McAdams On: The Ongoing Transition

LAS VEGAS—Television is undergoing a radical transformation that is conceivably more of a quantum leap than the digital transition. That would be the IP transition, which lays the foundation for complete virtualization.

The digital transition, at its core, changed the fabric of the nation’s communications infrastructure, but the media creation-and-delivery mechanism remained for the most part a one-way pipeline. Analog technologies were replaced by digital facsimiles, so system design and functionality initially were similar.

The digital TV transition was reaching its apex right about the time mobile video technologies reached marketable maturity. The same was true for giant, wafer-thin TVs. The result was platform proliferation— screens sizes from palm to wall—each with different delivery requirements. Within media plants, router port counts exploded. The demand for platform-differentiated content required new layers of storage, control, management and conversion.

There has been no such thing as a static media facility design since the digital transition and there never will be again. Television media facilities are now designed to be “future-proof,” which is to say, adaptable.

Adaptation nonetheless requires some heavy lifting as long as media facilities continue to incorporate SDI, as they have for nearly 25 years. Implementing an 8K workflow, for example, would mean a significant, manually intensive physical retrofit.

Not so with an all-IP infrastructure, which could support real-time network reconfiguration without disruption, from a browser portal or even something like an app. It also enables collaboration by people and technologies around the world, something of interest to remote production companies.

The IP transition—which is well underway— ultimately can decouple the media facility from a physical location. It becomes, instead, an actively evolving network where resources are automatically provisioned according to demand, and intermittently used functions become SaaS options. Meeting the ever-expanding format and platform requirements of the future may soon involve a few swipes on a touchscreen.