‘TV Everywhere’ is everywhere at IBC 2011

At the IBC convention this week in Amsterdam, the challenge of distributing content to an ever-growing number of platforms to an even faster increasing number of consumers was a ubiquitous theme among many vendors’ exhibit stands. It was also clear that the simultaneous transcoding of a wide variety of file types and sizes is critical, so implementing an IT-centric system that can process multiple files with the least amount of effort was a recurring marketing slogan.

In order to retain subscribers, multichannel operators and other content providers around the world are working hard to supply content to television channels, websites and mobile devices on demand via the Internet Protocol (IP) in the most cost-effectively way. In most cases, this allows the user to begin watching a program on one device and then move seamlessly to another with minimal interruption. Or, he or she can start and stop any VOD or live program on any single device.

“The business benefits are substantial,” said Neil Brydon, senior group manager, compression products at Harmonic Inc. “With mobile and web delivery, operators can reach a wider audience and increase the value proposition for subscribers by offering maximum video quality on a wide range of devices.”

However, this “TV Everywhere” model is a bit harder to implement than many vendors would have you think. Deploying an architecture that is infinitely scalable yet ensures a high quality of service across all platforms requires a set of carefully orchestrated software and hardware content creation tools, then another layer of file transcoding and signal processing technology before playout, which has to be automated in order to keep up with demand.

“The [Apple] iPad really changed the playing field, and fast,” said Tom Latte, vice president of product marketing at Harmonic. “Once people really started consuming video content on a portable device, there was no turning back. Consumers want the same experience on all devices that they get from the TV in their living room.

“Whichever service provider gives them that will win at the end of the day. Consumers are running the show now, and content providers are recognizing that.”

At IBC, Harmonic introduced a new multi-codec, multi-format video encoder series, the Electra 9000, that includes a built-in signal router that simultaneously supports broadcast, mobile and web formats in a 1-RU box.

Supporting both baseband and IP workflows, the Electra 9000 encoder delivers up to four SD and HD audio/video processing modules per chassis; leveraging proprietary MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) and MPEG-2 compression algorithms to maximize bandwidth efficiency and channel density. Each module supports flexible combinations of up to four SD/HD inputs, with up to eight broadcast output profiles and 32 multiscreen aligned output profiles.

Prior to the encoding stage, which converts files into the multitude of Web and mobile video formats that can be automatically displayed, files have to be approved for playout. This can be a labor-intensive task when supporting hundreds of thousands of simultaneous users. That’s why an ideal solution is one that helps automate the file manipulation process.

Miranda Technologies launched a new Enterprise Suite of software tools that streamline content preparation for broadcast playout and VOD publishing using Miranda’s iTX platform.

“We wanted to optimize this process, just like we have streamlined file-based playout [iTX],” said Michel Proulx, Chief Technology Officer at Miranda. “One of the key challenges facing playout operators today is streamlining ‘back-end’ operations, and mitigating the risks associated with airing files from different external sources.

“These files now come in a wide variety of formats, and the challenge is to ensure that all mission-critical metadata has been properly set and reviewed.”

Indeed, many agree that the proper management of metadata associated with a single piece of content is a critical part of the equation. Done correctly, it allows content providers to create a file once and send it to many platforms in a highly automated way. It also allows a collection of elements to be combined into a single piece of content for different viewing markets.

At the IBC show, Harris offered a number of products (as part of a comprehensive multi-platform, nonlinear playout solution) that rely on metadata to function properly. This included the Harris Invenio Asset management workflow engine, Videotek QuiC media analysis server and NetGate business management software.

“The entire delivery process is driven by the business rules established by the content owners,” said Martin Davies, a Business Segment Leader with Harris. “When you mange your metadata correctly, you can tell a more compelling story to your advertisers and generate more revenue from all of these extra digital platforms. You also provide a better experience for viewers of that content.”

Harris also introduced the Selenio media convergence platform, which combines traditional baseband video and audio processing, video and audio compression, and IP networking technology into a single platform.
The ability to create graphics for one screen and automatically adapt them for all platforms was shown by Chyron, with its Cloud-based Axis World Graphics package and Vizrt, with its Viz Media Engine. The Viz Media Engine in particular includes sophisticated features that enable a news organization to design a set of graphics for TV and have it automatically replicated, in different resolutions, and encoded for Internet and mobile devices. Smaller screens use less complex graphics with bolder type
Another important element to nonlinear, on-demand fulfillment is the management of digital usage rights. Several companies at IBC were showing software solutions to address this issue, which gets increasingly tricky to navigate in the new file-based world.
One such company, Pilat Media Global (which develops business management software used by a variety of broadcasters in the U.S. and worldwide), introduced a new software module for its Integrated Broadcast Management System called IBMS OmniCast. This “back-end system” enables media organizations to schedule and manage sophisticated multi-platform, non-linear services such as video on demand (VOD), over-the-top (OTT) TV and catch-up TV.

By combining non-linear scheduling and programming, workflow management tools and business analytics, IBMS OmniCast can help content owners and distributors looking to efficiently offer sophisticated on-demand multi-platform services. The company said that its IBMS OmniCast module addresses the challenges of differentiation and scalability by enabling media professionals to efficiently manage multiple, sophisticated VOD services across diverse delivery platforms from a single, centralized system.

Once a company has established its rights issues and implemented the proper hardware and software to get that content into consumers’ homes, operators then have to ensure that provided signals are strong and stable. One solution, from an Oslo, Norway company called Bridge Technologies, offers in home and head end –based data stream “probes” that help identify problems on the network. This cuts down on “truck rolls” to individual subscribers’ homes, reducing OPEX and keeps customers happy.

So, while the challenges to deploying a multi-platform infrastructure can be daunting, the technology required to make it a reality was all around the IBC show floor. To ensure success, it’s up to individual media companies to design platforms to handle the workload without adding more staff.

“The biggest problem is implementing the tools properly,” said Bob Lamb, Chief technology officer at Pilat Media. “That means designing an architecture that is scalable and robust enough to handle what you throw at it.”v