At IBC, Heads Were In The Cloud
AMSTERDAM — To walk the halls of the RAI at this year’s IBC was to be confronted at each turn with a vision of the TV industry’s every workflow and operation in the cloud. Here, the IP transition was a fait accompli and artificial intelligence had already usefully wended its way through every MAM, translating metadata chaos into monetizable content gold.
This version of reality stepped over operational anxieties and questions about expense. It offered instead a promise of efficiencies and interoperabilities in a bountiful garden of SaaS options. Hardware was now software, and the cloud had merrily evaporated it all.
To say that there is a divide between this vision of broadcast technology and the version inhabited daily by broadcasters is an understatement, even for an IBC neophyte.
Scratch beneath IBC’s “the future is now” veneer and most vendors will concede the same thing. Dozens of providers of MAM, content storage and management, transcoders, encoders, workflow management systems, communications equipment, remote production services and OTT services among others all dialed back IBC’s pure cloud buoyancy in individual conversations to something more tethered to the ground or, if you prefer, the premises.
So how might this more hybridized trajectory into the cloud look? Analysts at the Devoncroft Summit, held on the eve of IBC’s opening, pointed to the pace of the industry’s transition to HD as a guidepost for what may happen with the move to software and the cloud.
“The industry moved through the HD transition at a pace of about 5% a year,” said Josh Stinehour, principal analyst at Devoncroft Partners. What’s more, predictions from broadcasters back then tended to outpace their actual rate of HD adoption.
Even so, interest in IP and the cloud runs high, Stinehour said, noting that the transition to IP ranked second among trends broadcasters around the world cited as important in Devoncroft’s Big Broadcast Survey, while cloud implementation ranked fourth.
Competitive pressure from OTT giants like Netflix drives interest in the promised efficiencies of an IP transition, but aging SDI equipment may provide even more impetus. “A lot of broadcasters are approaching a cliff,” Stinehour said. “They don’t have much more time to put off the IP adoption decision.”
As early adopters replace all or part of that aging infrastructure, the industry will sort out remaining questions about adapting cloud workflows to video, eliminating vexing interoperability issues and refining costs for wider adoption.
An important challenge for vendors hoping to encourage this process, said Joe Zaller, founder and president of Devoncroft Partners, lies in better communicating their ability to assist broadcasters through it.
The Big Broadcast Survey asks broadcasters which suppliers are best positioned to help me transition to the cloud, Zaller said, noting that “I don’t know” is the second most popular answer. When asked which suppliers are best positioned to assist in a transition to IP, “I don’t know” is the most popular answer.
“There is a need for a different type of solution provider,” Zaller said.
There is also a need for better communication between traditional TV engineers, who understand video workflow, and the growing number of IT professionals entering the business to assist with the move to IP.
Two technology providers are addressing this issue with training. Cisco has launched a program to train TV engineers about IT while Newtek offers one to train IT professionals about video.
Glodina Connan-Lostanlen, CMO of Imagine, positions herself as an empath to cautious broadcasters. “One of the things that we want to recognize is that not everybody wants to go that fast or can go that fast,” she said.
“We definitely understand companies in general might not be comfortable with moving their hundreds of terabytes or petabytes into the cloud,” echoes Parham Azimi, CEO of Cantemo.
Connan-Lostanlen sees a transition cycle of five years — a number oft-repeated by the more equivocating voices at IBC — during which all of the right elements will align. Those elements, she posits, will likely be a deeper wearing-out of existing older infrastructure, a healthy period for the technology to prove itself out and a softening of costs.
Robin Kirchoffer, head of marketing operations at Dalet, also thinks many customers will want to keep the majority of their operations on premises for the next five years. Many will do so far longer than that. “They’re getting there slowly but surely,” he said.
Sometimes broadcasters are poised to jump into the deep end of the pool and then pull back. Such was the case with a German broadcaster client, said Arvato’s Ben Davenport, portfolio manager, broadcast solutions. He said that a project originally conceived to be entirely in the cloud was soon scaled back to a hybrid model and will likely be solely premises-based by the time of its execution.
“There will be certain technological elements that will drive the transition,” one of which will be AI, Davenport said. His logic is that most of those tools will be offered as services with the cloud the most logical place for them to be. That shift will also usher in “an industrialization of the industry” — a common phrase at IBC — that will better facilitate an IP-minded paradigm shift.
He said Arvato is also implementing cost-aware APIs and asset management will soon begin assimilating business rules to better determine costs. Calculating the ROI of a system is difficult, Davenport said, but when you know the cost of an asset and follow it from capture to distribution, you have a better sense of it.
Signiant, which offers file transfer services, sees a quicker shift in its sector. “Files just keep getting bigger,” said Jon Finegold, its CMO, noting that the cloud has more elasticity and can manage spikes better.
Mike Callahan, senior director of solutions marketing for AWS Elemental, which offers software-based transcoders and encoders, said sports are likely to be the path for many broadcasters to do more cloud experimentation.
“The gateway is specific events,” he said. “It’s a good reason for them to try this stuff out.”
Historically, broadcasters have bought loads of new equipment for big sporting events like the World Cup that just end up lying around unused thereafter. This year’s Cup, by contrast, saw broadcasters in Central America and Asia using AWS Elemental’s services to expand their operations temporarily and gained cloud confidence from the experiments.
That kind of confidence wafted throughout IBC and was capable of giving anyone a contact high, a risk perhaps endemic to Amsterdam anyway. But it remains to be seen how much of it carries in the weeks and months to follow.
Meanwhile, there’s one other thread from IBC worth teasing out. AI, always an industry buzzword, is spinning up rapidly in a demonstrable way. A number of vendors — including Tedial and IBM Watson Media Services — are now offering a range of AI-related services, chiefly among them improving metatagging in MAMs. The idea is essentially that the cleaner one’s closet is, the likelier one is to find things in it. And then, of course, one will, ostensibly, use them.
The value proposition is that broadcasters will be able to start monetizing content otherwise languishing in their MAMs, and that’s an intriguing thought. But they’ll likely need a clearer picture of what those monetization opportunities will look like, especially at the local level.
Even more fascinating are the highlight- and clip-generating capacities that AI now offers. IBM Watson, for instance, has graduated from doing so in the relatively sedate sports environs of golf’s U.S. Open to the World Cup, where the challenges of face, voice and gesture recognition are all the more chaotic.
That AI was so quickly able to play virtual editor in such a complex sports event ought to compel the attention of any broadcast technologist, not to mention any editor who might feel a shiver of redundancy fears in viewing the clips.
The future there, too, is cloudy, but the winds of change are picking up.
Kathy Haley contributed to this story.
Read all of TVNewsCheck’s IBC 2018 news here.