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SOFTWARE-AS-A-SERVICE IS LOOKING GOOD IN

BROADCAST APPLICATIONS
Jim Martinolich
Chyron Corporation
Melville, New York

INTRODUCTION Before SaaS, all these issues were assumed to be the


natural cost of ownership and a necessary trade off
The Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) concept is for the benefits provided by the software. Software
spreading throughout the IT and professional services as a Service (SaaS) refers to a revolutionary new
industry. But does it have a place in the hardware- business model where the software application is
intensive world of broadcast television production? hosted by the vendor and provided as a service to the
This paper will describe how SaaS is being used to customer via the Internet. In most SaaS applications a
successfully create broadcast graphics at many web browser is used as a client so little or no setup or
facilities today and how it may herald the future of installation is required.
many broadcast applications. This paper will describe
first hand the experiences of one station that has SaaS applications are becoming more and more
successfully adopted SaaS into their news production common in every industry and in consumer
workflow. applications. The saas-showplace.com website, an
industry guide, lists 950 vendors of SaaS applications
WHAT IS SAAS? in 25 industries and that list is growing. Industry
polls show a high degree of satisfaction with SaaS
Like in any industry these days, software plays a products.
crucial role in broadcasting. In a traditional
commercial software model, a customer purchases Common examples of web provided services would
the software from a vendor, incurring a capital be Internet search tools such as Google, social
expense that they expect to amortize over a period of networking sites such as Facebook, or consumer
time, and install it on their own IT infrastructure. media sites such as iTunes and YouTube. All of
The customer is now responsible for maintaining the these would be impractical if not impossible to be
hardware, ensuring the security of the application and provided as desktop applications. A better example
data, making and archiving backups, installing of SaaS as the “disruptive technology” changing the
upgrades from the vendor as they become available. way we do things, is Google Docs which offers itself
When problems arise, the customer needs to contact as an alternative to traditional office suite
the vendor and try to debug the problem remotely or applications at no cost. Google Docs offers less
wait for service representative to visit. As the features than traditional office products, but offers
customer’s requirements grow, new hardware and/or benefits such as online access to your documents and
software upgrades are required. easy workgroup collaboration.

Fig 1 – Traditional vs. SaaS Software


The most common example of a successful SaaS simplifies the vendor’s job by eliminating the
professional SaaS application is the SalesForce need to distribute software and ensuring it is properly
Customer Relationship Manager (CRM). SalesForce installed on the client’s hardware. Updates are
has won numerous awards and their user base has installed immediately and there are never any
grown from 5,000 to 50,000 clients (including “versioning” problems. Customer service costs are
Chyron) since 2001 and is on an exponential growth kept to a minimum because service calls are not
path. First of all, Salesforce is a well designed needed. The vendor maintains physical control of the
application that provides real benefits to their software at all times.
customers. SaaS will not make a bad application
better. But the SaaS model proved to be a compelling The SaaS ‘community’ benefits from economies of
advantage for SalesForce in the CRM market, for scale and can afford to provide a much higher level
many of the reasons I will now describe. of redundancy and security in their infrastructure than
could the individual client at a given cost.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF SAAS?
In today’s mobile environment, there are
SaaS has many benefits for both the vendor and the collaboration benefits to a hosted SaaS application
client over traditional software models. SaaS saves offering centralized data storage with ubiquitous web
the client money because rather than having a large access. Before Chyron adopted the SalesForce CRM,
upfront fee like traditional purchased software, SaaS each salesperson had their own contact database
is usually sold on a subscription model. You “pay as which they would occasionally update. They didn’t
you go” with a monthly or yearly fee per seat or per always have access to their own database when they
service. That means better return on investment since were on the road. Customer Service and Sales had
the investment is small. SaaS applications are usually different contact info and there was little sharing of
very scalable and you pay for services as you need information between them. SalesForce unified all the
them. It is easy to add or remove users as your needs contact and customer information into a single
change so you don’t need to pay up front for your database that is remotely available to everyone,
eventual long term needs. whether they are in their office, at home or on the
road. It is instantly updated across the board. New
The client also benefits from not needing to purchase contact information can be entered once and
and maintain the IT hardware to run the application. everyone has it. For instance, a record of a service
You do not need to tie up engineering and IT issue is immediately available to the salesperson so
resources maintaining the software, backing up data, that they can follow up.
installing updates, or debugging problems when they
arise. Your staff can focus on producing good WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS ABOUT SAAS?
content and not maintaining their software tools.
Broadcasters are constantly adopting new
SaaS saves you time, because in many cases a SaaS technologies, and with every change the benefits
application can be up and running almost have to be weighed against the risks. What are the
immediately. You just log on. You do not need to risks associated with the SaaS solution? And, more
plan ahead to purchase and install hardware. You do importantly, how do they compare to the risks of
not need to wait for the vendor to come on-site to hosting the application yourself?
commission the system. Software updates and bug
resolutions can happen immediately and The most common concerns about SaaS solutions are
transparently, you don’t need to schedule times for availability and security. How do I know if the
the vendor to come and install updates. application will be available when I need it? Will it
be more or less available than if I host it myself and
With SaaS, the vendor is providing more than just the at what cost? As was described in the previous
software application and a hardware platform, they section, it is usually the case that the SaaS vendor’s
are providing a 24 by 7 service and are responsible infrastructure can take advantage of economies of
for ensuring that it works smoothly. This eliminates scale to build a more reliable and fault tolerant
finger pointing, misunderstanding and delays. The system then you could afford to have in-house. And
vendor is constantly on-site and monitoring usage for if there are problems in the application, the vendor’s
problems. They likely have numerous clients and are staff is available to diagnose and fix the problem
learning how to improve the product through a immediately, in many cases even before you know
variety of user experiences. you had a problem.
Many prospective SaaS users may think, “What if my peering points to guarantee a high speed connections
Internet connection goes down?” While that is a to anywhere on the Internet.
valid point, modern IT practices provide extremely
high levels of availability, redundancy and security. The SaaS vendor leases space and bandwidth at the
The Internet has become a “mission critical” colo facility and is responsible for providing the
component of almost every industry, and tremendous necessary computer hardware. It can range from a
resources are committed to keeping it working single server to one or more 19” racks. A typical
smoothly. Large scale Internet outages are so rare SaaS application requires at a minimum a web server
that they are international news when they occur. and a database server. Since there should be no
Localized outages can be managed by your service “single point of failure” both the web server and the
provider. No doubt you have been using the Internet database should have redundancy built in. A simple
in production for many years and have a proven track clustered server has an active online server and a hot
record with your local provider. Backup plans can backup. If the online server fails the cluster
and should be in place. A downed Internet management application switches the application
connection would affect much more than the one over to the hot backup.
SaaS application. Especially in news production, the
broadcaster is fully dependent on their Internet A SaaS application that wants to increase throughput
connection to get the information they need. will use a “load balancing” system to share the
workload among multiple redundant online servers.
How safe and secure is my data? Once again this is a Each web access is routed by the load balancer to the
valid concern, and a prospective SaaS customer next available server. Load balancing requires some
should ask the right questions and ensure that the method of persisting a user’s session information
vendor provides the necessary levels of safety and from one request to the next.
security; data backup procedures, redundancy in
hardware and power systems and geographic A SaaS vendor may also want to plan for geographic
redundancy. Is the application scalable in case there redundancy, a second hosting facility located far
is a sudden peak in usage? Will the data be available away from the first with a means to fail over or load
to me in a form that I can use outside of the hosted balance between the two. That ensures availability of
system? Compare all this to the level of safety and the application in case there is a catastrophic failure
security you can provide if you bring the application of the primary colo facility.
in house. Managed and backed up data storage has a
real cost, just ask your IT manager. The SaaS vendor Cloud computing refers to another new hosting
has the advantage of economy of scale lowering the technology that different than collocation centers. In
relative costs of this storage. The bottom line is that cloud computing, IT resources, computing hardware
the SaaS vendor’s job to provide availability and and storage, are a commodity similar to gas or
security along with the application. electricity provided by a service provider. Amazon
started offering spare resources from their vast
THE SAAS INFRASTRUCTURE stockpile of computers and today their Elastic
Compute Cloud (EC2) charges per hour for CPU
A SaaS application must be hosted on robust resources and per gigabyte to move data in and out of
infrastructure in order to provide the necessary the ‘cloud’. Google, Microsoft and less well known
availability, security and speed. A Data Center is companies provide cloud computing resources.
required that provides high availability of services;
reliable redundant equipment, power, cooling, fire The pros and cons of cloud computing are similar to
protection, physical security, managed storage and those of SaaS, but in cloud computing the IT
high Internet bandwidth. It also must provide around resources themselves are the product not the
the clock maintenance and support staff in case of application. And you can easily see that the
problems. availability of almost limitless cloud of on-demand
computing resources provided by some of the biggest
Maintaining a private data center is not cost effective names in the industry will encourage the growth of
for the typical SaaS application, instead they are SaaS applications of many kinds.
hosted on a shared data center called a “collocation
center” (or ‘colo’). The colo is operated by a third
party and provides the basic physical infrastructure
including extremely high speed links into Internet
A BROADCAST SAAS APPLICATION to AP and Reuters’ image libraries and can store a
station’s own images for easy reuse. And it is even
Not too long ago, television production equipment possible to use AXIS’s Order Management System to
was mostly custom ‘big iron’ hardware. When order and track special graphics you may need from
broadcast software applications running on PCs first your own art department or artists elsewhere on the
appeared it was felt they were too slow and network.
unreliable. But some of these applications had
compelling benefits and managed to work their way When the graphic assembly is complete, it is
in. Today if you walk through the equipment room downloaded from the AXIS servers using HTTP,
it’s hard to find a piece of equipment that isn’t a PC. FTP or email to whatever final destination you want.
The transition to SaaS applications is the next When used with Chyron’s CAMIO system, it can be
inevitable step. dropped into a news rundown and sent directly to the
playout hardware. But the output assets are hardware
AXIS is Chyron’s hosted online content creation independent and could be sent to any device.
system. It is an example of a broadcast solution that
truly benefits from being a SaaS application. AXIS AXIS benefits from being a SaaS web service
is web based tool for creating hardware independent because it can be accessed from anywhere on the
images and animations for a variety of television, Internet with just a browser which means more
web and print applications. It requires no special people can use it and from more places. It enables
hardware, technical setup or administration content creation from the field, telecommuting and
management. AXIS was designed for operational easy collaboration among different users.
and technical simplicity and low operational cost. It Centralized storage of all the assets means that they
was designed to be easy enough to be used by are easier to protect, back up and share. You create a
anyone, and yet still deliver compelling and relevant set of graphics for today’s top news stories once and
content. using them across multiple stations in your broadcast
group or network.
AXIS works using a variety of common news
templates and tools to populate them. The producer Having AXIS online also means that it is easily
logs in, selects a template and proceeds to assemble integrated into the various data sources, web based
the desired graphic or animation. Weather graphics map data, weather data, and stock quotes are
are automatically populated with online weather data. available to the application online. Only one
Quotes and charts are generated from real time connection needs to be maintained, and that one is
market information. Street level maps are generated maintained by the SaaS vendor. This reduces your
from web based mapping software. Full screens and maintenance and other overhead costs, increases your
OTSs are composited from a library of images using speed and efficiency in getting great graphics to air.
a unique and intuitive web interface. AXIS interfaces

Fig. 2 Building News Graphics with AXIS SaaS


A SAAS CASE STUDY KUSA obviously had high expectations and high
demands for their look, and so were very thorough in
Gannett Broadcasting recently centralized its their evaluation of what AXIS could do for them.
graphics production across 23 television stations Gannett in general worked very closely with Chyron,
using the benefits of SaaS at the core of that the SaaS vendor, to improve the product and ensure
endeavor. It is a great example of how SaaS can help that it was tailored to their needs.
broadcast production workflows change for the
better, creating better content while saving time and Training is an important part of any new product
money. It also shows how the transition can be fast introduction. KUSA wanted to make it a
and smooth. collaborative process. “We really felt like it should be
an entire newsroom effort”, said Lupenski. KUSA
established a broad-based training program to teach
reporters, anchors, assignment desk editors,
producers, and photographers how to use the system.
Lupenski adds, “Those of us who use it more
frequently are a little more efficient with it, but there
are now literally dozens of people in our newsroom
who can make a map, build a full screen graphic or
get a mug shot on the air in pretty short order.

“Initially there was skepticism by some about the


idea of having to rely on SaaS to generate graphics as
well as learning how to do their own. Our approach
to getting over that hurdle was a good one in that
getting more people to use the product helped to
Fig.3 - Web Interface for Graphics Assembly eliminate some of that fear. As everyone well knows,
there’s a lot of change going on in the industry as a
Tiffani Lupenski, Executive Producer at 9News, whole right now where a lot of us have to learn new
KUSA-TV, Denver, is part of the Gannett TV skills and do a whole lot more than we’ve ever had to
Stations group and talks about their experiences do before.”
adopting AXIS over the past four months. She
describes KUSA as a “very, very graphics intensive
station” and says that the reaction to the program was
different across the various Gannett stations.
According to Lupenski, “In short, stations that didn’t
have a lot of graphic capability loved it right away
because they instantly got so much more capability
than they ever had before. For those who are already
doing a lot of graphics, there’s more of a learning
curve to get up to speed, but once you get there you
can really begin to exploit its capabilities at a higher
level.”

How graphics intensive is KUSA? Lupenski said, “I


personally make 5-10 graphics per day using AXIS.
My 10 o’clock producer is extraordinarily graphics
Fig.4 - Online Image Database
focused and will probably use 10-15 alone, and that
doesn’t count our OTS’s for every story … anywhere KUSA is now in a position where although it has a
from 10-20 stories per newscast. Other graphics are group of artists that work on bigger and more
full screens, mugs, charts, maps. We particularly like complicated projects, it’s no longer necessary to have
the bar graph and pie chart functions, which we’re a full time graphic artist on staff.
having quite a bit of fun with right now. So, if you
add up all of the OTS’s, the banners and everything
else, you’re looking at around 25-35 AXIS graphics
per show, and we produce 10 hours of news per day.”
Lupenski added, “We’re seeing more and more ways And finally, when asked if there were any concerns
that we can make AXIS work for us. I think that about SaaS, primarily the common question of what
where people had trepidations about it, we’ve worked would happen if the Internet went down, Lupenski
really, really hard to train them, with a lot of follow replied, “Yes, in the very early stages of this
up, getting it into the hands of the directors as well, transition several people were worried about AXIS
and field reporters who are learning how to use it being a web-based program. Their concern was that
more and more. We’re now absolutely in a place we would lose all graphics capability if for some
reason the Internet went down. That fear went away
relatively quickly simply because it never has gone
down. And, we weighed the risk/benefit and felt if
we lost Internet capability -- our graphics would be
the least of our concerns.”

CONCLUSION

This paper described SaaS as a new technology that


has great promise. It was shown how the SaaS model
has many advantages over traditional software
applications and lower cost, and how many
applications across many industries and consumer
where we can’t do without it.” products are moving in that direction. A case study
of one such application was presented that described
Fig. 5 - AXIS Generated Map Graphic the real life advantages and cost savings of SaaS in
news graphics production.
In the past four months, a time where most new
products are still going through a commissioning and SaaS applications in broadcast production are still at
training phase, this flexibility and power has already a relatively early stage. I would expect that they will
helped improve their graphics look. In situations such grow to provide yet unexpected benefits, as
as morning shows and weekend morning shows “disruptive technologies” usually do. The question
where they didn’t have a graphic artist available, their then is not whether the broadcast industry should use
graphics were limited. According to Lupenski, “That SaaS, but for how long it can afford not to.
situation is now totally gone. We now have a lot
more graphic capabilities and people who are able to
use it.

“It hasn’t happened yet – but I’m really intrigued


about a scenario where a breaking news story
happens, maybe at the weekend while I’m sitting at
home, and I can make an AXIS graphic and get it on
air without ever having to go to the station.”