From the adoption of IP infrastructure, demand for UHD and HDR delivery and the provision of OTT services, CTOs reveal their priorities. 

Technology road maps from broadcast companies are always useful predictors of the direction in which the industry is travelling.

In such a spirit of exploration we approached the Chief Technology Officers and Heads of Technology of major playout providers to gain an understanding of their recent and future technology priorities.

IBC365 What have been the main barriers to the widespread adoption of IP? Will the publication of the SMPTE 2110 standard affect uptake across your sites?

Jean-Louis LodsSVP Technology, TVT/DMC The broadcast industry is rapidly embracing IP and adopting a more software-centric approach.

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Jean-Louis Lods 

Virtualisation is no longer a case of if but when, and for us, the future is already here, having made the change to a complete IP infrastructure in the playout domain with the launch of Europe’s first fully virtualised private broadcast cloud in August 2017.

Today, our full-IP virtualised playout platform supports 87 channels.

SMPTE 2110 will be an important milestone in moving the complete end-to-end production workflow from lens to final transmission.

Network infrastructure capacity and associated costs will make large deployment initially a challenge to roll out, but as this cost reduces you will see the move away from traditional based-band infrastructure.

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Steve Plunkett 

Steve Plunkett, Chief Technology Officer, Red Bee Media A combination of standardisation and product availability has limited the implementation of IP based baseband video to date, but adoption of IP for other workloads has been extensive.

We have deployed SMPTE 2022-6 based IP media, but SMPTE ST 2110 offers much greater flexibility and so its development, ratification and the availability of production grade products is an important next step.

Scott Rose, Director of Multiplatform and Technology, Babcock Media Services Adoption of IP is becoming less of a technical challenge.

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Scott Rose

Organisations such as Babcock Media Services have had to reskill and adapt while tracking the evolution of standards such as SMPTE 2110, but this is what a service provider does on behalf of its customers.

The speed of transition away from SDI to IP is now a commercial question; much as tape survived long after we heard at multiple IBC shows that tapeless was here, and tape remained economic. The requirement for enterprise class IP switches for uncompressed or lightly compressed video means that SDI isn’t dead yet.

SDI is still cost effective today for medium-sized facilities and it’s robust — something broadcasters won’t give up.

However, as the transition to private and public cloud accelerates, there will be less of a role for SDI to play, as to the best of my knowledge there isn’t a BNC on the cloud.

Sylvain Merle, Chief Technology Officer, Globecast The biggest challenges have been managing the evolution of skills within a team. The main issues arose from mixing broadcast and IP communities: getting them to speak the same language and share the same goals.

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Sylvain Merle 

The management of a signal over IP is culturally different because you don’t technically know where the signal is going due to dynamic routing.

In terms of architecture, our challenges came with implementing IP gateways through the simultaneous management of legacy and new infrastructures. We followed the evolution of the SMPTE 2022 standard and deployed the equipment as it became available.

We will carefully study SMPTE 2110 in the same way. We believe it makes sense to implement these as you move a facility or start a new specific service, otherwise solid SDI infrastructure with gateways still makes sense. 

IBC365 How is the need to deliver content to OTT platforms and experiences affecting your technology priorities?

Scott Rose: Put simply, we think OTT first. This means we design for the future, ensuring customers can reach their new and emerging audiences while maintaining service to traditional platforms. This is a key focus and where Babcock adds immense value to our broadcast customers – by understanding the complexities of emerging technologies and being able to show how to make this work. Unlike many in this space, we can actually show how we deliver 40 concurrent sporting events every weekend on a global basis to a myriad of devices ranging from tablets to smart TVs.

Steve Plunkett OTT is an essential part of the modern viewing experience and so of great strategic importance to both our customers and our business. We focus on managed OTT services and have invested significantly in R&D and work with an ecosystem of key partners to underpin these services. We see OTT as a growth opportunity, particularly in the area of live content.

Jean-Louis Lods It’s not only technology decisions that have been affected by OTT services but also media workflows, with OTT platforms often calling on native frame-rate material workflows. For a multi-lingual continent such as Europe, this has to be factored in. Our investment in our private broadcast cloud was always about how to utilise and re-assign compute, store and network infrastructure as demand shifts from linear services to non-linear.

Research and development has been focused on using open source tools wherever possible, and OTT is a good example of this.

All of our live OTT services are encoded with FFmpeg, and in partnership with Unified Streaming, we have created a highly elastic offering that can serve a large user base. For non-linear OTT partners with CDN, and App developers, we believe our current role revolves around the media logistic and publishing component of the workflow.

Sylvain Merle The telco TV & OTT video environment represents one of our strongest segments for growth with broadcasters, content owners, political organisations and other, non-media corporations. An important opportunity is OTT low latency, with the objective to deliver the OTT stream in sync with the broadcast stream. Also in scope is the adoption of HEVC, minimising bandwidth while allowing improved quality for content delivery to smartphones and tablets. Dynamic advertising, VR, AR and 360-degree content are also all vital areas of our OTT strategy

We see continuing growth in linear TV channels permanently moving online and across social platforms. Globecast has a fully managed end-to-end OTT video service called Globecast TV Everywhere which enables broadcasters and content owners to publish their linear TV channel online for their digital audience, on any screen.

In terms of established digital technologies, streaming media formats and protocols such as HLS and DASH, DRM, CDN and AdTech are the main areas of focus for Globecast. Emerging technologies that are also priorities include front-end engagement, such as app, web player, monetisation and back-end workflows.

To support OTT services, we are in the process of adopting software defined workflows and encoding solutions, combining internally developed bespoke systems and off-the-shelf products.

For content preparation, we focus our R&D effort internally, with the support of encoding and streaming technology vendors.

We are also often required to partner with client-side technology providers, including those for apps and web players, to provide innovations such as viewer-to-viewer content, live-to-online quick turnaround, redistribution off-loaded via CDN and accurate client side usage statistics.

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TVT/DMC playout

IBC365 To what extent are you using the cloud in playout and what impact has this had on what you can deliver?

Steve Plunkett We are heavy users of cloud services across our business, including in playout. There are technical and commercial challenges in servicing some components of a playout chain in the public cloud so we operate a hybrid model. The pace of development in cloud services is very rapid so the mix of public, private and hybrid will no doubt evolve over time in this area.

Jean-Louis Lods We run a hybrid model that is ultimately designed to make our client’s content work around the world.

Playout is performed within our own private cloud at the Equinix AM3 datacenter in Amsterdam with global access to all our operations in London, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo.

Customer access is primarily through a public cloud, where our ContentSelect media management software platform offers our clients access via PC, tablet or phone for streamlined workflows and decision-making processes.

The choices over where best to place services on a public or private cloud always revolve around flexibility and the respective demands of each service.

Scott Rose Cloud is central to Babcock Media’s strategy as an OTT-first service provider. As broadcasters across the world embrace the opportunity of OTT or multi-platform distribution, it challenges traditional assumptions on where services, storage and compute should sit.

Locating the media processing, encoding and transcoding next to the largest consumer of bandwidth is essential. Typically this used to be a satellite multiplex or cable POP, however being co-located or well connected with the best of breed CDNs and access to instantly scalable tier 1 internet connectivity is the driver today.

The immediate future of playout is a hybrid cloud/private data centre approach. This is something we have put into practice at Babcock, running services where they best serve the needs of our customers; increasingly we see customer choices being made on the service we can offer and less so on where its run from.

Sylvain Merle Our customers need and expect fast execution, globalisation and models where opex is preferred over capex.

Our approach is to get the best from virtualised applications for broadcast services, such as media management, VoD, and playout, using diversified hosting infrastructures mixing both private and public clouds.

This allows us to build tailored services using internally standardised bricks, thus quickly handling any elastic demand our customers may have. Cloud technology also enables us to continue to provide our customers with both primary and disaster recovery services, while offering flexible localisation options in international markets.

Our expertise in operating playout services is now being applied across virtualised platforms that can be deployed very quickly from our media centres in Paris, London, Los Angeles and Singapore.

Because of the real time connectivity between our media centres, we are able to provide distributed architectures, where ingest, QC, playout and delivery can be managed, monitored or operated from independent locations.

With the addition of our live portal, Globecast can manage flexible workflows in close collaboration with our customers’ internal teams, facilities and processes. In the coming months, we expect to have additional services hosted in virtualised environments as this offers both speed of execution and optimised workflows / operations for our customers. Our ambition is to have cloud technology as a standard component of all our offerings by spring 2018.

Ericsson playout

Ericsson’s Abu Dhabi playout facility

IBC365 What is driving demand for UHD and how are you responding? How does the move to offer both UHD and HDR affect your technology strategy?

Sylvain Merle We fulfil regular UHD event requests for both broadcast and OTT carriage. Due to our long-standing ties to live sporting events, we are well-versed in delivering UHD content on a weekly basis.

HDR, such as Dolby Vision, is a promising add-on to UHD provision. We have already successfully developed UHD HDR proofs of concept via both broadcast and OTT.

UHD/HDR delivery that demands a lower bandwidth is already an important strategic target, requiring Globecast to work closely with suppliers, customers and our international internal resources for the provision of a best-of-breed solution for our future and existing clients.

Scott Rose UHD and HDR are starting to arrive as some content is captured during production of selected events and distributed in the latest formats. Our response to this trend started some time ago by moving our reliance away from fixed capability systems, for example HD-only playout systems, or encode platforms that cannot support HDR. Instead, using more software defined products running on compute we manage allows us to scale the resources and meet the needs of a broadcast, whether it’s for one event or a whole 24/7 stream.

Steve Plunkett We have been a pioneer in developing and deploying UHD services in the industry. There has been extensive interest and activity in HDR from our customers and we are working with them on their future plans in this space. The pre-requisites are coming into place, such as standards, consumer adoption of compatible devices, so the constraints today are largely based on content availability and this will improve over the next year.

Jean-Louis Lods Earlier this year, IABM analysis of UHD Forum data highlighted that of the UHD deployments globally, 45% of the services launched are European initiatives, compared with 31% in Asia-Pacific and 20% in North America.

To put this in further context, Futuresource Consulting research predicts there will be over 33 million homes with a 4KTV and an SVOD subscription offering UHD content by the end of 2017 globally.

In the immediate future, UHD and HDR will predominately be focused on on-demand workflows, and we have workflows that support this today.

Although we have seen some pressure for linear-based UHD services, from a technical and strategic standpoint, this would mean moving away from our completely software-defined solution and instead moving towards bespoke chains.

Today, we would have to dedicate broadcast boxes or servers to support a true UHD playout system, but we anticipate software solutions will enable a more effective means of entry moving into 2018.