In the run-up to the IBC2014 confab in Amsterdam, running Sept. 11-16, the big question is not so much whether the TV industry is facing revolutionary change in the basic technologies it uses to deliver video into the home. That is increasingly taken as a given, as a growing number of major vendors tout technologies from the IT and IP worlds that rely heavily on software and cloud-based services. The talk will really be about where that revolution takes the industry, especially when it comes to better incorporating more efficient infrastructures.
Charlie Vogt, the CEO of Imagine Communications, notes that broadcasters traditionally relied on expensive, custom-built infrastructures that resembled “thousands of snowflakes,” each different from the next. But in a period of rapid technology change, this capital intensive approach doesn’t provide them with flexible, low-cost ways to quickly launch new services to compete with over-the-top players, who rely on extremely nimble technologies and IP architectures.
“I think broadcasters are going to have to move to a commoditized network architecture that is defined by IP and they are going to have to adopt software defined networks and workflows,” Vogt says. “If broadcasters do not aggressively move to the new architecture and workflows [that are already being used by over-the-top players], they are going to lose business to the new players who aren’t hampered by a legacy infrastructure.”
How fast this change will occur—and the best technology strategies for making the transition— remains an open question. “I don’t think you will see a cliff anytime soon where everything suddenly ends up in racks of Dell servers running in the Amazon cloud,” says David Ross, CEO of Ross Video. “It will evolve in that direction and there has been a lot of progress here already. Our Ross OverDrive [automation system] is a computer system; our Inception newsroom system is a computer system; graphics are done on computers; and so forth. But at the same time, when you need the very low latency of live production and if you are trying to get video in and out of a computer…it is not quite there yet.”
The Big Digital Upgrade
During IBC, Avid, Grass Valley, Harmonic, Imagine, Snell and a number of other vendors will be showing technology designed to radically upgrade basic TV infrastructures.
“The technology is shifting to a more ITbased environment at a time when the value chain is also changing,” explains Dana Ruzicka, VP of segment and product marketing at Avid.
Ruzicka argues that many companies are facing hefty costs as they struggle to bolt together products from multiple vendors to expand their content creation and distribution to multiple platforms.
“We want to address that pain-point with a common technology platform for everything from production to distribution and monetization,” as part of the company’s Avid Everywhere strategy, he says. “We are shipping a number of products over the last quarter to address that and you will see more product announcements at IBC.”
Grass Valley, Harmonic, Imagine and others will also be showing overarching software platforms at IBC designed to tie together their own products and those of other vendors.
Harmonic, for example, will be showing “a new software-defined, virtualizable video delivery platform that unifies all media processing functions into a single platform,” says Ian Trow, senior director, emerging technology and strategy at Harmonic. This platform uses the Harmonic VOS software-based architecture and the Electra XVM cloud-based media processor running on an IT-based infrastructure.
Mike Cronk, senior VP of marketing strategy at Grass Valley adds that interest in overarching platforms for handling complex content creation and distribution efforts has boosted demand for their Stratus media workflow platform. Recent improvements to Stratus include new capabilities for streamlining workflows for over-thetop delivery.
Cronk also says that technologies for deploying IP-based infrastructures are improving. “The rollout will take some time but the fundamental building blocks are there,” he says.
The growing interest in IP and IT infrastructures from the digital world also means that a number of tech companies that traditionally focused on video streaming and over-the-top video are now looking for ways to supply technologies to handle OTT and more traditional broadcast video.
“I think we are coming to the end of the era of traditional television broadcast infrastructure,” says Jonathan Wilner, VP Product at Ooyala, which was recently acquired by Telstra as part of the Australian telco’s push to develop a complete cloud-based platform for delivering personalized video.
“Customers are reacting very well to the idea of having OTT technology as their core broadcast platform,” Wilner says.
Much of this is still in its early stages, stresses Gavin Mann, Accenture’s global broadcast industry lead. “But there is a real need for broadcasters to create very efficient and agile operations that can move [with the speed] of the Facebooks of the world to quickly launch and scale new services. That means quite a different setup and underlying platform architecture.”
Engineering for Complexity
To handle that transition, vendors are increasingly offering hybrid technologies capable of handling both IP and baseband video. Rob Rowe, the managing director of Live TV at Snell notes that they have an alliance with Cisco to develop IP equipment and that they will be offering production switchers with IP interfaces by the end of the year, with larger deployments in later 2015 and ’16. “We really think IP-based production is the future but SDI and IP will live together for quite a while,” says Rowe.
The growing importance of digital delivery over IP networks is causing a number of players to think about ways to develop unified infrastructure for their traditional TV and digital operations.
“Broadcasters can’t think about digital and online as just an initiative, but as core to their business,” argues Anil Jain, senior VP and general manager for media at Brightcove, which will be showing flexible cloud-based solutions for handling video at IBC. “That has a lot of implications in terms of technology and advertising deals and a lot of challenges.”
Those challenges, according to Kurt Michel, director of media product marketing at Akamai Technologies, include growing usage, which is putting pressure on networks at a time when consumers are demanding higher quality, and the complexity of handling all the different formats and devices.
Akamai data indicates that the total number of unique device addresses or IP addresses accessing the Akamai network grew from 488 million in the first quarter of 2010 to 795 million in the first quarter of 2014, and that the traffic of the 2014 World Cup was eight times higher than the 2010 matches.
Faced with a proliferation of new devices and formats, Paul Turner, Telestream VP of enterprise product management, says “broadcasters are struggling to figure out how to make their content available in an economically viable way on multiple platforms.”
That has boosted demand for cloud-based technologies. “Station groups are increasingly moving some processing to the cloud,” adds Mike Callahan, senior director of product marketing for Elemental Technologies, which supplies software-based encoding to a number of major companies including the BBC, HBO and Comcast.
While some vendors are touting revolutionary changes to broadcast infrastructures, traditional broadcast equipment companies will be showing a wide range of innovative new technologies, much of which is designed to help make operations more efficient.
“Everyone is worried about the fragmentation of audiences,” which limits revenue from individual platforms and make it increasingly important to streamline operations, says David Ross, who adds that his company will be showing improvements in its production switchers, automation software, newsroom systems and other products at IBC.
Advances in live production technologies will be particularly welcome given the importance of sports and local news.
“The value of content delivered to people instantly is getting more and more important for broadcasters,” says Nicolas Bourdon, senior VP of marketing at EVS, which will be showing a number of improvements in its servers and replay systems for covering live sports.
Adds Bourdon, “Our customers are paying a huge amount of money to have access to content,” which is pushing EVS to find way to produce content more efficiently, while distributing it more widely and adding features that will attract new audiences.
“If you look at sports production, only 10% of the content that is on video servers is effectively used, so we want to help broadcasters better exploit that content.”
One example of that push is their C-Cast connected content platform, which was used in the second-screen offering during the FIFA World Cup by 40 rights holders around the world.
More efficient systems for producing sports are increasingly important for local stations as well. Ross notes that local broadcasters such as Sinclair in the U.S. are looking to find inexpensive ways of producing sports and other local content to differentiate themselves.
To capitalize on that demand, Ross launched its Open Truck initiative at NAB that offers broadcasters a relatively low-cost mobile unit with highly streamlined workflows. At IBC it will be showing a European version.
Technologies for streamlining operations will also be a major focus for a number of other vendors such as Dalet. “Sexy topics like 4K will get a lot of discussion at IBC but the biggest issue for broadcasters continues to be finding ways to do more with the same or fewer resources,” says Ben Davenport, director of marketing, Dalet.
During the market it will be showing its (AT)3 offering, a set of tools that allows media facilities to select the best mechanism for content processing. New tools include an Advanced Adaptive Temporal Transform Toolbox for converting to different frame rates.
Davenport says that Dalet has also been working to help companies reduce costs by helping them move to software and cloud-based architectures running lower-cost IT equipment.
The use of equipment from the IT world, he adds, makes “the migration to the cloud much simpler from a tech point of view. It helps simplify workflows and make it scalable” so that new services can be quickly expanded or launched.”
Such solutions require robust systems for managing metadata and media assets. “Metadata becomes crucial because of the need to deliver to all platforms,” he says.
Betting on Metadata
In recent years, however, entering the metadata and then preserving it as it flows through the system has posed a number of problems for many programmers, Davenport says. That has prompted Dalet and a number of other vendors to develop systems to automate the input of metadata and then to ensure it remains attached to the content.
To help automate the ingest of metadata around sports, Bourdon notes that EVS has added tools to automatically bring in stats from outside companies, and that the company is exploring ways to use media feeds to help tag and log information for clips. “They can provide I.D.s that can be used for metadata and help users pick the most important images,” he says.
Rich Cusick, general manager of video at Gracenote adds that the recent merger of Tribune Media Services and Gracenote was predicated on the idea of improving the metadata for entertainment, film, TV and music to their clients at IBC. “We now have a full integrated operation with one brand and a common technology and sales force,” he says.
Looking forward, they will continue to expand their international reach, with TV listings now available in over 50 countries, and plan to ramp up their existing second-screen efforts, he says.
With more content flowing to more places, a number of tech companies will be showing systems for improved security. Richard Frankland, VP of Americas at Irdeto says that, “we are seeing increased concern around security as multiscreen offerings have evolved.”
But he also stresses that operators are now changing the focus of their security efforts. “There is a shift away from focusing on just the content to thinking about what they have to do to protect the whole home so that all devices are protected,” Frankland says.
This is particularly important as operators roll out larger systems that control everything from programming the DVR to managing temperatures and security inside the home.
Major providers of graphics systems will be showing a number of improvements that are also designed to streamline workflows, speed up the delivery of content to multiple platforms and improve the quality of broadcast feeds.
“Customers are always looking for better, easier ways to produce shows,” with higher production values while living within the constraints of smaller budgets, explains Tom Shelburne, director of special projects, Vizrt.
To help with that Vizrt will be launching a social media tool that makes it easier for journalists to add social media content. “The idea is to make social media be part of the overall workflow so journalists can edit video and graphics and moderate social media in the same system.”
Vizrt also released an IP-based Viz Engine at NAB and will be releasing a new version of the Viz Engine that will greatly simplify the creation of content for multiple platforms. “All the products are on a common API so they all work together—graphics, media asset management, automation, etc.—for a unified, simplified workflow,” Shelburne says.
Streamlined workflows are also a major focus for ChryonHego, says the company’s CMO, Jesper Gawell. “Budgets aren’t getting bigger,” he says. “Everyone’s biggest concern is creating more content faster and more efficiently.”
Given the importance of improving content quality, experts expect 4K will be on the list of big topics at IBC. “We are not having many discussions about regular 4K broadcasts,” Gawell says. But he adds that there is a lot of interest in 4K graphics that can be delivered to displays in studios.
“We are in multiple discussions about working in 4K for sports analysis, displays, video walls and telestration,” he says.
Gawell also notes that they will be showing systems using templates that can speed up the creation of graphics for multiple platforms, adding that they will be showing improvements in the data they can incorporate into graphics.
They have already rolled out player tracking systems, which provide extensive information about what players are doing during a game in many European soccer venues. They have also installed the system in four Major League Baseball stadiums and Fox Sports is using their live tracking system for NFL production.
In the future, such data-driving graphics may get wider usage in second-screen offerings. “That will add an interactive layer to all the data that fans love so much,” he says.
With the ongoing importance of live TV, there is also growing demand for transmitters, both from developing countries that are now making the transition to digital and markets such as the U.S., where broadcasters are looking for more efficient, energy-saving technologies to replace old transmitters, says Rich Redmond, chief product officer, GatesAir
Recently, GatesAir delivered the world’s highest-power digital solid-state transmitter to a major market TV station in the U.S. The company’s Maxiva ULXT transmitter will help the station save significant amounts of money on energy costs.
In addition, the compact design of the new models has helped reduced upfront costs for solid-state transmitters, which increases the speed for return on investment. “There is clearly an uptick in interest,” Redmond says. “If you go back 12 months, the number of people who were looking to replace transmitters was pretty slim, but since the introduction of these new products, a number of major broadcasters have acquired them or made commitments.”
TECH TRENDS: THE ONES TO WATCH AT IBC
ENGINEERING FOR OTT: Broadcasters looking to deliver more content over the Internet are exploring the use of IP technologies from the digital world, a trend that will make IP routers, cloud-based encoding and advanced advertising systems hot topics at the convention.
FOCUS ON LIVE TV: With live TV continuing to produce hefty ratings, a host of technologies will be on display at IBC meant to streamline the process of delivering live video and to improve its quality with better graphics, interactivity and second-screen solutions.
EQUIPMENT COLLAPSE: Broadcasters are always on the prowl for ways to cut costs, and vendors are increasingly offering devices that incorporate more functions in one box, or ones that use software running on inexpensive IT servers to replace expensive purpose-built broadcast equipment. That will make channel-in-a box technologies, virtual sets, automation and workflow software much-discussed topics.
CLOUDS EVERYWHERE: As broadcasters consolidate operations into larger station groups while exploring ways to quickly launch new services, cloud-based technologies for launching new channels, supplying graphics or delivering content to multiple platforms will be widely shown at IBC.