M&E Journal: Media Grabs All the High-Tech Goodies

By Roger Sherwood, Director, Global Strategy & Marketing, Cisco Systems

When you work for a company steeped in internet protocol (IP) technologies, and your job is to help certain industry segments to transition from “how things are” to “where things are going,” media and entertainment companies rise pretty quickly to the foreground of mutual opportunities.

Why? Because viewers watch “television” on far more screens than TVs these days. They do so on their own timetables — which is naturally pushing the limits of on-demand vs. traditional linear delivery. Because new video formats, like 4K/UHD, are anchored in IP, as are the newer encoding formats, like HEVC (High Efficiency Video Codecs), it is necessary to compress those very (very) large video streams into manageable delivery “sizes.”

Because video delivered “over-the-top” (OTT) of the world’s broadband connections is more mainstream than ever. Because IP-styled video allows content creators and distributors alike to be “format agnostic,” and not inextricably tied to monolithic vendor “solutions.” And, because it’s an inevitable reality that, happily, won’t break the bank — especially as technology suppliers simultaneously shift away from “purpose-built” products to deliberate partnerships, designed to make it easier and faster for their broadcast/content-side customers to thrive.

The backstory

It all started a few years ago, with the industrial shift, amongst content providers, from Serial Digital Interface (SDI) to IP. It’s a natural progression, not unlike the transition from analog to digital, and then from standard definition/SD to high definition/HD.

In a technological sense, it’s happening because IP is a more reliable, efficient, and flexible way to process signals. In a business sense, it’s happening because “traditional broadcasters” — which still generate 90 of the top 100 TV shows — want their content to behave more like internet-styled video.
But most anyone reading this publication knows that the SDI-to-IP transition is so … 2016. It’s not quite “in the rear-view mirror” yet, but it’s definitely not the hot ticket in news, when it comes to the M&E segment. At the two major trade shows this year for video people — NAB, in April, and IBC, in September — the momentum around the IP transition grew, tangibly. News of deployments shaped the scene, as conversations deepened around all of the other “goodies” that can and are happening at the intersection of media, entertainment, and IP.

With all of that as the backdrop, here’s our take on the top five things that matter most to media companies “going IP.”

–Hybrid cloud environments

My colleagues over at Devoncraft Partners put this into perspective with the notable observation that for the first time ever, budgeted projects for cloud services and technologies surpassed budget allocations for HD operations last year. That’s big in and of itself. It shows that a mix of on-premise, private cloud and third-party cloud services, equipped with “orchestration” software, is a useful way to move video across bare metal, containers, and virtual machines — all in the same workflow. It means that content providers can take advantage of the computing and connectivity goodness that comes with cloud-based operations. This year, when we talk about hybrid clouds, we’re also talking about S3, as an increasingly popular way for content developers to API into private and public clouds alike, to get at stored video assets.

–Network function virtualization

It’s worth noting that video is the source of 85 percent of data consumed over the internet, 75 percent of what we consume over mobile, and 60 percent of what gets generated by the Internet of Things. (Yet I’d place a wager that nobody’s video budgets are going up by that much!) That’s why we’re working with partners like Intel, among others, on a media blueprint designed to map out what “functions” can get “virtualized.” The goal: To optimize performance at the network level, and the chip (and therefore the device) level.

–Software defined networks

Here’s the thing: The typical and traditional broadcast plant is built for peak demand, not unlike how power stations are built for the hottest days of summer. Yet! Actual utilization is 20 to 30 percent of that. The model has worked (for more than six decades) because one-to-many broadcast TV comes with high fixed costs, and no variable costs. But if your costs scale as you deliver more (which is the case with point-to-multipoint IP/OTT delivery), something starts to smell funny. That, in part, is what’s driving the shift to automation, in general, and software-defined networking, in specific, to monitor and configure video sessions, on the fly, and across multiple platforms.

–Workflow placement

That term — “workflow” — is a conversational staple. As a result, the “workflow” is a tricky term, because it’s a handy, one-word catchall phrase for something that otherwise takes several words to say (hence its popularity.) I tend to explain “workflow” as IT-speak for a business policy that needs to be teased out (with an API) of its legacy (old fart) bindings, then recombined, as a flow of data recognizable by other flows of data (a “sister” API), to do what it’s meant to do: Turn it on, turn it off; encrypt it, decrypt it; code it, transcode it, decode it.

Workflow placement sits at the center of the development that is “holistic content factories,” which tend to start at the camera, and end at the display — in the right size, shape, aspect ratio, resolution, and bit rate.

It’s “holistic” in that the best way to automate everything is to take it as far upstream as possible – one facility, one integrated supply chain, one set of automated workflows that serves linear broadcast, mobile, web, and OTT.

–Workflow automation

Few categories of media and entertainment face more challenges than live sports. Consider: Less than 18 percent of viewers go back to watch a recording of a sporting event. By comparison, 72 percent go back to watch shows they’ve recorded that fall into the “drama” category.

That, in part, is why the sports vertical is decidedly ahead in the all-IP transition, starting with 4K/UHD video, and the shift to multi-screen viewing. From teams to clubs to leagues to stadiums, it’s all about creating the best possible fan experience.

And that means workflow automation. Think about what it takes to seamlessly send custom video content (live and replay) to scoreboards, digital signs, and the mobile gadgetry of the fans. While keeping fans engaged, whether or not they’re at the game.

It’s all about spinning up curation functions that are highly orchestrated and automated, in real time, with an end goal of getting it out quickly and easily — to an OTT app, web stream, or other IP-based method.

Put it all together — hybrid cloud, NFV, SDN, and the massive shifts in workflows — and you get an unstoppable impact on economic models, technological formats, required skill sets, and overall culture. These days, the requirements our customers seek are more about “business as usual” necessities, like training programs and overall “operationalizing.”

(It’s why, as an aside, we’re introducing a Cisco Learning series, with a curriculum co-developed with our broadcast-side partners, to target the 100,000-plus broadcast engineers seeking more specialized, IPcentric experience.)

That’s the view of the state-of-the-state of the IP transition, and the top 5 things that matter to video people within it. The goal is to help our partners and customers to get to internet-styled video, with operations that continue along, unchanged. No swapping out consoles, or workflows. Multiple technology partners, working in partnership — instead of a few vendors, dictating the landscape.

The IP transition already unfolded in adjacent sectors – like music and cable/ broadband, as two examples. Media and entertainment is the next logical step. It’s happening, and like everything else in the IP landscape, it’s happening fast. Best step into this momentum machine now — because if there’s one way to keep momentum going, it’s to have increasingly bigger goals.


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