How are vendors and manufacturers making sure their products and services support broadcasters, platforms and content creators in their efforts to make broadcast and film a more sustainable operation? Michael Burns finds those who serve the media industry are ready for climate action.

“Being green in the movies is no longer something reserved for The Hulk. It is a responsibility for every one of us in the industry,” says Bill Admans, SVP Operations at Ownzones.

“Environmental sustainability is an essential cultural pillar for many of our customers. They expect their vendors and suppliers to utilise environmentally friendly practices and set sustainability targets in their contracts. We are using a sustainability checklist to assess and score our business. Making these benchmarks available to our customers helps them measure their sustainability through the services we provide.”

“Happily, we have seen some changes in behaviour of customers in sustainability demands,” says Alison Pavitt, director of sales and marketing at Pebble. “Mostly this is in the form of RFI requirements prior to a formal tender. However, we find this in only some countries and would fully expect that this behaviour will spread to wider areas of the globe. 

“This is really becoming existential for companies, it’s not lip service,” Guido Meardi, V-Nova

“Pebble takes our impact on the environment very seriously,” she adds. “We continuously monitor our impact as an operating company during, for instance the development of products and services. We also strive to avoid unnecessary waste through re-use, recycling and by supporting live systems as long as practical and possible. This means we are helping customers with their own waste management while at the same time sustainably developing newer greener solutions.

Admans shares this opinion.

“Sustainability in the broadcast and movie industry involves socially and environmentally responsible decision-making for all aspects of the production process. [Also] broadcast and movies have tremendous social influence and can impact significant social change through leadership and example. Investing in solar and other renewable power sources reduces the impact of production on global warming. Moving workflows to the cloud can dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of post-production.”

Read more Virtual Eye goes green with remote production

Ownzones media supply chain platform is built entirely in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud. “This choice means our company and our customers receive the full benefit of AWS’s commitment to reducing their carbon footprint and sustainability,” says Admans.

“By moving to the cloud instead of on-premises infrastructure, our workflows typically benefit from an 88% reduction in carbon emissions because AWS data centres can offer environmental economies of scale. We generally use 77% fewer servers, 84% less power, and tap into a 28% cleaner mix of solar and wind power versus traditional infrastructure.”

“The massive change in the ecosystem of broadcast/film production has been one of electrification or digitisation” says Pavitt.

Alison Pavitt_Director of Sales and Marketing

Alison Pavitt: Director of sales and marketing

 “We have moved away from plastics consumables for media and no longer use tape or tape machines so ubiquitously. We have however increased the number of digital devices we use as a replacement. Electricity consumption has replaced materials consumption and that offers an opportunity for control.

”Vehicles for location work, buildings for sets, type of lights, all have power impacts that need to be controlled at the point of consumption. In the same way Covid has taught the industry about remote working, so reducing carbon impacts through less travel, so the industry must learn that further efficiencies in power consumption are possible.”

Clever codecs
“I’m so glad that this topic is becoming ‘fashionable’ now,” says Guido Meardi, CEO of V-Nova. “We’ve always been advocates of energy savings and good use of energy in video processing. Even the acronym for one of our standards is Low Complexity Enhancement Video Coding [MPEG5 LCEVC], where low complexity is low computational complexity, so you’re getting better quality video but also taking less processing power to do it.

“A few years ago I had prominent individuals in the industry telling me, Guido, who cares about that? We can throw power at the problem, you’re focusing on an irrelevant issue.”

That thinking is so outdated now, especially given the sheer amount of power required to satisfy demand for billions of streams of video, at greater resolutions.

“You need to use more expensive codecs, and then more bandwidth that requires more routing, which builds up to an insane amount of energy,” says Meardi.

“It’s even worse if we go forward; there are even more expensive codecs out the horizon like AV1 or VVC that use 10x or more processing power, and there are some things in 8K that are starting this year.”

Guido Meardi CEO and Co Founder V Nova 2021

Guido Meardi: CEO and co-founder, V-Nova

V-Nova claims its LCEVC technology provides a boost to the compression efficiency of any existing or future video codec, enabling higher quality at up to 40% lower bitrates while accelerating encoding and reducing compute costs by up to 4x for codecs like AV1 or VVC and up to 2x for AVC/H.264.

Meardi points out the growing acknowledgement of ‘negative green premium technologies’.

“Previously if you wanted to do something green you needed to pay more; there was a green premium,” says Meardi. “Now there are some technologies that actually are green and save money or make you make more money, so they have a negative premium. The MPEG5 LCEVC is one of them. It’s not the only one; there are a few in different parts of the media chain. They should be heavily prioritised for immediate execution. If they are software it’s easy. With hardware of course it needs more investment.”

Hardware reduction
“A quicker migration to and/or adoption of new codecs across all resolutions – including SD, HD and UHD – will reduce bandwidth and storage requirements, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” says Rémi Beaudouin, chief strategy officer at ATEME.

The company’s new Green Delivery solution includes a new encoding/transcoding engine featuring algorithm enhancements that improve its performance, resulting in reduced storage and, by extension, reduced hardware requirements. 

“Buyers of products and services are starting to ask for more environmental data from their suppliers, but the information is sometimes lacking,” Abdul Hakim, DPP

“Lower hardware requirements automatically reduces energy consumption, since it takes energy to build hardware. Moreover, the energy consumed during the service provider’s daily operations are reduced with lower bandwidth usage,” says Beaudouin. “The algorithm improvements also enable more efficient processing, thereby reducing the energy consumption of statistical multiplexing.”

These enhancements include a change in Ateme’s Titan encoding software, ostensibly meaning the same content takes up less rack space.

“Resource allocation is now optimised for the microservices/orchestrated Titan encoders, thanks to software enhancements in both the encoders themselves and in the orchestrator,” adds Beaudouin. “Scheduling implementation has been enhanced to optimise the use of a very high number of CPU cores, as observed in deployments on the AMD EPYC Rome processor. Again, this means reduced hardware requirements.

“We have also optimised Film Grain synthesis, algorithmically recreating film grain and noise to be re-injected at the player, enabling savings in compression of up to 90 % – meaning lower hardware requirements for storing content,” he continues. “Thanks to our microservices-based video head-end, resources are shared across applications such as encoding/transcoding and multiplexing, to halve hardware requirements.”

In the case of IPTV/OTT video delivery, Beaudouin claims the Green Delivery solution divides storage requirements by three: “This is thanks to pull-mode Just-in-Time Packaging (JITP), which Ateme has combined with broadcast-level latency – a world first. Instead of storing the same content in different formats, pull-mode JITP means that TV service providers only need to store content once, reducing their storage requirements threefold while supporting Google Android, Apple iPhone and Microsoft.”

Many of the features that reduce hardware requirements also reduce bandwidth usage, such as a shared workflow for linear and non-linear services.

“The Green Delivery solution now integrates the Embedded Distributed Storage (EDS) technology inherited from Anevia, which uses the same servers for both streaming and storing content – halving the number of physical rack units needed,” says Beaudouin. “It also integrates the elastic CDN developed by Anevia, which enables operators to scale their CDN up and down as needed. This does away with built-in CDN over-capacity to guarantee quality service during peak traffic, which might be used just once a year or even less. This over-capacity usually represents about 94% of an OTT operator’s infrastructure, so the saving is huge.”

World shift
Guido Meardi observes a dramatic change over just a matter of months in the way that people are now thinking about sustainability. “It’s not just the media industry, it’s the world,” he says pointing out the impact that the book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates had when it was published in February 2021.

“That put the topic centre stage, it’s well written and with a lot of facts and data inside, so is also very convincing,” he says. “[At the same time] we had the shift in the US position and a lot of other countries, notably China, having more serious commitments around the green agenda. We had [CEO of Blackrock] Larry Fink leading the financial markets to really give power to [environmental, social, and governance] ESG certificates and targets.

“We’ve already seen that a number of companies in the media entertainment industry have started committing to ESG targets. It [thus] becomes immediately relevant for the CEO or the CFO,” he continues. “It’ll trickle down very quickly to product managers, engineering managers and operations managers. This is really becoming existential for companies, it’s not lip service.”

“If you’re an existing supplier, or see yourself as a prospective supplier, then understanding your emissions is hugely important in order to be able to do business with [broadcasters and platforms],” says Abdul Hakim, program delivery manager, DPP. “This is where the DPP Committed to Sustainability programme can help. The programme was developed as a response to buyers asking suppliers to start thinking about environmental sustainability so they can easily identify those committed to making an improvement.”

It’s free for any media company to complete an online self-assessment which results in a score out of 5 that provides a measure of sustainability performance.

“The assessment considers an organisation’s environmental policies and processes, leadership, awareness, procurement and sustainability design. Importantly, it also focuses on how organisations are measuring, reporting on and reducing in three key impacting areas: energy use, waste management and carbon emissions.

“All assessments are scored [and] companies can use the guidance provided by the programme to improve. Then, as they progress and mature, they can resubmit and see if they achieve a better score,” adds Hakim.

Some 33 companies have completed the programme so far, with a number of submissions still in progress. Hakim says there’s still a long way to go. “Some larger suppliers have fairly developed internal programmes and have seen the value of being part of a community of suppliers demonstrating their commitment to sustainability.

“Some companies may consider setting Science Based Targets, others may be interested in formal certification such as B-Corps, or adopting an international standard,” he says. “These measures will ensure there are processes in place to ensure quantifiable reductions in emissions. Companies can also choose to publicly disclose their emissions through platforms such as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).”

Limecraft is part of the DPP’s Committed to Sustainability programme. “We take sustainability very seriously. Not only for ourselves - 90% of our overall energy consumption is electricity for our servers and this is not originating from fossil fuels - but notably for our customers,” says Maarten Verwaest, CEO and founder of Limecraft.

“Unlike other tech providers, we are not in the business of selling hardware and maximising hardware footprint. We have deliberately opted for a quite unconventional commercial model, whereby we charge our customers based on the number of hours. So we’ve created a common interest in processing media as efficiently as possible, using less CPU cycles, enabling shorter turn-around time, lowering the total overall cost.

“We prefer customers [to store] original footage on cold tape, rather than convince them to store it in the cloud,” he continues. “We advise them to use local encoding, which is several times more efficient than cloud-based encoding. We advise them to use low-res proxies to take the majority of creative decisions, rather than creating and transferring copies of raw material and using excessive bandwidth.”

Pebble has also recently been recognised by the DPP. “Whilst we are enthusiastic supporters of the DPP mark, Pebble believes that there is lot more the industry can do,” says Pavitt. “Further efforts should be made by buyers in our industry to ensure that some certification of environmental performance is possessed by their chosen suppliers. If the percentage of supply companies achieving this level of certification were to increase, encouraged by buyer insistence, that would be a far better result for us all than a tougher award criteria.”

Abdul-Hakim

Abdul Hakim: DPP delivery manager

Hakim agrees: “Buyers of products and services are starting to ask for more environmental data from their suppliers, but the information is sometimes lacking. You can get [sustainability] information from Apple and other major computer hardware providers but try getting that for broadcast equipment! Even in the software space - how much environmental impact data is provided to customers? If more of this was provided at an account level then it could lead to changes in behaviour or, at the very least, enable customer organisations to provide more accurate Scope 3 data.”

Read more Interview: BBC’s Jigna Chandaria on the environmental impact of streaming