The broadcast and media industry’s trade bodies were out in force at this year’s IBC, demonstrating technology advances, forging alliances and showcasing their standards work. 

Room sign

Important revisions to the Joint Task Force on Networked Media (JT-NM) Roadmap were announced just prior to IBC, and during the show SMPTE confirmed the first set of tools under ST 2110, as used by all 52 companies in the IP showcase, had been ratified as parts 10/20/30 for professional media over managed IP networks. Next up could be compression.

The JT-NM and ST 2110 provided the spine for much of the show, but were helpfully pushed along by the AMWA NMOS document IS-O5 with its important connection management advances (and the promise of IS-06 network control).

The oddest stat from the IABM was that internal development, maybe signaling a return to bespoke in-house R&D, has risen to 35%. Confirmation of this came from the EBU: “We have noticed that our members are employing increasingly more software people.”

IMF was being assembled by multiple partners, and becomes a spec in April. Automated versioning in an IP realm will instigate huge cost savings. HbbTV has achieved its IPTV specification (ETSI TS 103 555) and at IBC showed off the power of HbbTV 2.0.1. This gives a better transition from broadcast to IP (buffer from IP while the TV show is still airing), and one exciting power under companion apps is the synchronization of media over a home network.

SMPTE tries its Lukk

The big story with SMPTE was its adoption of a new specifications strategy, to sit out front of its due process standards work, so it can keep pace with the rate of technological change.

Describing himself as “a little bit of an insurgency inside of SMPTE,” Director of Engineering and Standards Howard Lukk said: “We have shared a pilot project with the DPP, to get Pro Res into the IMF broadcast spec. This is our first toe into this area – a sort of surgical strike.

“A lot of people in the industry that have technical pains come to the forefront to drive this specs thing because they are in a hurry for workable solutions,” Lukk added. “The DPP partnership was really both business and technical, and this is kind of a new way of forming these things.”

SMPTE will review its DPP relationship in the contexts of proper framework, the organisation of the work, what type of final document is produced, and how it should be published.

“We have got to bring those people into the fold, because they are used to working in agile development,” said Lukk.

He is sanguine about the industry rating specifications above standards. “AMWA, VSF, AIMS, DPP, etc want something relatively quickly, but that will probably change and get better and better. It kind of solidifies and that gets thrown over the wall and gets turned into a standard,” said Lukk. “This process already works quite well.”

“IMF will hit final spec just before NAB. We will not be ready to tilt up for the next shared project, perhaps on micro services, until early in 2018,” he added.

Bricks, bytes and behaviours

The EBU had so much hot stuff, and a sharp indication of where it is taking its members was the meeting of open source software developers it hosted. The outputs of this effort are the recommendation system Peach and the perpetual CDN performance checker system Flow.

“We have a voice in trying to make sure that services coming forward are deployed in the right fashion, and on the IP studio front of the JT-NM our members are working together to share information on how they build the IP studios of the future,” said EBU Director of Technology and Innovation Simon Fell.

“We have many members building new IP studios and they are all betting the farm on SMPTE ST 2110” - Simon Fell

Our group ‘Implementing Open Innovation’ talks about what we are calling bricks, bytes and behaviours,” he said.

“It is all about thinking about the software solutions and making the best out of IPTV because at the moment most of the implementations we have seen have just replaced SDSI with IP Links,” he added.

This means the horrors of conversion. “We think of the next generation IP studio and using it as its purest form: you can do a job on a laptop, one which is to do with the web site one minute, and then a full production with UHD next using the same infrastructure,” said Fell.

“Your infrastructure is scalable and does not have to be thrown away in five or ten years. We have many members building new IP studios and they are all betting the farm on SMPTE ST 2110 as being the way forward,” he added.

Peach and EBU Flow were two of the best new tools in the whole show, one because it was created by software skills from many EBU members, and the other because, composed of known elements, it gives small and medium sized broadcasters a vital CDN tracking tool.

Bram Tullemans, EBU project owner, Flow had a booked meeting every 30 minutes during IBC. “We are now talking to more broadcasters to sign them up. There were little extra feature requests, but a lot of questions about pricing and how they start,” he said.

The Flow technology platform is everything you could want in data traffic – the cheapest/best quality switch between multiple content distribution platforms at any moment 24/7, plus load balancing and quality of service measurement.

Broadcasters can take Flow as a 24/7 EBU support service or apply it in their own environment.

“We can go country and also by go by ISP. We measure two things,” said Tullemans. “One is community information. On a lot of websites they have a piece of code and that reports what the speed is. We add codes inside the members’ players so we know from every time you press play we know what speeds the video player is. We know how certain ISPs perform in a certain location.

“And then we decide which CDN we use. That interests our CDN partners because they can see where they are performing well or not. It is a traffic tool,” he added.

Peach is a brilliant automated content recommendation tool aimed at broadcaster editorial teams who chant the four rights – content, time, person, and device – over morning coffee. A unique co-development in which broadcasters have created what they need, it shows how in-house software developers can outsmart the SD teams in the big vendors.

Engaging with IP

The AMWA masterstroke was IS-O5, but executive director Brad Gilmer said: “A massive leap occurred between last IBC and this one, and to be honest, even between NAB and Amsterdam. People seem to be a lot more versed on the topic of IP, and ready to engage.

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IP Showcase at IBC2017: Dafydd Rees presenting 

“The huge uptake of our NMOS specifications was a very positive thing. We feel that they are critical in a SMPTE 2110 world, and the industry seems to agree,” he added.

The big areas of concentration will be the potency of dematerialisation under the JT-NM; security being built in as a sub set into any new type of media facility built on IP; architectural design issues; and, being cloud fit.

“What you will see is some additional JT-NM updates to pull together the best current practices,” said Gilmer. “The industry is moving in a software direction, as you can see from the EBU’s large investment in software and open source activity.”

”HDR is still the hottest game in town with regards to the wow-factor in UHD” - Peter MacAvock 

The DVB chairman Peter MacAvock looked back at an IBC where one of the hottest demos had involved the DVB (for forward channel and signalling) and HbbTV 2.0.1 (for stream synchronisation protocols) in targeted advertising as an application of hybrid broadband broadcast specifications. A standardised solution that applies this monetisation prospect across a number of platforms can be expected from a study mission group set up by both bodies.

MacAvock said: “A couple of things struck me about IBC. HDR is still the hottest game in town with regards to the wow-factor in UHD, but the key question is how to produce the content. There is also still some confusion as to which systems are available in the consumer domain, with the various proponents claiming either quality benefits, or streamlined production techniques.

“Cloud-based services are still a very hot topic. While some of the shine has gone off the use of cloud for production and distribution,” he added. “It’s still a very attractive, flexible and (if appropriately resourced) cost effective. The issue is that some companies are finding that cloud can be quite expensive if you are not careful about how it’s used.”

The BBC found that so many of its people were using cloud as a quick, easy, and they thought cost effective solution.

“It missed the opportunity for synergy between different departments: it was easier to use Amazon than to talk to colleagues about standardised procedures/interfaces,” said MacAvock. “This meant that while individuals found using cloud-based solutions very convenient, the BBC as a whole has less standardisation, less interoperability, and greater costs.”

“From a DVB and EBU perspective, it was a great show, where the ideas we were pitching were well received,” he added.

”In particular, the EBU’s recommendation system Peach has proved quite popular amongst the broadcast community; they are anxious to implement the features, and wary of outsourcing without careful consideration.”

Skinny margins

IABM forewarned that this $50 billion minnow of an industry is about to be hit with a wave of consolidations, in part because the top 100 key customers now number 20. “The traditional broadcast technology market will see fewer, larger players,” said CEO Peter White.

He also suggested that new player consolidation would also be significant because the profit margins are not there for new media methodologies. That said: there are 600 players in the OTT service provision space.

“The OTT business may not be as strong as the product, because of skinny margins and buying themselves into the market,” said White.

In his industry stats speech he identified that linear advertisement sales had bucked a trend in 2016 by being strong, so commercial channels are bolstering their production side, only for enforced consolidation to face them in the near future. “They will want to fend off the OTT threat,” said White. “There is disruption and change on a massive scale.”

If companies are struggling for innovative winning ideas, perhaps they should look at the small companies and start-ups: “The smaller companies, 8% of the industry, are the innovators,” said White. Sadly for the IABM, 1800 vendors are way too many for such a small industry.

Momentum is key

“IABM: 98% of the market cites interoperability as its key requisite”

With the IABM identifying that 98% of the market cites interoperability as its key requisite and best of breed as second demand (72%) there was strong logic behind the IBC IP Showcase, which attracted thousands of people looking to finally make the jump to IP.

With AIMS fronting and VSF, the EBU, The Media Network Alliance, the AES, AMWA, IBC, SMPTE, and the IABM all lending support along with 52 big to miniature vendors, what impressed was the standing room only keenness around every presentation staged.

Looking back on the impact of the showcase, AIMS chairman Mike Cronk said: “The return on investment was well worth it. From my own interactions and what I’ve heard from others, visitors to IBC understood the momentum behind a standards based approach to IP.

“In any technology transition, momentum is key. People don’t want to choose a technology only to find that they’ve ‘chosen the wrong horse’. With the approval of three standards within the SMPTE ST 2110 suite of standards, namely -10, -20 and -30, our demonstration that 52 vendors have already implemented those standards, and our display of 25 IP reference sites, there is no doubt as to which horse will win when it comes to IP transport,” he added.

“Furthermore, with the IP Showcase we were able to point people to a larger vision, beyond mere IP transport. The JT-NM Roadmap and the demonstration of AMWA IS-05 connection management were key in showing the industry that IP will enable better, more agile ways of working, even for cloud and virtualised topologies.”

What does the IP consortium know about the people who hunt out the showcase?

“We scanned visitors at NAB 2017 and the one just concluded at IBC2017, and we had well over 50% more visitors at IBC than we did at NAB,” said Cronk.

“This is amazing considering that at NAB we were on the show floor. At IBC, since we were in a room (E106), people had to hear about the IP Showcase and intentionally make a visit. Crushing our visitor count in comparison to NAB is a testimony to the growing interest in IP, and the pendulum swing we are seeing.”

Cyber security

Helped by its partnerships with the EBU and SMPTE, and fielding a strong hand of three very interesting work areas - cyber security, IMF for broadcast and online, and news exchange metadata – the DPP has elevated its slightly different approach to the top bartering tables. Its acknowledged duty is to influence standards bodies and keep finding what Managing Director Mark Harrison calls “working pieces that really matter.”

“For SMPTE to pilot specifications work is an exciting new activity” - Mark Harrison

He added: “That for us is always the exciting bit – the moment at which you actually implement something and make it real and useful. What the market requires are real implications, and for SMPTE to pilot specifications work is an exciting new activity. Using IMF broadcast online is really exciting for both of us.”

The big new DPP initiative is playing circus ringmaster for cyber security – something clearly required because 42% of the IABM research sample had experienced security breaches over the past three years.

“What makes the DPP effective is that you have expertise from different parts of the supply chain all coming to bear on a single problem,” said Harrison. Those different parts include Arqiva, The Farm, Telestream, Microsoft and Dropbox: they and many others are happy to be open and collaborative around security, knowing that the DPP will impose nothing.

“There is a lot of energy between them, and they understand each other’s world. You have to address the assumptions head on and talk together about plugging the gaps,” said Harrison. “All you can do is the best to protect yourself, and that is where we now have to get to.

“Our CS initiative is about creating a framework. Somebody from a very significant company involved with trying to keep its content safe told me that the infrastructure they work with is so fluid it changes almost everyday,” he added.

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Dr David Hanson with robots Professor Einstein and Sophia 

“With all the upgrades and versions of product, new software versions, and the need to do something else, they have to makes changes, and with changes there is a live and present danger of security being compromised. It only works if everyone is totally committed to being as open and collaborative as possible.”

Speaking about the most sophisticated version of his robot Sophia, a cloud-based system requiring a substantial amount of computing, Hanson said: “The architecture is designed so that cloud computing can learn from multiple robots, so it is effectively a collective unconscious model for robot AI.”

IBC as was 50 years of age was cooking on new technology directions. Given the last word, Simon Fell said: “Artificial Intelligence for machine learning was a big buzz. Any product that does not have AI attached to it won’t sell.”