What Is Media Orchestration?

A new category has appeared in the marketing lexicon of playout automation and media management companies, namely ‘media orchestration’. It describes a process that will play an increasingly significant role as media organisations make the inevitable transition from baseband (SDI) to IP network technology.

“Broadly, media orchestration describes both the control of playout and media management but also addresses the management, configuration, and monitoring aspects that relate to content delivery,” explains Andy Warman, director of product management, media servers and storage at Harmonic - one of the company's using the term.

“Automation deals with accepting schedules, maintaining device control, and ensuring first that media is available and playable at the right time, and then, after playout, that it can be reconciled and monetized,” says Warman. “However, the ability to add new channels and features, reconfigure what is already in place, track the emergence of issues, move forward with diagnosis, and quickly fix any problems is also key to health of each channel. Media orchestration considers all these aspects of playout and media delivery.”

Another company making play of the term is Imagine Communications.

“While the specifics of the transition [to IP] are still being defined, maintaining the integrity of all content being created, processed and distributed remains a non-negotiable requirement,” explains Glenn LeBrun, Imagine's VP of product marketing.

The Magellan SDN Orchestrator from Imagine Communications

The Magellan SDN Orchestrator from Imagine Communications

He highlights solutions like the Magellan SDN Orchestrator which “help facilitate a seamless integration of IP technology with legacy systems, protecting existing infrastructure investments while maintaining operational workflow integrity in the hybrid SDI/IP environment.” Ideally, says LeBrun, this ‘orchestration’ is invisible to the operator; “No new training or expensive ‘forklift’ system upgrade – during a phased transition to an IP infrastructure.”

Harmonic brands its range of media orchestration products as Polaris. These tools already uses IP connectivity for all control elements. Warman says it's the default way to control Harmonic video server and encoder products.

“We provide serial and GPI control to provide legacy support on both the video I/O devices and on Polaris automation systems. Once the dependence of these legacy interfaces can be removed, and pure IP control can be used, users are ready to take the first logical step to virtualizing playout. That said, there are other issues that need to be overcome in order to migrate control to the cloud.”

Harmonic's Polaris Live

The bigger issue is that the industry is in the early stages of its transition to off-the-shelf IP playout automation platforms that do not require dedicated hardware, but the vast majority of systems will continue to need some form of dedicated hardware for some time.

“Ties to dedicated hardware can stem from the need to interface to existing SDI infrastructure, requirements for serial and GPI control, and the use of house timecode sources and reference to sync automation and playout systems in the air chain,” explains Warman. “Even some cutting-edge solutions need GPU acceleration to perform on otherwise standard IT hardware. These limitations prevent broadcasters from taking a true datacenter-based and/or visualized approach to handling the playout chain. Consequently, appliance-type solutions — for which the vendor supplies the computer, configures it with add on cards, and warrants its performance — will be dominant for years to come.”

One issue in shifting control to the cloud is that of timing and, in particular, how to meet frame-accuracy requirements. Challenges in this area remain, but an end is in sight that could allow for a common time base in a virtual infrastructure. The next hurdle is that of managing control itself. Already, various de facto standard mechanisms and protocols (such as VDCP, CII, SCTE 104/35) exist to solve problems but typically they do not address the needs of the air chain itself and all of its sub-elements.

“If a number of these needs cannot be bundled together, then vendors create proprietary control mechanisms to achieve their goals,” warns Warman. “Thus, while virtualizing control is possible today, achieving a standards-based approach remains challenging.”

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