks, so people are concerned about that content getting stolen. But, as more content goes to the cloud, I see people are getting more comfortable with the security around that content and the way it’s licensed.

You’re seeing them think about watermarking and embedding ISPs in the content and then using GPUs to calculate the [metrics] around that. A lot of those things are absolutely happening today and are only going to grow.

On a cultural and institutional level, how have you seen M&E conversations around the cloud change over the past few years?
I think you’re seeing the conversation shifting from a chief financial officer saying, “How is the cloud going to affect my budget,” to a chief marketing officer and content [leaders] saying, “We need the cloud today so we can tell better stories and reach people on a deeper level.”

There’s a reason organizations like Sky are doing things like Sky Glass: they want everyone to have a deeper and more immersive experience. That is how you engage fans. And, regardless of [whether] that’s too complicated or not desirable for the older generation, [broadcasters] want to [attract] that younger generation. And that’s what the younger generation is expecting.

You’re going to need the cloud to create those kinds of experiences. And that comes back to what we are showing in the booth: it can all be done in the cloud. The cloud is ready.

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