Step towards broadcasting interoperability at NAB

An important step toward IP file-based workflows in broadcast, production, post production and archiving will be taken at NAB with the first demonstration of the FIMS (Framework for Interoperable Media Services) 1.0 specification. This is a joint project between the European Broadcast Union (EBU), and the Advanced Media Workflow Association set up to develop standards for broadcasting as it moves close to the world of IT, with content stored as files transmitted around IP networks.

Broadcasting is migrating from traditional video centric technologies, involving tape storage for example, toward IT-based ones more like enterprise data centers. But, most 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 is convinced that the solution lies 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 will borrow 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. That is set to change, with IBM likely to be a major winner from the move toward cloud-based delivery where it is strongly based. That is another story.

But, an important point about FIMS is that it is also being built on the realization that broadcasting has unique requirements because video is like no other form of data. This is not about the huge volumes involved, but the fact video is difficult to catalog and analyze, as it 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. 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.

The demonstrations of FIMS 1.0 at NAB 2012 will be provided by Bloomberg, Cube-tec, IBM, Sony, and Triskel. This first phase specification addresses acquisition, file transfer and file transformation (such as transcoding). The next phase of the work will address further use cases that have been identified by the FIMS Business Board, a group of user companies. These could include new services such as repositories, MAM (media asset management), and quality control.