TVN Tech | IP, Cloud, AI Were Everywhere At Buzz-Free IBC

Exclamations about the IP transition, the cloud and AI were notably muted at this year’s IBC. Vendors say that’s because this year wasn’t about shiny new things, but rather getting to work on implementation.

AMSTERDAM — IBC unfolded in a glorious string of balmy, late summer days this year. Their placidity was the perfect metaphor for what was happening inside the RAI.

Fear of the rough, lashing prospect of the IP transition and the migration of numerous broadcast workflows into the cloud had settled down, into a calmer mood of getting to work on implementation — a process that might extend over the next decade for many.

That path is being set with numerous hybridized options and continued support for SDI-based solutions until the time is right for the shift. But numerous vendors agreed: that transition is well underway for many. And greenfield buildouts are now clearly showing the way for those with more incremental designs on an IP future.

Language around AI was notably tamer as well, the dirty secret of the term’s vacuous buzz having leaked. In its place everywhere was more concrete messaging about machine learning and its practical applications. Discussions about OTT, too, had been stripped of their breathless hyperbole and replaced with practical considerations predicated on the platform’s obvious endurance and audience popularity.

After several years of drama, those at IBC finally seemed able to stretch out in the sun for a few minutes without being chased off by the weather.

The Devoncroft View


Lest one think the forecast for broadcast technology vendors was without its troubles ahead, the Devoncroft Executive Summit on IBC’s eve last Thursday set an equivocal tone.

IP networking and content delivery topped the group’s annual trend survey this year, the first time OTT wasn’t in the number one slot. “We’re still in the very early days,” Devoncroft Partners co-founder Joe Zaller noted. “And this is a fundamentally different shift. The technology is hard enough, but the business issues are even more difficult.”

Josh Stinehour, Devoncroft’s principal analyst, stressed that top-line revenue will grow only if tech budgets increase and funds are spent on external providers. “We are systematically under-invested in media technology,” he said, asserting most budgets are arbitrarily demanded by finance teams.

“It’s like a hall of mirrors,” Stinehour said. “There’s no future in that process.”

What broadcast finance departments hear are longer installation timing, 15%-25% higher upfront costs, 18%-22% higher operational costs and 30%-plus higher IT salary rates, he said. And the punchline upside: “We’re compliant with SMPTE 2110!”

New technology requires new finance, Stinehour said, and his own “aha” moment came in realizing the “atomic cost” for every microservice in the supply chain.

Speaking in a panel of tech CEOs, Ross Video CEO David Ross commiserated with his peers, noting that their own necessary transformation touched every element of the company. He joked that the SaaS model was created by private equity.

Signiant CEO Margaret Craig agreed. J-curves are brutal, she said. “It’s the valley of the shadow of death.”

Ross has been able to wend its way through that valley by having 18 different product lines, Ross said, self-financing as it makes the transition.

Telestream CEO Scott Puopolo said bringing production and distribution together is his company’s goal. “Our challenge as vendors in the market is how do we de-risk the transition for our customers,” he said.

Transitions Underway

All across the show floor, companies affirmed the industry’s IP transition was in motion.

“We are well on the road to making these things work,” said Masstech CTO Mike Palmer. “This is not a science project anymore.”

“It’s coming to an understanding now that it will be IP,” said Andreas Hilmer, director of marketing and communications for Lawo. “It’s just the when and how. There is no other trend on that scale.”

The greenfield builds have helped that along, passing on numerous insights that later-adopting broadcasters can follow. Grass Valley’s Costa Nikols, VP global pre-sales, cited NBCU-owned WCAU in Philadelphia as an example.

The new facility went with an IP backbone for “graceful” future expansion, he said, moving away from tie-lines and baseboard routing. In the process, WCAU realized when it came to building its network that it didn’t need clear switching for every single thing going through its fabric, and it could do without a router that does frame-accurate IP switching all the time.

Cisco, which worked with Grass Valley on the WCAU build, is equally confident about such advantages the transition reveals. Jacob Jeevanayagam, its business development, U.S. service provider, media, said: “The primary purpose behind driving to IP is all about scale and being able to simplify your workflow. It’s all about agility that IP promised and virtualization and data centers that the cloud promised. Are they there? Absolutely.”

The downside in the process, he said, is that multiple industry vendors have traditionally been niche, and as things become more virtualized, the stack hardware approach is diminishing. Hence the need for a Cisco to step up its R&D efforts in the growing breach, he added.

At a separate Cisco press event, Yousuf Khan, VP marketing in datacenter, urged broadcasters that now is the time to do the transition, especially since SDI can’t scale in a cost-effective manner to meet the needs of SD content.

Mark Patrick, lead architect at the BBC, where he worked on its greenfield project in Wales, noted that the organization went ahead with its build and adopted 2110 before it was ratified. In addition to the immediate upsides of a significant reduction in rackspace and better environmental impacts, BBC’s hard-won knowledge going through the process will help reduce the cost of deployment in future builds, part of the plan all along.

Lower deployment times represented a theme that undulated elsewhere across IBC. Red Bee CEO Steve Nyland, for instance, said his company can now create a full OTT integrated experience for customers in three hours. That’s down from 6-12 months of deployment previously, making such shifts far more cost effective.

Vendors were also clearly stepping up their IP- and cloud-based offerings across the board, emphasizing their interoperability with others and increasingly offering end-to-end solutions with at least some virtualized components. Dalet, for instance, has extended from production through to multiplatform distribution with its recent acquisition of Ooyala.

Kevin Savina, director of product strategy at Dalet, says it can now offer something for the news market that doesn’t necessarily want to change its production system but wants an easy add-on to be efficient in a multiplatform distribution strategy.

Remote production was emerging heavily as a kind of gateway drug in the transition, and Dalet had a hand there, too, with its Flex remote editing framework. “You want reporters to be close to the action,” Savina said. “You want to make it as easy as you can for the reporter on the field to do the work.”

He said that a maturation of the technology behind remote production finally gave Dalet the confidence to begin offering it to its customers.

IBM Aspera was also touting a remote production solution, having had a successful run with Fox Sports in covering the Women’s World Cup in partnership with Telestream. Six camera feeds per game were all transferred to Los Angeles, where a home base production team handled all the major edit workflows, according to Todd Kelly, product marketing director.

Aspera’s process also includes auto-archiving to the cloud with raw feeds from the Cup matches streamed directly into Amazon cloud storage, saving a minimum of five hours’ work a day for on-site staff by minimizing the tear-down for each event.

As much as the marketplace would love the cleaner economics of a fast transition, most of its major players are also resigned to a long period of hybridity. One of them is Imagine Communications, which acknowledges that many of its customers will be staying at least partly on the SDI path for the foreseeable future.

“There are customers who aren’t ready to rebuild,” said Steve Reynolds, president. For such customers, the company has launched an extended care product for older equipment that has already gone past its warranty, along with a new health check product that functions like an annual checkup of clients’ systems.

“We can give the customer a readout of how they can expect that equipment to perform over the next couple of years,” Reynolds said. “The service piece of the business is so important to these customers.”

Machine Learning Highlights

While last year’s IBC practically adopted “AI” as its mantra, the term was far more muted across the show floor. That isn’t to say that its role in automating functions had disappeared from the landscape. On the contrary, compelling new applications popped up throughout.

One was from EVS, which was demonstrating a new Overcam product that uses machine learning to enable control of robotic cameras and track the action in a sports match. That’s meant to augment the work being done by actual video journalists on the scene, integrating with their work while enabling a leaner production model.

The ML has a fast learning curve, following players, actions and on-field calls with ever-growing familiarity and accuracy. “We’re trying to give our customers the ability to cover more events,” said Sebastien Verlaine, marketing and communications manager.

IBM Watson, meanwhile, is making ever-deeper strides into high-accuracy closed captioning, along with competitor ENCO, as well as in real-time sports highlight generation, said David Kulczar, senior offering manager. Tedial, too, is making strides with its Smart Live product, creating highlights across a multiplicity of sports sortable by actions, players or teams and scalable to different time lengths for highlight reels.

Kulczar said a big reason for AI’s diminished hype is an acceptance of its presence as an efficiency creator. “What’s happening is normalcy,” he said. “People expect it to be integrated.”

OTT Directions

OTT may not top Devoncroft’s trend list anymore, but it remained a huge change driver behind broadcast tech — and its business model shifts — here.

“OTT is driving viewing habits and consumers to the point that a lot of the companies we sell to are needing to increase their content,” said Jason Coari, director, scale-out solutions product marketing for Quantum, a storage vendor.

Many companies have moved multiplatform distribution — including OTT — high on their priority list. End-to-end solutions provider Mediakind, for instance, touted its push for the industrialization of broadcast-quality OTT and featured a model car race demonstration to illustrate it. In a press demonstration, it said it’s achieving a broadcast-like low latency nearing close to six seconds on average (against broadcast’s average three seconds). The goal, it said, is to be on par with broadcast’s latency while also doing it out of the cloud.

Other vendors including Make.TV (newly acquired by LTN Global), Accedo and Akamai all offered lower latency products in the space, signaling the prospect of parity with broadcast may not be impossibly far off.

And for all the talk of technology, there was also some room for discussion about OTT business models. There, the imminent arrival of powerhouse streamers from Apple, WarnerMedia and Disney led all discussions there.

Amid the thermonuclear war about to be launched among those entering superpowers and existing behemoths Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, the question was: where is there room for anyone else? And what’s the best business model to adopt?

As to the first question, the nichier the better was the view coming from one conference panel. Nicholas Walters, founder and CEO of Hopster, said that his micro-focused brand is an SVOD catering to pre-school children with progressive parents focused on learning. That level of targeting offers the best chance of longevity, he said.

On the AVOD/SVOD debate, Britbox President Soumya Sriraman offered insights from her newly-launched joint venture between the BBC and ITV.

“PBS created the market for us,” she said of the service, which she said is holding resolutely to an SVOD model. Of its viewers, most of whom are passionate members of the Downtown Abbey set, she said, “people craved a community, and you want to create something that’s comfortable for this audience” without commercial intrusion.

Tarun Katial, CEO of India’s ZEE5, said it’s possible — even advisable — to offer AVOD and SVOD both, but it’s key to do so in one app. “The funnel gets built, and you do everything possible to move them down that funnel,” he said.

For more IBC 2019 coverage, click here.

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