Imagine, Microsoft unveil cloud-based workflow and encoding solution

Imagine Communications and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) are previewing their planned workflow and encoding solution, a collaborative effort that will run on the Azure cloud-based platform. The companies say that online video providers will have greater flexibility in developing customized workflows to encode and distribute their content to a variety of viewing devices.

The Azure Media Encoder Premium service, which incorporates Imagine's Zenium software-defined workflow management product with Microsoft's Azure platform, is slated to launch ahead of the National Association of Broadcasters trade show in Las Vegas, which takes place in mid-April.

Imagine and Microsoft announced plans to develop a collaborative solution last year during IBC 2014.

The collaboration addresses two pain points in digital video encoding: outsourcing of encoding to third parties and the added cost and lack of control that entails; and distribution of video content. According to Brick Eksten, VP of product strategy for networking & distribution, a combined Imagine-Microsoft solution simplifies the process while giving content owners and distributors more control over the process.

"Unlike most of our product portfolio at Imagine, the file-based workflows--transcoding, transmuxing and delivering--those things are much harder to predict," Eksten told FierceOnlineVideo. "And so you find yourself, especially as you get closer and closer to the edge, not only is the workload harder to predict, it's very complicated and it becomes more intrinsic and tied to your delivery architecture."

Customers can design, deploy and manage workflows themselves through a programmable Web interface, without having to bring additional equipment on-premise. "What the Microsoft encoder allows them to do is to take a workflow that was designed for on-premise and allow them to run it as a service," he said.

The value proposition, Eksten said, is that it makes the encoding and distribution process easier and provides a cost savings, particularly for its target clients, which include MVPDs and content owners and licensors. "It's scalable, it's easily distributable, you can incorporate things like large-scale delivery just by calling a simple service. It vastly simplifies how you're going to manage your operation," he said.

With online video now surging in the mobile marketplace, encoding for the tens of thousands of consumer electronics devices out there is an increasingly tricky process. Eksten said that the Azure Media Encoder "has no limits in terms of 4K or mobile."

One use case for the Azure Media Encoder Premium service is converting an existing library of content from one format--say, film or primary HD--to another format like 4K, or a different device standard. "Typically you'd call somebody up because you've just never built for that" with an in-house solution, Eksten said. "And they (a third party) come take all your files, punch through them and get them back to you. Again, they're gonna run it and do it their way. Often times, content owners are looking for more control."

As more companies look to bring their digital video operation on-premise, Imagine and Microsoft are looking to provide an off-premise solution that still gives customers the control they want with streaming video.

For more:
- see the release

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