Sports Must Move From Satellite To IP
It’s often easy to overlook the role secure, reliable satellite delivery has played in backhauling the signals of premium live sports content in the U.S. However, the reduced availability and increasing cost of satellite capacity, alongside more mature network distribution equipment, is encouraging broadcasters to seek more cost-efficient and flexible alternatives to deliver reliable high-quality video
The accelerating demand for OTT broadcasting has rapidly increased the industry’s need to adapt. Fans now have access to a wealth of competing programming, which is only set to grow, with various choices from linear broadcasting to OTT and subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services.
Social media is also growing in popularity among sports fans, with one in five turning to social platforms to access live sports content. Consumers expect this content delivered in the highest possible picture quality, without lag, reliably and compellingly.
Sports broadcasters in the U.S. face starker competition for eyeballs than ever before. The added challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have driven a need for creativity, resilience and ingenuity to maintain service standards and keep signals on the air via remote working policies and reduced onsite staff.
Innovative technology solutions are improving workflows to cater to this burgeoning consumer demand and offer dual, hybrid environments to work within. Remote production over IP has significantly increased the availability of live sports content this year by reducing the amount of equipment and personnel needed at venues while also allowing remote crews to cover more events in one day from the same location.
At the same time, new, low-risk commercial services are emerging and enabling sports networks in North America to leverage cloud technologies and SaaS models to become more flexible, agile and operationally efficient.
Transitioning To The Cloud
The terms IP and cloud are sometimes used interchangeably — yet they refer to different aspects of the ecosystem. IP may be the inherent practical infrastructure to use to implement microservices and cloud-based solutions, but they are not synonymous. Broadcasters in North America are in various stages of both IP transformation and adoption of cloud-based technologies.
The industry is ready for sports broadcasters to migrate from satellite to IP signal delivery to reach their audiences. Several U.S. broadcasters and media operators have already begun this transition, looking to integrate better and deliver live content using IP- and cloud-based solutions while still employing traditional industry-specific hardware. These include major national broadcasters such as Fox Corp. and regional sports networks such as NESN.
The value in IP and cloud delivery for CAPEX to OPEX solutions is clear — from cost efficiency, mitigation of reduced satellite bandwidth due to the reallocation of frequency bands and not least the flexibility for future technology applications. IP also opens up new avenues through back-channel capability, enabling new features including content replacement or regional advertising. North America’s traditional sports networks must capitalize on these opportunities to remain competitive. They must continue to provide fans with compelling, high-quality live content.
Death Knell For Best Of Breed?
Flexible, direct-to-consumer offerings, deployable in either public or private cloud, are becoming center-stage for broadcasters. Equally, moving away from existing industry-specific, hardware-based infrastructure to cloud-enabled, microservices-based software can be a complicated process to navigate for broadcasters.
The notion of best-of-breed technologies traditionally referred to hardware — but this is a dying notion. It’s now about creating choice. These choices are not only for the viewer but also in terms of ways of working and infrastructure. End-to-end products and services do not necessarily mean sacrificing best-of-breed technologies in all cases, but ultimately, it is a case of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole.
The Future Of Broadcast
The relationship between vendors and content providers must be one of open collaboration and partnership. Solution designs need to include support for technologies such as HEVC and 4K to enable broadcasters to migrate their full operations and distribution methods today, at a pace that best suits their needs.
Whether they wish to deliver their content through purpose-built hardware or commercial off-the-shelf bare-metal servers, private or public cloud, forcing a forklift-upgrade approach is not the sensible route to take. Instead, technologies and portable, cloud-native architectures can offer the flexibility to accommodate any business model.
As we move into the next year and beyond, more broadcasters will move to IP over fiber signal delivery — as well as cloud and open internet — and away from traditional satellite distribution and contribution. This shift will bring a renewed focus around the need for reliable transmission and content protection, and therefore protocols such as RIST, SRT, and Zixi.
IP and cloud technologies have played a significant role in enabling the resumed coverage of major U.S. sporting leagues like the MLB and NBA, giving sports fans in North America what they crave the most: compelling live content on their screens. Nonetheless, whatever delivery methods are used in the future, the live sports experience must always be accessible, reliable and of the highest possible quality.
Steve Payne is SVP and regional head, Americas, for MediaKind.