A panel of IP-experienced tech veterans spell out the considerations and variables of moving from SDI to IP technology at both stations and networks. L-r: Joe Addalia, Hearst Television; Bob Hesskamp, WarnerMedia; Del Parks, Sinclair Broadcast Group; and Dario Scacciati. (Photo: Wendy Moger-Bross)
Broadcasters Charting Their Paths To IP
NEW YORK — While the migration from SDI to IP technology may be inevitable, local stations certainly don’t need to rush into installing an IP infrastructure today. That was the message from leading engineers speaking Wednesday at TVNewsCheck’s annual TV2020 conference.
The age of existing equipment and where it stands in its depreciation cycle is the major consideration for stations before they invest in any new IP gear, according to engineers from Sinclair and Hearst Television participating in the panel discussion, “Technology Leaders on IP and the Cloud,” moderated by this reporter. The second consideration is the business need.
“Currently, on the call-letter station side, the business need to migrate to real-time IP is not one that’s really staring us down in the face,” said Joe Addalia, director of technology projects for Hearst Television. “What we have to look at is what can IP infrastructure bring to us.”
Moving to IP could give Hearst the ability to consolidate and simplify its systems, said Addalia. Also, the available engineering talent to maintain technology systems is definitely skewing toward the IT side over broadcasting.
“It’s very difficult to find a broadcast engineer these days,” he noted.
So Addalia is working with vendors to both plan a technology road map and educate Hearst’s local engineering staffs to have the expertise to maintain IP systems when stations make a switch. It has also set up some test systems as a proof-of-concept for IP-based operations.
“We are certainly deep in the planning stages,” says Addalia. “We understand the technology, and we’ve spent a lot of time with our vendor partners to position ourselves in the right place when we’re ready to pull the trigger. And we do have some pilots going on within the company that actually share real-time signals over 2110, over COTS [common-off-the-shelf] switches. So we’re moving along.”
Both Addalia and Del Parks, SVP and CTO of Sinclair Broadcast Group, point out that their stations have been relying for years on IP technology in newsgathering with bonded-cellular “backpack” transmission systems from vendors like TVU and LiveU. Those systems have had a great impact, making newsgathering easier from the field and allowing for easier connection between stations. The ROI on new IP routing infrastructures or IP-based studio production for small-market stations is less clear.
“We all have legacy facilities,” said Parks. “It almost reminds me of the question we got about, ‘When are you going to be HD?’ We’ll be IP when at some point vendors will only produce IP equipment — just like at some point they only produced HD equipment, just like at some point they only produced digital, and before that it was analog.
“So the vendors really do drive adoption of technologies,” continued Parks. “However, we still have TV stations in small markets where HD/SDI is really OK. I don’t know that we’re ever going to do news in 4K. I don’t know if we could afford to do that in some of our markets. You talk about the file sizes….”
The economic considerations are different for distribution, where Sinclair is already using LTN Global’s IP network to distribute diginets to all of its stations instead of traditional satellite transmission. And they are also different for the Tennis Channel cable network, which Sinclair acquired four years ago, and the 21 regional sports networks Sinclair bought earlier this year from Fox.
Sinclair is current building a new facility for Tennis Channel in Los Angeles that will be based on the SMPTE 2110 IP networking standard, and Parks sees most of the production for the RSNs moving to IP as more IP mobile trucks get built. Sinclair will also build a new 2110 facility for Marquee Sports Network, the RSN it has formed with Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs.
“When you’re building a greenfield, you really do need to build an IP facility,” said Parks. “Going back into some of our small stations in Ottumwa, Iowa or Jefferson City, Mo. … they’re great places, but I don’t think they will support a wholesale change.”
Dario Scacciati, Microsoft’s managing director of telco and media for the Americas, says that customers are “moving fast” to IP technology and cloud-based workflows, and that he sees a lot of interest in using IP distribution instead of satellite as Sinclair has done.
“But you’ve got to move when it makes sense, whether it’s optimization, depreciation or a new building,” Scacciatti said.
The ultimate greenfield site for IP technology so far is CNN’s new headquarters at 30 Hudson Yards in New York, where the global news giant has build the first major broadcast facility to be completely based on the SMPTE 2110 IP networking standard. The backbone of CNN’s new plant, which occupies multiple floors in a 1,296-foot skyscraper and comprises 110,000 square feet of technical space, is a 25-gigabit-per-second Evertz 2110-compliant routing infrastructure running across 10,000 fiber-optic cables.
“We didn’t want to build a facility that was going to be out of date on day one,” says Bob Hesskamp, EVP of Engineering for WarnerMedia. “We wanted to build a platform so we could easily change, adapt, expand—we wanted it to be flexible. And IP, and a software-defined infrastructure, is the way we went about doing that.”
The 30 Hudson Yards facility went live in May and ties to CNN’s new IP-based next-generation master control facility in Atlanta, as well as its Washington bureau and other bureaus worldwide. CNN is in the process of constructing another IP-based plant in a new building for its London bureau, which should be complete early next year.
“We believe in this notion of location-independent production, where you can do anything anywhere — we’re all connected,” Hesskamp said. “So in addition to this facility, we’ve put in the base infrastructure in our three facilities in Atlanta: CNN Center, Turner Studios and the NOC [Network Operations Center]. We’ve just this year put all the Turner Entertainment networks in an all-IP master control, and we’re in the process of moving the 30 HBO networks to Atlanta under the same technology umbrella.”
Hesskamp said the selection of the routing control software, which in CNN’s case was Evertz’ Magnum product, is even more important than the routing hardware itself. And securing that system is paramount in an IP-connected world.
“We made a decision about Magnum [the Evertz control system] more than we made a decision about the EXE routers,” Hesskamp said. “They work, and we’re glad we have them, and we have ridiculous scale with them across the facilities. But the routing control and the routing management in IP is something that we’re now married to in a way because we want this sharing across the board. We’ve got the protocols in place to protect that infrastructure, so that people can’t mess with our routing and mess with our video and steal video.
“We’re going to keep going down that road,” he said. “As people look at IP, whatever control system you buy, whatever vendor you go with for that, it’s absolutely critical that you’re really sure about that decision more than anything else.”
WarnerMedia is also increasingly using cloud platforms in its content acquisition and distribution workflows. Hesskamp said that just this week the company has moved a backup feed (the BCP, or Business Continuity Planning) of its 30 HBO networks to the cloud, finishing a project that started in March (He didn’t identify the platform, though WarnerMedia uses both Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure as major cloud vendors).
“We have our next-gen master control, which is our IP master control for all of our networks in WarnerMedia,” Hesskamp said. “And we brought HBO over. We have an A, B and C chain. And the C chain is our BCP chain, where you go as the last resort. For HBO, we put that in the cloud. The whole thing — we have 30 channels running, the same automation system, through the same processes, using the same codecs, everything we have on-prem, we have running in the cloud. That’s our backup, and we can switch to it at a moment’s notice.”
Hesskamp said the BCP chain for HBO is “laying the groundwork” to put primary chains in the cloud in the future. For now, his next big domestic technology project is moving the CNN news channels over to the next-gen IP master control in Atlanta, which should be complete early next year before the political primaries start.
“This is kind of a proof of concept, but for BCP it’s a very efficient way to make this work,” he said. “And there’s no egress until you need it. So we can run all day, all the time, and it works, and it’s pretty amazing to see.”
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