TV tech executives flocking to Amsterdam from Sept. 10–15 for the IBC2015 exhibition and show will be greeted by a raft of cloud-based products and others designed to help with the transition to IP infrastructure.
“Eighteen months ago, people were barely talking about IP,” said Brick Eksten, VP of product strategy, networking and distribution at Imagine Communications. “Since then we’ve seen a major change embracing IP, COTS [commercial off-the-shelf IT technologies] and virtualization [using software and equipment in the cloud]. We’ve gone from two or three proof of concepts in that time to 90 active proof of concepts.”
“Adopting IP technologies was something that many people have wanted to do for a long time, but were hampered by the fact that the technology didn’t exist,” added Deon LeCointe, product manager at Sony. “But if you jump forward to 2015, the technology has really caught up to the point where you can achieve the kind of high quality and low latency broadcasters had with SDI and combine that with the ability of an IP system to easily expand to handle 4K and beyond.”
The burgeoning interest and ongoing technical advances will produce a host of demonstrations at IBC this year of IP and cloud technologies. Those include a scaled-down version of what the European Broadcast Union and the Belgian public broadcasters VRT have billed as the world’s first live IP-based studio, with technology from a variety of vendors that is being tested by VRT production crews.
“It allows us to see what is possible and what is not possible and what is working and what is not working,” added Karel De Bondt, Project Manager at VRT.
Meanwhile, a number of other vendors, including EVS, Imagine Communications, Sony, Grass Valley, and Ross Video will also be demonstrating how their products can work with other vendors of products for IP-based video delivery. Many analysts are arguing that the transition to IP infrastructures and cloud-based systems marks a major shift in broadcast technologies. “We are still in the early days, but it is a revolution, not an evolution,” said Gavin Mann, managing director, global broadcast industry lead at Accenture.
‘TECTONIC’ TECH SHIFT
Much of the interest revolves around the potential that IP- and cloud-based infrastructures have in greatly improving broadcast operations, reducing the cost of production and making them more adaptable to new business opportunities.
“Companies that are ahead of the game with video over IP will have better margins [lower costs] and higher revenue,” said John Pallett, director of product management at Telestream. He noted that the technologies could provide savings on transmission and help automate workflows while creating new revenue from IP-based video channels, advanced advertising systems, social media and new channels.
Most of the current interest is around hybrid systems that use both IP and more traditional SDI video, but demand is clearly increasing in newer facilities. “We are seeing more deployments in new facilities,” noted Isaac Hersly, president of Vizrt Americas, which has been adding IP capabilities to its products and has been involved in a number of IP-based deployments. “For new facilities, everyone is looking at it and weighing the costs and advantages.”
Opportunities to reduce costs and capital spending are also driving demand for cloud-based systems, added Baskar Subramanian, cofounder of Amagi. “The business dynamics of the broadcast industry have changed rapidly, and that has led to a change in how they are adopting technologies,” he said. “In the next 18 to 24 months, we expect to see a whole tectonic shift in how broadcasters are adopting cloud-based technologies.”
“There is a growing realization that as the business changes, the cost of business has to change,” added Tom Lattie, VP of market development at Harmonic. “They have to be more agile and cost efficient, and they see cloud and virtualization as a way to address those problems and expand multiplatform delivery.”
COST FORECAST: CLOUDY
Though prices for cloud-based services from providers including Amazon, Google and Microsoft have leveled off this year, prices saw major declines in 2014 and economies of scale are likely to produce additional declines. “Once you go from 1,000 servers to 50,000 servers, operational costs can drop by as much as seven times,” noted Jim Duval, director of enterprise product strategy at Telestream.
The pressure to more efficiently deliver content to multiple platforms is also playing a major role, said Chris Knowlton, VP and video streaming evangelist for Wowza Media Systems, which will be showing improvements to its Wowza Streaming Cloud managed service at IBC. “Using the cloud allows broadcasters to spin up serves to big events like the Olympics and to accelerate their TV Everywhere and over-the-top offerings,” Knowlton explained.
While the move to IP and cloud technologies are separate trends, they are closely related and are part of a larger trend in the industry toward software-based systems and IT hardware, said Mark Hilton, VP of infrastructure products, Grass Valley, which is supplying some technology for the IP studio at VRT and has been expanding its IP product range.
“We see a transition to dedicated appliances in traditional infrastructures to new ways of doing things using software on standard servers in the cloud, and we believe IP is highly related to that,” he said. “IP is a necessary first step toward true cloud-based solutions.”
Jonathan Hodson-Walker, managing partner at the investment bank Silverwood Partners, added that IP and cloud-based technologies are deeply involved in many of the hot tech trends at this year’s IBC. These include the rapid personalization of video, targeted and programmatic advertising, accelerating growth in OTT, mobile, improved content discovery, security systems and the ongoing collapse in pricing for specialized video equipment.
But a wide variety of vendors also caution that there are a number of challenges in fully deploying these technologies and achieving their promise with today’s technologies.
Mann at Accenture noted that major cloud providers like Google and Amazon have not launched broadcast-specific products. “Although broadcast is a significant industry, it is very fragmented and not large enough to be a priority for some of the largest-scale players,” he said.
That is important because broadcasters have traditionally relied on intensive computing requirements for handling video, particularly live video, that have not been available in standard cloud offerings, explained Tim Felstead, head of marketing at Quantel. As a result, users wouldn’t gain some of the benefits that were widely claimed for cloud-based systems.
“We believe the technology is going in that direction, but we think the speed of the transition is being overstated by some,” Felstead said.
To address that issue, vendors including Microsoft and Verizon have launched broadcast-specific products. Given the complexity of putting together services to efficiently deliver content to multiple platforms for scores of different devices, “broadcasters realize it would be silly for me to create this in-house,” said Ralf Jacob, chief revenue officer for Verizon Digital Media Services. “When they look at it, they can see cost reductions of up to 40%.”
Another major issue for cloud- and IP-based technologies are standards. “Standards remain the biggest hurdle for adoption for IP,” said LeCointe at Sony.
“Everything has to be interoperable if the industry wants to achieve the promise of the technology,” said James Stellpflug, VP product marketing, EVS, which is supplying technology to the VRT IP studio and will be holding joint demos with Imagine Communications and Cisco at IBC.
That imperative has prompted a number vendors to collaborate on demos. “We have spent a lot of time working with tier one [IT] vendors like Cisco, IBM, Microsoft and HP,” said Eksten at Imagine, which will also be showing how its offerings work with competing vendors like Sony.
Even so, LeCointe and others note that the SMPTE 2022-6 standard that will be the basis of several demos at IBC has a number of limitations, including the fact that it combines audio, video and metadata into a single stream. “In addition to embedding [audio and data], there is also the issue of forward error correction and the fact it only allows uncompressed video,” LeCointe said.
Sony has suggested corrections to the standard that might address these issues, but LeCointe said those changes “may take two years.”
Felstead at Quantel noted that some of the limitations of SMPTE 2022-6 have convinced the company to prefer the VC2 codec. “Because of the confusion over standards and the economic uncertainty, we believe that hybrid infrastructures will be common,” Felstead said. “I like to say that IP will be common, but that does not mean that the death of SDI will be common.”
Jeff Moore, executive VP and CMO of Ross Video, agreed. “In live production, IP has a ways to go before it can play the role that everyone is expecting it to play,” he said.
Moore noted that Ross has been offering software and IP-related systems for some time, but added that current approaches using “SMPTE 2022-6 standard doesn’t give you an adequate SDI replacement.”
Besides the need for improved standards, Moore said other key issues include how the industry is going to address compression over IP, latency and the need for simple plug-and-play systems.
FIRST STEPS FIRST
Until those issues are solved, a number of broadcasters have been adopting hybrid infrastructures with both SDI and IP in their facilities, said Hersly at Vizrt. “No one wants to throw out what they have,” he said.
Certain parts of the technology infrastructure are, however, being rapidly converted. Many of the major camera manufacturers including Canon, JVC, Panasonic and Sony are offering cameras capable of sending back video over the Internet. And vendors including Panasonic, Sony and Aframe have created cloud-based production systems for sharing that content over IP networks.
“At IBC for the first time we’ll be showing a new workflow that enables cameras to talk to the cloud and to have the cloud talk back the cameras” using Sony’s Ci cloud-based distributed production system, said David Rosen, the company’s VP of solutions business development. That means editors in the newsroom can rough-cut material from the cameras and send those cuts back to the cameras, which dramatically reduces the amount of high-resolution material that crews have to send back to the station.
As the standards evolve, Dave Colantuoni, senior director of product management at Avid, noted that they are working to architect their solutions so that they can be compatible with IP video- and cloud-based solutions.
At IBC, Avid will be showing improvements to its MediaCentral | UX offering, is cloud-based version of its Avid MediaCentral Platform for managing content from creation to monetization and distribution. Avid also will be announcing additional companies integrated into MediaCentral.
“The goal was not to reinvent the products, but to allow editors in the field to access content and do their work in a more flexible way without having to do a lot of retaining,” Colantuoni said.