The influence of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and the cloud was unavoidable among the many updates, integrations and efficiency improvements on show in Halls 2 and 3, writes Will Strauss.

Exhibitor crowd shot ibc2017

Visitors at IBC2017 

Encoders for newsgathering, VR streaming platforms, channel scheduling software, automated subtitling services: at first glance, with such a wide variety of products and solutions on show, you’d be hard pressed to find an overarching technology theme for Halls 2 and 3 at IBC2017.

From For-A’s high-speed 4K camera at the front of Hall 2 to Streamcircle’s cloud playout at the back of Hall 3, the mix was certainly eclectic.

But, fortunately, there were trends. You just had to work a little harder to find them, which is a lucky coincidence as working harder was one of those trends.

Firstly, let’s make something very clear. This part of the exhibition was not awash with new product launches or what one could ordinarily describe as ‘news’. As one London-based visitor put it, “the days of big sparkling revelations at trade shows are long gone”.

The exhibitors, especially those with the biggest stands, were generally happy to promote their current wares and introduce incremental updates and add-ons.

In many cases there was a focus on combinations, integrations and general technology harmony. And much of it was done to increase efficiency, streamline or quicken processes and generally help broadcasters to achieve more with the same (or less) money, people and time.

It is here that we start to see the trends appear.

AI and machine learning

To help media firms achieve those efficiencies, companies are turning to AI, machine learning and the cloud and are looking to automate where possible.

In some cases, such as TVU Networks’ new closed captioning service, Smart Captions, the trends converged. It was only an evaluation demo but it used AI-based dialogue analysis within the voice recognition element to provide automated subtitles, on the fly, for live and recorded video, via a web browser.

The systems architect Qvest Media didn’t tick quite as many buzzword boxes but it was also showing how AI can help broadcasters, this time within the realm of examining and analysing unstructured media data.

This was showcased through its Media Intelligence System which can automatically cluster content in context and link it all together. The upshot is the ability to identify trends and, in turn, improve business models and forecasting.

Machine learning, a subset of AI, was a key focus for cloud playout vendor Amagi. The services being demonstrated included content segmentation and ad-break-point suggestions for linear broadcast.

It sounds more complicated than it is but, in this example, large volumes of content can be analysed frame-by-frame in order to find obvious gaps - this in turn allows advertising breaks to be suggested automatically at logical intervals.

Machine learning was also key within Amagi’s automated quality control (QC) demo in which it performed QC checks to detect black frames, colour bars, clocks and slate frames. Other examples included live-to-VOD conversion for sports output and the automated creation of sports highlights.

The cloud

As with the rest of IBC, the cloud was omnipresent within Halls 2 and 3 particularly for asset management and playout, replacing tasks that previously required hardware or the purchase of software licenses.

Vidispine was touting a range of cloud-based pay-as-you-go media ‘supply chain’ services that have been added to its eponymous media asset management platform.

Going under the name of Vidinet, the bolt-on services will initially include transcoding and advanced automated quality control (QC) but others are in the pipeline. The near-content execution of the services can take place using any major cloud vendor.

Automation was prevalent for Arvato Systems too, although the German firm wasn’t shouting about AI. Its cloud-based planning and rights management application Avatega Schedule has been updated so that it can now automate repetitive tasks in the scheduling process and ensure that purchased rights are used before they expire.

AWS Elemental and Kaltura discussed a tie-up for delivering live TV from the cloud that also includes time-shifted TV features and various digital rights management (DRM) options.

AWS Elemental Live does the live transcoding, AWS Elemental Delta is responsible for just-in-time packaging, encryption and origin services, and the Kaltura TV platform delivers a management interface that includes cloud DVR scheduling and business rule management.

Efficient contribution

Becoming more efficient was also relevant at the contribution and mobile uplink end of the broadcast chain with various vendors showing how HEVC (H.265) can achieve up to 50% bitrate savings compared to AVC (H.264).

Examples included For-A’s IP-HE950 real-time encoder/decoder units, Aviwest’s new AIR series, TVU Networks’ upgraded TVU One and LiveU’s LU600 which now comes complete with an HEVC Pro card.

Generally improving the quality of live transmissions over mobile networks was a focus for Soliton Systems which was promising better signal reliability and picture quality when using its Zao-S HEVC encoder. Among the new features was Boost which maintains extra bandwidth when mobile phone signals are in high demand such as at a concert or a football stadium.

Whether IP-based remote production ultimately makes live sport and event production more efficient is open to some debate but it certainly has the potential to allow broadcasters to cover more and different sports, by making outside broadcasts more cost effective.

In Hall 2, Japan’s NTT Electronics demoed its Smart Contribution Solution for transmitting multiple video streams from sporting venues while Suitcase TV announced an alternative approach to IP-based live remote production that combines its time compensated processing with Sony vision mixers.

The hybrid set-up allows proxy feeds to be switched in a gallery located away from the event venue when available bandwidth between the two sites is less than 1 Gb/s.

Again, it’s all about efficiency, and doing more with the same or less. It may not be a subject that will force newspaper editors to hold the printing presses in anticipation, but it’s the way of the broadcast world right now, and that was reflected in the halls of IBC. Us news journalists had better get used to it.