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EBU takes Judges' prize at IBC2012

The EBU and Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA) have been jointly awarded the Judges' Prize of the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) for their contribution to interoperability in IT-based broadcast production technologies.

This was in recognition of how important it is to overcome the incompatibilities hindering the migration from dedicated video and audio equipment to IT based platforms as broadcasters seek media format flexibility, extensive metadata management and cost reduction by using general purpose PCs, servers, and IP networks. The EBU and AMWA have jointly developed the Framework for Interoperable Media Services (FIMS) to bypass incompatibilities through a common set of tools and standards for transmitting file-based video across IP networks.

The project has now successfully delivered the FIMS 1.0 specification, which is already operational at Bloomberg, with other leading players considering following suit. EBU Director of Technology & Innovation, Lieven Vermaele, accepted the award, saying, "Our support of the FIMS project will continue, as we expect its results to have a concrete impact on reducing costs and complexity of integration for EBU Members in the long run.”

The award was presented by Chairman of the IBC Innovation Awards, consultant Michael Lumley.

"IBC values sharing knowledge above all else, and in developing practical standards so quickly, the FIMS partners had to share their knowledge if the resulting standards were going to be robust enough to be useful globally,” said Lumley.

FIMS was first publicly demonstrated at this year’s NAB show in April 2012, representing a significant step towards IP file based workflows in broadcast, production, post production and archiving. FIMS itself was set up to help broadcasters migrate from traditional video centric technologies, involving tape storage for example, towards IT-based ones more like enterprise data centers. Many broadcasters are finding it a struggle to design and manage data centers, with a major hurdle being the lack of standard interfaces between components and systems across the production and archiving chain.

This is a serious handicap as broadcasting is becoming increasingly multivendor in the era of multi-screen services, with more global distribution of content to many different platforms. The upshot is that broadcasters are having to invest in expensive system integration to develop custom adapters in order for components from different vendors to interoperate. This, in turn, generates scalability and maintenance problems as the substitution or upgrade of one component can require further adaptation expenses.

The EBU had become convinced that the solution lay in adopting the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) that evolved in the enterprise IT and Internet world as a framework for interoperable services and components, with applications running in a more flexible loosely coupled environment. There is mounting evidence that SOA has the potential for greatly improved interoperability at lower cost, compared with current system design practices based on proprietary interfaces, whether in broadcasting or any other sphere.

Meanwhile, the AMWA came to similar conclusions and set up its Media Services Architecture Group (MSAG) with much the same objectives as the EBU. So rather than duplicating effort, the EBU and AMWA came together to develop FIMS as an SOA based framework designed for the broadcasting industry. With a range of industry partners, the project is building a vendor-neutral common framework that will enable equipment and software from different manufacturers to work together.

FIMS is borrowing from the IT industry, with partners including IBM, which, until now, has not been a major player in broadcasting other than as a provider of computing and storage capacity. At the same time, though, FIMS is being built on the realization that broadcasting has unique requirements because video is like no other form of data. This is not so much about the huge volumes involved but the fact video is difficult to catalogue and analyze, as is becoming increasingly important for search, recommendation and navigation, as well as for workflow management during production, post production and archiving.

For this reason, an important part of the FIMS project lies in developing automated tools for creating and manipulating metadata, as well as for media asset retrieval and updating. This is where AVDP comes in.

FIMS also addresses aspects of OTT (Over The Top) and multi-screen delivery, such as resource estimation for reservation, and IP stream capture, where the BBC has made important contributions based on its experience with its iPlayer catch up service. FIMS then is about much more than basic interoperability, but also the processes that underpin multi-screen services delivery and management.