Stop right there. Don’t dismiss this blog because you create media content, not media products. The two have always been closely aligned and going forward will be even more tightly bound with consequences for how you work and the speed with which you can respond to the demands of your clients or media organizations for production services.
There is a dramatic change occurring below the surface of the tools used to switch video, mix audio, add graphics and communicate with production personnel, talent and guests. The seedbed for this change is the cloud where virtualized equivalents of the technologies and products used to produce, playout and distribute TV reside.
However, while significant, virtualization isn’t the prime mover for the change that’s occurring. That distinction belongs to a concept that’s rather new to the media landscape, namely microservices.
Microservices –A Little Background
The roots of microservices can be traced back to the 1970s and have been in play in the computing arena for some time. But over the last few years, microservices have begun to come into their own in the Media & Entertainment (M&E) industry.
A detailed history of microservices is well beyond the scope of this blog; however, there are a few informative articles online that can quickly bring you up to speed if you’re unfamiliar with their origin. (Some include: “The Long History of Microservices” by Jan Stenberg; “Microservices: What They Are and Why Use Them” by Laura Mauersberger; “Microservices – A Definition of This New Architectural Term” by James Lewis and Martin Fowler; and “Microservices Architecture – A Little History” by Oren Eini.)
If video is more your speed, check out: “What are microservices really all about? Microservices Basics Tutorial” on YouTube.
As is stated in one way or another in these sources, microservices are mini-applications. The concept behind microservices is that rather than having one gargantuan computer application perform all of the functions needed for a particular computing activity, such as word processing, multiple independent mini-applications that can run on different hardware perform the same overall role.
This architecture offers programmers and IT departments a variety of advantages, such easier deployments and scalability.
What This Means For The M&E Industry
These mini-applications, or microservices, can be deployed on multiple servers in the cloud and used as needed. What this means for M&E companies is that rather than having to buy standalone hardware and software to meet peak demand, instances of needed microservices can be spun up on additional cloud servers, talk to each other over the network and meet the demands of the busiest day of the year. When no longer needed, they can be spun back down.
From a financial point of view, this OpEx model, in which an M&E organization simply pays for what it uses rather than investing CapEx dollars to meet peak demand and having those resources sit idle the rest of the time, is quite attractive.
Beyond economics, however, virtualization leveraging a microservices architecture means vendors can be more agile and responsive in meeting the needs of their M&E industry customers, who in turn can better and more quickly meet the needs of their clients.
Rather than rewriting code and conducting all of the testing required to update and add new features to a monolithic application, vendors leveraging a microservices architecture can add new mini-applications from their library of existing microservices to create new products as needed. In the process, development time collapses to the days needed to build the best UI rather than the months or more needed to complete a new version of a monolithic application.
Microservices In The Real World
This is not simply a theoretical discussion. TVU Networks powered through the development of several important products last year and this based on a microservices architecture.
Consider TVU Partyline—a cloud-based solution launched in May 2020 that combines virtual presence and real-time communications. TVU Partyline went from concept to completion in about one and half months thanks in large part to TVU Networks’ existing library of microservices.
Developed to address the immediate needs of media companies to produce shows with production crews, talent and guests remotely located and socially distanced due to COVID-19, TVU Partyline has gone through several iterations to meet specific unfolding production requirements, such as bringing virtual fans into the stands on monitors and video walls for sports productions and delivering the real-time audio and video presence of hundreds of presenters, nominees and winners for awards shows.
Within the past couple of months, TVU Networks tapped into it microservices arsenal to bring to market TVU Remote Commentator, a solution that enables sports play-by-play and color commentators to call games live without being at venue where they are being played.
This cloud-based solution relies on a very task-specific interface to enable remote commentators to control their own volume and transport their video and speech back to the production center—whether it’s brick and mortar or virtual. At the same time, it leverages many existing TVU Networks microservices, such as those used to mix audio in TVU Producer and others used by TVU Partyline to enable real-time remote video and audio transport as well as return video.
There are also many examples of how TVU Networks is taking advantage of microservices to add critical capabilities, such as AI-based closed captioning and frame-by-frame metadata creation, to productions based on what’s needed. Whatever the differences are with respect to the specific microservices from use to use, however, the fundamental principle remains the same: Develop very task-specific front ends for different tools that tap into existing microservices on the backend to do the work that needs to get done.
Without question, microservices remain under the hood, not readily apparent to the producers who use these products. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t having a dramatic effect on how producers work and meet the needs of their clients. Going forward, they are sure to play an increasingly important role in these tools, helping producers to keep pace with the fast-evolving production market they must serve.