TVN Tech | Virtual IBC Spotlights Cloud Progress
The broadcast technology world has come together again this September for the annual IBC show, except broadcasters and vendors are meeting in the cloud instead of in Amsterdam after the traditional convention was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many attendees would agree that a virtual venue is a poor substitute for the lively in-person interactions at the RAI convention center and the city’s various pubs and restaurants. IBC has already announced that the show will return to Amsterdam next year, running four days from Sept. 10 to 13 (a day shorter than previous IBCs). But the virtual “IBC Showcase” is certainly on-point with the biggest technology trend in the industry, which is the move of many on-premise broadcast workflows and vendor products to the cloud.
The massive shift of employees from broadcast centers in March due to the global COVID-19 outbreak and the social distancing restrictions that have largely persisted since then have forced the television industry to produce and distribute content remotely, with most employees working from home. IP connectivity and cloud-based software replacements for on-premise hardware has made much of that possible, along with the resourcefulness of broadcasters worldwide.
On that note, this year IBC is actually bestowing its biggest award, the International Honor for Excellence, not to any one industry luminary but instead to the “news broadcasters of the world” for maintaining their news coverage through the myriad challenges of COVID-19. The International Honor, which in the past has gone to big names like Ted Turner, James Cameron and Steve Wozniak, will be presented in a livestream on Friday, Sept. 11, at 8 a.m. ET hosted by BBC World News’ Kasia Madera. The ceremony will feature a video explaining how broadcasters have persevered through new workflows and remote production solutions, with contributions from the BBC, CNN, ITV News, NBC News International, TV Globo and Zee Media.
While broadcasters’ ingenuity in the face of COVID-19 is inspiring, industry experts say many of the changes driven by today’s necessity are likely to become permanent, particularly with no certain end date to the pandemic’s impact.
“This COVID crisis is not finished at all,” says Dalet COO Stephane Schlayen. “It’s slowed down business everywhere, slowed down investment and caused a massive dislocation of the business.”
The National Association of Broadcasters certainly wouldn’t dispute that observation. After canceling its annual convention this year and replacing it with a virtual event, NAB announced yesterday that the 2021 NAB Show in Las Vegas has now been postponed from April 11-14 to Oct. 9-13.
“The pandemic remains a significant threat and the evidence suggests it will be well into next year before it could be under control in the U.S.,” says NAB CEO Gordon Smith in explaining the decision.
In the meantime, the broadcast technology segment is feeling the pain, according to research released yesterday by the International Association of Broadcast Manufacturers (IABM). IABM projects that vendors’ hardware revenues will be down 31% in 2020, while software revenues will decline 15%.
“There’s increasing pressure on supplier business models,” says Lorenzo Zanni, IABM head of insight and analysis. He adds that IABM’s research indicated that the move to cloud services and virtualization has become the most important trend in technology investment, followed closely by a focus on new direct-to-consumer services.
Schlayen says that Dalet remains on firm financial footing, unlike some other broadcast vendors. He says that is mainly due to the company’s early move to cloud-based solutions and selling its software on a subscription basis, in a SaaS (Software as a Service) model, instead of through perpetual licenses.
Dalet’s big news this week is that it is now selling a cloud-based version of its popular AmberFin transcoding product, the Dalet AmberFin Cloud Transcoder, which performs high-quality transcode, color conversion, packaging and file transport functions without requiring on-premise hardware. The company already offers a cloud-based version of its flagship Galaxy asset management system, and by year-end plans to unify its content management products on the OTT-based Ooyala Flex Media Platform, which it acquired from American firm Ooyala last year.
“Our vision has proven to be right, moving to the cloud, moving to a new business model,” Schlayen says. “Everything we planned is perfectly fitting with what the customer needs today.”
Grass Valley is another major vendor touting its shift to cloud technology this week, including its Agile Media Processing Platform (AMPP), a cloud-based production system it unveiled last March. The company participated in an IBC “Accelerator Program,” which brings together collaborative teams representing multiple broadcasters and vendors to quickly solve complex technology problems, aimed at “TV Delivered as Objects.” The project, which explored how personalized channels can be delivered to individual consumers by dynamically blending linear and on-demand content, included broadcasters ITV, BBC, Yle and TV2; technology vendors Dazzl, Eluvio, Grass Valley and Singular.live; and video game developer Unity Technologies.
Neil Maycock, SVP of strategic marketing and playout for Grass Valley, explains that broadcasters have generally assembled content based on their own particular “recipe,” with traditional automation directing the output of a single linear stream. The “TV Delivered as Objects” project turned that model on its head, with the consumer receiver or player driving the process and assembly occurring at the edge, much closer to the end consumer.
“Now every consumer potentially has their own recipe, and we’ve got to assemble the content,” Maycock says. “There’s a need to move from monolithic applications to distributed software models where we’re much more microservices-based and have the agility and flexibility for new use cases.
“The industry generally is transitioning, and the current market dynamics have been accelerated by the COVID crisis,” he adds. “That’s driven a need for remote working and new thinking in a way we have not seen before.”
While the cloud already has a big role in broadcast operations today, a technology that remains farther down the road is “5G” wireless technology for professional use. But some IBC Showcase presentations this week suggest it is getting much closer, particularly a proof-of-concept trial born out of an IBC Accelerator program on “5G Remote Production.”
That project, led by Ian Wagdin, BBC senior technology transfer manager, explored using private 5G networks to support multi-camera synchronization. Other broadcasters involved in the 5G trial include Al Jazeera Media Network, BT Sport, EBU, ITV, Olympic Broadcasting Service, SVT, TV2, ViacomCBS Networks International (VCNI) and Yle; vendors AVIWEST, LiveU, Sony, Huawei, Mobile Viewpoint and NewTek; with additional support and technology expertise coming from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.
“It’s challenging,” Wagdin says. “We want to upload more data than we want to download, and that’s different than how most people are going to use the network.”
Today at 11 a.m. ET, those collaborative efforts are being put to the test with the demonstration of a live multi-camera, multi-location 5G production from Amsterdam and London using Vodafone’s mobile public network in Amsterdam and 5G devices running on the EE mobile network in the U.K. (Watch here.) The experimental production will also employ remote-controlled, AI-enabled cameras; a 5G-enabled video transmission from a drone; and remote 5G-controlled lighting.
Along with panel discussions, the highlight of the demonstration will be MTV’s 5G remote production of a live concert from aboard a boat in Amsterdam, produced by VCNI and Viacom Digital Studios International (VDSI) and featuring MTV EMA Award-winning Dutch singer Emma Heester. The 5G proof-of-concept production will incorporate cameras at the RAI and at ViacomCBS’ facility in Amsterdam and is being assembled at ViacomCBS’ London facility using NewTek’s Tricaster 2 Elite system as “a hub base to bring all the streams together,” Wagdin says.
ViacomCBS recently used a 5G LiveU system to help produce an MTV event in Liverpool and is planning to do another 5G production in Ireland with Sony’s cloud-based production system, says ViacomCBS Lead System Engineer Matt Okotie. “Our technology philosophy this year is cloud-first, and 5G fits into that,” he says.