Here's a big question for the New Year: How do you deliver millions of pieces of content each day to millions, even billions of smartphones, tablets and computers at a time when such efforts produce only 3% or 4% of your revenue?
Answers to that question go a long way toward explaining the rapidly growing interest in building new broadcast infrastructures based on IP technologies and video.
“What has accelerated the interest in moving to IP is that a lot of large customers, broadcasters and the big MVPDs [multichannel video programming distributors] are trying to move to a platform that can support both traditional broadcast environments and some of these emerging over-the-top or TV Everywhere platforms with the same infrastructure,” says Steve Reynolds, CTO at Imagine Communications.
Such efforts are also part of a tectonic shift to infrastructures that use software to run less expensive equipment from the IT world, to perform tasks that were once handled by costly broadcast equipment, Reynolds and other says.
“There is an increased demand for more flexible and efficient infrastructures to adapt the changes and opportunities that exist in the market,” says Steve Owen, marketing director at Quantel, who adds that “the broadcast industry needs to piggyback on the huge IT industry and take advantage of the speed of development that goes on there and the R&D dollars that get spent there. We need to swallow our pride and make sure that we are completely aligned with mainstream IT if we want to realize…the flexible and extensible features of IP infrastructure.”
The Route to Routing
One notable area of product development is IP routing. Here, Evertz has announced that it would work with Sony to develop IP infrastructures; Quantel and Snell have launched an ambitious alliance with Cisco to provide IP routing; Imagine Communications is working with a number of major IT manufacturers of routing equipment as part of a larger push to build IP and cloud-based products; and others, such as Grass Valley and Pesa, have added IP capabilities to their routers to help customers make the transition.
A number of other vendors, such as Avid and Harmonic are also building cloud-based products that use IP infrastructures.
Owen at Quantel notes they are building the software systems to control the Cisco routers. “We have a control system today for SDI routers and we are expanding that so that the same control infrastructure can work with both SDI routers and IP routing systems,” he says. Trials are expected in the first quarter of 2015.
Imagine Communications is taking a similar path, developing software for broadcast infrastructures that can work with routers from major IT routing manufacturers. Reynolds explains that they have already announced they will work with Arista Networks on a project for Sky Italia and that “we are in discussions with the big players in the IP routing segment.”
At Grass Valley, the company’s senior VP of strategic marketing, Michael Cronk, notes that they’ve already rolled out IP gateway cards that plug into their existing Nvision routers. “It gives people a good transition,” he says.
But he also stresses that they will be bringing out a number of other IP-based products in 2015 at NAB. “We want to really deliver on the promise of IP and not just try to take existing broadcast product categories and put an IP spigot on them.”
Christopher Thomas, president and CTO of Pesa Switching Systems, adds that much of the “activity in IP routing has been led by big players in the market like Evertz,” but that they see “an opportunity as a smaller company in streaming technologies.”
As part of that effort they’ve launched Pesa XStream C22 compact streaming system, which won one of the Product Innovation Awards earlier this month from NewBay Media, which owns B&C.
Still, most believe the transition to IP routing will take time, with some saying the transition could take as long as 10 years. “We are still in the early days where you have to have big pocket books and be pretty brave to do IP now, but I think over the course of this next year that will change,” says Cronk.
MOVE FROM ASI TO IP KEYS BOOM
Many of the new IP-based products that are expected to be launched at this year’s NAB were made possible by technological developments honed over the last decade or more.
Tom Lattie, VP of product management at Harmonic, notes that a push eight or nine years ago by major multichannel video providers to migrate from ASI networks to IP networks helped create more reliable technologies for IP-based video. Since then, more recent improvements in “bandwidth and switch fabric” has made it possible to handle much more video at lower costs, he says. “So the IP infrastructure is better suited for broadcast workflows, both from a bandwidth and cost standpoint.”
Dana Ruzicka, VP of segment and product marketing at Avid, adds that the long-standing use of IP technologies in editing and newsroom systems has also highlighted the value of media asset management systems that will play an even more important role in the future.
“One of the most important things in an IT- or IP-based infrastructure is that you have an opportunity to use metadata in ways that weren’t possible in a tape-based world,” to streamline production and boost revenue, he says.