Joe Zaller is just back from Amsterdam’s annual IBC tech extravaganza. He reports that in addition to boasting record attendance, the conference showcased a number of potential television game-changers. Among them: cloud-based or service-oriented architecture (SOA) applications for capturing, producing, processing and distributing video and audio as digital files; IT-based playout — more commonly called channel in a box — which offers the promise of dramatically reducing the cost of broadcast playout; and the latest developments in 3D, expected to be very much center stage next year at the London Olympics.
Technology vendors at IBC answered the broadcasters’ call for efficiency in a variety of ways, including “cloud” oriented product offerings, highly integrated IT-based systems for broadcast playout, and the introduction of new versions of existing systems that are smaller and less featured, but more affordable to broadcasters with limited budgets.
Also on display at the annual tech show, which wrapped up a six-day run in Amsterdam last week and drew more than 50,000 professionals, were technologies aimed at making 3D production more affordable and compatible with standard 2D operations.
Many vendors were touting the advantages of deploying some type of cloud-based or service-oriented architecture (SOA) applications such as capturing, producing, processing and distributing video and audio as digital files.
Cloud services are drawing attention because broadcasters are being challenged to support an ever-increasing number of distribution platforms. The breadth and rapidly changing nature of the multi-screen environment makes it difficult for even large broadcasters to deploy the appropriate hardware and software solutions in an affordable and timely manner. Thus, broadcasters are now increasingly willing to contemplate outsourcing some of these functions to cloud-based technologies and services.
Many vendors at IBC demonstrated technologies to address some of the fundamental concerns that broadcasters have about cloud-based architectures, notably content security, access to content, collaboration, bandwidth and workflow continuity.
Avid, Chyron, Grass Valley, Panasonic, Sony, Quantel and Vizrt showed their own methods for deploying “media-friendly” SOAs that provide a common interface and pre-authorized access to a wide variety of production tools from every staff member’s desktop.
In addition, the Advanced Media Workflow Association, the European Broadcasting Union and SMPTE came together to develop a standard for configuring an SOA that would allow each manufacturer’s equipment to talk to each other. The effort stems from the vendors’ realization that — due to R&D cost efficiencies — their next-generation products will be predominantly software based and operate best in this type of networked environment.
SOAs also help broadcasters produce and distribute content much more efficiently and allow staff to collaborate even though they may be in separate locations.
Many of these IT-centric concepts are not new ideas, but are now becoming attractive to the video production and broadcasting communities, looking to do more with the same resources. Industry connectivity to Internet protocol (IP) infrastructures has matured and newer consumer-industry file transfer technologies — like IP, HDMI and Apple/Intel’s Thunderbolt — offer benefits for broadcasters that were not apparent before.
Another significant hub of IT-oriented activity at the IBC was in the area of IT-based playout or, as it is more commonly known, channel in a box. These systems offer the promise of dramatically reducing the cost of broadcast playout by enabling users to migrate to off-the-shelf IT hardware running software that integrates, automates and replaces much of the traditional broadcast master control infrastructure.
Technology in this area had matured significantly over the past 6-12 months, and is now are under serious consideration by a number of large and small broadcasters around the world. Miranda Technologies, which became the de facto leader in this emerging field when it acquired the OmniBus Systems’ iTX platform last year, showed the latest advances in its IT-based playout offerings.
Other notable players in this space include traditional broadcast suppliers such as Snell and Evertz, as well as smaller specialized players like Playbox and VSN. Significantly, other large technology vendors are rumored to be readying competing systems that will be introduced in time for the annual NAB Show in April 2012.
In addition to the increasing drive for increased efficiencies, many IBC attendees were gearing up for the high-profile sporting and political events of 2012. In some cases, that means 3D. While the technology has yet to even be considered by local broadcasters in the U.S., a variety of live sports production companies across Europe are already producing events like soccer and rugby in 3D or are anticipating that they will by the time of the Olympics in London.
The games will be the first in 3D, with many events, including the opening and closing ceremonies, produced in the format. Panasonic will be supplying large quantities of 3D cameras and other gear.
Avatar director and 3D pioneer James Cameron put in appearances at several places at the IBC, promoting his new company, The Cameron/Pace Group, and urging industry professionals to pursue and help develop new tools for producing 2D and 3D content simultaneously.
According to Cameron, it’s the only way to stimulate the market to develop much-need original 3D content, and, in turn, spur 3D TV set sales. Previously, the cost of producing 3D has been prohibitive for everyone but a fortunate few who are being sponsored by TV set manufacturers.
“We’re on a relentless path to grow the 3D business,” said Cameron, at the Grass Valley IBC press conference. “We’ve been in the 3D game for 12 years now. We are so excited about what’s happening right now [with 3D] but it’s a little bit daunting staying ahead of the rapid rate of technology change, so we have to have powerful alliances with people that are major players in broadcast who will be able to fulfill this future and supply the kind of quality 3D that people enjoy.”
At the same press conference, Cameron’s partner (and equally influential 3D pioneer) Vince Pace said, “It’s so critical to the industry that we integrate the solutions and come up with a very clean and determined business plan that makes sense to the industry to increase the amount of 3D productions. So, this business of saying we have fewer cameras or we don’t tell the whole story is going to go away.”
IBC attendance was up slightly this year (4%, according to the IBC, to 50,462), again signaling that broadcasters are spending money — on hardware and T&E. Unlike last year, there were several representatives of all the major U.S. TV networks.
Joe Zaller is the founder and president of Devoncroft Partners, which provides market research and strategic consulting services to a wide range of digital media clients. He is also the North American Market Development Officer for the IABM, the trade association that represents broadcast technology vendors. He can be contacted at [email protected]