Given the effect and pervasiveness of IT in our personal and professional lives, it is encouraging to see that the media and entertainment industry’s transition to All-IP has steadily gathered pace. IP is an enabling technology and our industry’s adapting its use to our needs, responding to a number of challenges across contribution, live production and playout that we see today.
Consider the hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of pieces of equipment that are used by broadcasters worldwide. Then, offset that against other operators who are developing the use of IT protocols, interfaces and infrastructure—and therefore utilizing the maturity of perhaps a trillion pieces of equipment—and you can see there are better economies of scale that exist elsewhere. By moving away from broadcast-industry-specific architectures towards IP-based infrastructure and solutions, the media and entertainment industry can become more agile in their operations.
In other words, the reasons to migrate are compelling and have gone beyond applications such as OTT or real-time internet video delivery, and are now permeating across mission-critical use cases at fledgling start-ups and major international broadcasters.
For many, the catalyst has been the demand from consumers for content everywhere, which has ramped up increasingly in the last 10 years as we move towards a mobile-first environment. Bringing new OTT services to market has been a natural fit for IP transformation. Launching a new service on a software- and IP-centric infrastructure, supported by the cloud and microservices, now means a lead time measured in weeks and months and not years, as would be the case in the legacy world.
FLEXIBILITY AND ELASTICITY
In the application-specific integrated circuit history of broadcast technologies, when capacity is reached, it requires a major CAPEX expenditure and significant hardware upgrade. In a software and IP-centric world, capacity, performance and connectivity can all scale quickly, based on demand and then contract if required. This flexibility and elasticity matches the current commercial imperatives that broadcasters face when expanding their content reach, while at the same time, helps to build new revenue models that take advantage of IP-compatible concepts such as targeted and dynamic advertising and OTT-based subscription models.
At the closest edge of the wave, real innovators are adopting fully software-defined media workflows. This starts at the production level from studio cameras, to editing suites and progresses through content processing and distribution. The rationale is simple. Creating, managing and distributing content across a real-time, IP-based workflow with software as the controlling entity is much easier than the myriad transitional steps that are limited by custom-built hardware solutions. Today’s broadcasters can handle more content across a wider range of distribution paths with fewer staff than ever before.
Capacity and resiliency is assured through the ability to spin up more virtualized capacity—not just across media processing but for critical connectivity requirements through network function virtualizations. The transition to All-IP has also gone beyond arcane technical requirements. According to the highly regarded Devoncroft 2019 Big Broadcast Survey (BBS), IP networking and content delivery is the top-ranked trend this year—overtaking multiplatform content, which has ranked as “the most commercially important trend to the global broadcast and media industry” for the last decade.
Although closely linked, the move to All-IP has been accelerated by the emergence of several industry standards that have concentrated the minds of key broadcasters and provided a viable route for adoption that overcomes the inherent risk aversion of the industry. The arrival of Society of Motion Picture Television Engineers (SMPTE) ST 2110 Professional Media Over Managed IP Networks suite of standards and SMPTE ST 2059 Broadcast Profile for IEEE Precision Time Protocol standards specify the carriage, synchronization and description of the spate of real-time delivery of elementary essence streams over IP. This is for the purpose of live production and encompasses video, audio, timecode, sync and ancillary data. Media and entertainment’s future lies in technology stacks, where the enormous amounts of data can be stored in the cloud. Through standards such as SMPTE ST 2110 and ST 2059, broadcasters now have not only a standardized route towards replacing serial digital interface (SDI) with IP, but also the opportunity to usher in a new wave of applications based on, and leveraged off, IT protocols and infrastructure.
For broadcasters, a key advantage is no longer requiring two separate operations (staffing and infrastructure) for managing intra-facility traffic—SDI switches for professional media and IP/Ethernet switches for general data. Instead, facilities can rely on one common data center infrastructure. Alongside SMPTE standards, AMWA Networked Media Open Specifications (NMOS) define IP-based media network control and management, such as Discovery & Registration, Device Connection Management, Network Control and Interoperable Security. The transition to All-IP for the media and entertainment industry was envisioned and championed by the Joint Task Force on Networked Media (JT-NM), which is comprised of four major industry organizations: Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA), European Broadcasting Union (EBU), SMPTE and Video Services Forum (VSF).
As more vendors support these and other standards and specifications, the rate of customer adoption grows in tandem, leading to a virtuous circle which will help to alleviate one of the major obstacles in the way of All-IP transition—skills shortage. This is not insurmountable, and the broadcast industry has a good track record of attracting the best and the brightest—and the move to All-IP will hopefully mirror earlier technology shifts such as the move from analog to SDI in the late 1980’s.
An All-IP broadcaster is no longer prefixed by the word “future”—it is a reality for the here and now. As legacy hardware reaches end-of-life, and as on-premises data centers run out of capacity, the logical upgrade path will be a move toward All-IP infrastructure and protocols, software defined media processing, virtualization and cloud-native solutions. The transition happening in the broadcast space in many ways mirrors the shift that telecoms providers and financial services organizations have embraced over the last decade, while the combination of commercial drivers and standards-based technologies is making the transition a far more orderly progression for the media and entertainment industry.
For those broadcasters just starting out on the journey, the ability to move through a hybrid adoption process—shifting discreet processes over to All-IP in a staged fashion—is also a compelling option, as is the use of Software-as-a-Service to limit the technical transition to more of a commercial decision. Over the next decade, the notion of a non-IP workflow will stand out as the exception and not the rule. By enabling production and content delivery providers to reduce time-to-market and benefit from more agile development environments, the realization of All-IP will provide the foundation for the media industry’s long-term future.
Matthew Goldman is the senior vice president of technology for MediaKind.