Microsoft booth at NAB

We had a great time in Las Vegas last week at NAB 2019, meeting with customers, partners, and others across the entertainment industry. Through four days and dozens of conversations, one thing became abundantly clear: digital transformation is crashing into the media and entertainment industry this year.

Studios and broadcasters are facing increasing pressure to innovate on how they deliver content and how to do it quickly, seamlessly, and cost effectively. At the same time, there’s a sense of urgency to not only protect their content, but also to get smarter about how to use it. These pressures are driving big changes as studios and broadcasters move more and more workflows to the cloud.

Our focus at NAB was to showcase how our platform cloud solution and ecosystem of partners help media and entertainment companies create, manage, distribute, and monetize content. If you’ve noticed that Microsoft has been especially busy in the space lately, you’re right. Over the past several months, we’ve seen a confluence of rising industry needs meeting with our technology capabilities across cloud and AI. The time is right, and Microsoft is making some big investments in this market.

All of that came together under one roof at NAB last week, and we began to see some big themes emerge that will shape the industry in the months to come. Here are my top three takeaways from our week in Las Vegas:

Live television will benefit from migration to the cloud

IP broadcasting (known as over-the-top, or OTT, in the industry) and regular broadcasting are converging into a single execution model that is increasingly reliant on the cloud. With cloud maturing and delivering the quality and near zero latency of traditional broadcast, OTT is becoming the “new TV broadcasting.”

That said, the race is on to also achieve live TV with the same capabilities as taped broadcast, which is especially critical for high-profile global events such as the Olympic Games, the World Cup or the Super Bowl. The industry is working on a range of solutions on the technical and business sides, many of which start and end in the cloud.

Microsoft’s announcements with companies like AvidHaivision and Harmonic are designed to facilitate this shift and help the growing broadcast services ecosystem move to the public cloud. These agreements are going to have a major impact on live programming, so we’re continuing to work with broadcasters, service providers, and others across the industry to make Azure the broadcast cloud for live events.

AI and cognitive services are becoming a key enabler

AI, machine learning, and cognitive services are driving an amazing transformation in the industry, and we saw several exciting demonstrations of this last week. These intelligent technologies are changing the game across content creation and monetization, and they’re becoming a critical enabler to address localization and privacy regulations as well.

Today’s global entertainment industry involves an emerging tapestry of regional and local privacy laws. Each country has different copyright laws, and companies are taking a hard look at how they can manage content globally while complying with these varied regulations. In this environment, machine learning and AI tools can ensure adherence to privacy regulations, royalties, and other laws no matter where content is downloaded or broadcast.

AI and machine learning are also playing a transformative role in helping studios manage content. Consider using AI and facial recognition to quickly find an actor in a particular scene across thousands of hours of footage. In this way, AI can drastically reduce the time and expense involved with post-production processes.

Legacy content presents yet another exciting application. Broadcasters across the globe have decades worth of movies, television shows, sporting events, and other classic assets. Using AI and cognitive services, they can assess that content, automatically tag everything, and make it all discoverable. This represents a huge new opportunity to monetize that content for commercials, documentaries, reference clips, and more.

At NAB last week, we were thrilled to learn that Microsoft’s AI solution for managing content in this way, Azure Video Indexer, part of our Azure Media Services solution, was a winner in NAB’s first Product of the Year Awards.

The industry needs a platform provider who doesn’t compete with media’s core businesses

As an industry, media companies are competing with highly funded, disruptive tech and digital native companies bringing their own content to market. Our approach is fundamentally different; we’re bringing Azure to the industry as the platform cloud—one that our customers and partners can use to create, manage, distribute and monetize content on top of. Never one that we will use to aggregate their data or create content of our own.

We heard time and again from the studios and broadcasters we met at NAB that this approach resonates. In the end we are empowering our customers to grow their business, not competing with them for content and eyeballs.

With innovations across AI, cloud storage, compute, CDN, Azure Media Services, and high-performance computing, Azure can help modernize media and entertainment workflows and transform the industry. Azure’s global scale and convenient storage tiers allow creators to store content at the right cost, close to where they need it. And it’s easier than ever to reach global audiences and gain new insights with Azure and Microsoft AI capabilities.

It was clear at NAB that the media and entertainment industry is one of the world’s premier centers for innovation. Through our partnerships, intelligent platforms, and products, we are continuing to invest so we can better enable media companies to move their business to the cloud, unlocking creativity and collaboration, bringing content to market faster, and engaging and monetizing key audiences.