Vendors Now Well Versed In The Language of IT

At the recent IBC Show in Amsterdam, it was clear that when discussing the design and deployment of next generation video production and distribution infrastructures, manufacturers of the technology and processes required are now using significantly different technical terms. Now, familiar words like “encoding”, “playout” and “software defined networks’ are being replaced by computer-geek terms “Blockchain”, “Kubernetes clusters”, “Docker containers”, “software stacks” and “cyber security.”

That’s because in many cases the people now making broadcast technology buying decisions at large media organizations are not traditional video engineers but those well versed in Internet Technology (IT), data packet distribution and virtualized, native IP platforms. Times have changed and video is looked at as yet another type of data to be distributed in a highly deterministic way.

Flexibility Is The Goal

These infrastructures, mimicking those used by IT-centric companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft for many years, are infinitely scalable and can accommodate multiple video resolutions and signal formats on the same network. Today that can be on the same SMPTE 2110-compliant Ethernet cable. Numerous equipment vendors now offer cloud-based signal processing technology powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure.

Like these new content supplier competitors, the broadcast TV industry needs to—and increasingly is—deploy networks that can be leveraged in a variety of ways to support delivery of audio and video content to multiple consumer devices simultaneously.

“We’ve got to be well versed in successful IT strategies in order to help our customers figure this [transition to IP] out because the media they deliver has to be consumed on multiple platforms,” said Angel Ruiz, CEO, MediaKind, formerly Ericsson Media Solutions, and was in fact acquired by One Equity Partners, a company that launched in July after acquiring Ericsson’s video business. Its’ new micro services architecture was used by NBC Sports during this year’s Winter Olympics. “That includes cloud-based contribution networks and the virtualization of processes to spin new services up and down as necessary,” he said.

Harmonic’s video delivery infrastructure is optimized to make production, distribution and delivery networks more efficient, less expensive to operate, and capable of delivering superior-quality video to any device. Click to enlarge.

Harmonic’s video delivery infrastructure is optimized to make production, distribution and delivery networks more efficient, less expensive to operate, and capable of delivering superior-quality video to any device. Click to enlarge.

This agility is key to broadcasters’ bottom line, as they continue to spend large sums of money on content rights and original productions. The more technical ways they can find to distribute content, the more revenue they generate.

Indeed, earlier strategies for IT-centric video networks—like simply virtualizing the hardware stack and employing a series of IP gateway cards—are changing. Native video-over-IP networks now include multiple Docker containers (developed and used daily by Google and many others in the consumer and banking industries) running atop a dedicated operating system that start much faster, and use a fraction of the memory compared to booting an entire operating system.

Containers Are The Way Forward

These containers are able to run virtually anywhere, greatly streamlining product development and deployment. This includes on Linux, Windows, and Mac operating systems, on virtual machines, in data centers and on-premises, and in the public cloud. Basically, wherever a specific production, distribution or billing task is needed, containers make that process much more agile to initiate. However, several vendor design engineers at the show said that containers on their own are useless. It is how you set up the orchestration and scheduling of these new video production and delivery services that make this strategy valuable to content distributors.

Docker is an open-source container format that is supported on the Google Cloud Platform and by Google’s Kubernetes Engine. A Kubernetes Engine is a managed, production-ready environment for deploying containerized applications. For more than a decade Kubernetes Engine has been used to run services like Gmail and YouTube in Docker containers. It allows users to get up and running with new video services quickly—sometime in a matter of days. In fact, Google offers a pre-built SDK-type suite of development tools that has allowed several professional video industry stalwart companies (such as Avid, Grass Valley, HarmonicSeaChangeSony, and many others) to launch the new IT-centric, software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings that they have in the past few years.

[With the move to COTS hardware and off-the-shelf components, sales margins for SaaS products is much higher than a traditional hardware server system.]

“We’re serious about supporting the deployment of these proven, IT-centric services because it helps our customers be competitive in their markets and it helps our internal product development and customer support processes,” said Mike Kronk, vice president of Core Technology at Grass Valley. “With these new types of SaaS models, we can develop new software tools and feature for things like our iTX and Stratus platforms very quickly. In some cases we’re talking minutes to get new features to customers, instead of the several weeks it used to take.”

Imagine Communications' virtualized Versio platform includes microservices for ingest, prep and playout to automation, graphics, master control and branding. Click to enlarge.

Imagine Communications' virtualized Versio platform includes microservices for ingest, prep and playout to automation, graphics, master control and branding. Click to enlarge.

That’s because, like consumer-facing companies Adobe Systems and Apple do, professional video platforms can be upgraded in the background, without the customer even knowing about it.

Blockchain (Video) Revolution

From empowering engineers to track their IP signals and virtually reset their IP switches, blockchain, a kind of distributed spreadsheet, is set to revolutionize the way content is monetized and distributed. Monetization has become more critical than ever before, due to the content spending spree in the past year. Broadcasters want a return on their investments, and blockchain ecosystems are built for manage a large amount of assets.

In a keynote speech that was part of the IBC Show’s Blockchain track (perhaps proving how important the technology has become to the video industry), Kim Jackson, co-founder of a company called Singular DTV, said that next year her company would launch an ecosystem based around blockchain. This, she said, allows its users to generate smart contracts and “tokens” that can be embedded with IP content, rights information and value. A Kubernetes Engine then makes it easy to deploy, update, and manage applications and services.

“The ability to track IP and revenue is where the power is,” said Jackson, acknowledging that user (and system) analytics is key to the success of a next-generation video infrastructure. “Singular DTV is focused on transactions: rights, royalty and revenues. Next year you are going to see films, TV shows and books using our digital distribution platform.”

At the show another company called Arqiva said it had partnered with music blockchain start up JAAK to pilot a decentralized TV rights database that will launch during the second half of 2019. Nick Moreno, Arqiva’s Director of Strategy for Satellite & Media, announced the initiative during a separate session on blockchain. He said that it was the perfect opportunity for TV companies to get involved in experimenting with blockchain to maximize return on their content investments.

“Everyone in the video industry is spending more and more on original rights, so once you’ve shown a property as a first run on your own network you want to be able to maximize the rights to property globally,” he said.

Aperi’s virtualized infrastructure technology is based on V-Stack, an FPGA-powered software platform that it says provides much more compute power than CPU- or GPU-based processing. Click to enlarge.

Aperi’s virtualized infrastructure technology is based on V-Stack, an FPGA-powered software platform that it says provides much more compute power than CPU- or GPU-based processing. Click to enlarge.

Zixi, a company that offers a hybrid cloud-based/on-premise software platform that enables broadcast-quality video delivery over the open Internet, said it is committed to making managed and unmanaged IP networks a secure, high-quality, and reliable environment for live video delivery. Key aspects of the Zixi platform are automating “spin up” and “spin down” of AWS cloud resources, dynamic instance licensing, transcoding and packaging automation, and more managed services that allow maximum content customization and distribution using the least amount of resources, second-by-second. These types of services are made possible by IT strategies now being deployed throughout the video industry.

IT Is Democratizing The Playing Field

IT-centric strategies are also democratizing the playing field for vendors of all sizes across the industry. It has allowed upstart companies like Aperi to compete head to head with established virtualized infrastructure providers like AWS Elemental and Imagine Communications (which both hold several patents related to creating and delivering microservices).

Like Imagine, at the IBC Show Aperi demonstrated a live 4K production model that relies on Aperi’s native IP production platform for remote production. They said broadcasters—especially those producing sporting events—need to understand the increased efficiency and reduced cost of deploying a software-based workflow, when compared to traditional hardware-only or hybrid architectures. This platform, they said, enables broadcast functions that can be turned on or off, as needed.

Aperi’s technology is based on V-Stack, an FPGA-powered software platform that provides much more compute power than CPU- or GPU-based processing. Optimized for live production, it provides a much faster and more agile remote production with lower latency. The platform is also built with container-based technology fully integrated, with automatic discovery and registration that eliminates the need for manual processes and administration or field engineers. At the show it was announced that China Central Television (CCTV) has expanded its implementation of the media virtualization functionality of Aperi’s IP-based live media processing platform.

“The newest updates to our platform will only increase our customers’ ability to output the highest-quality live programming faster and more effectively,” said Joop Janssen, Aperi’s CEO. “Our dynamic licensing, for example, is an industry first and allows operators to achieve simple workflow management through the spinning up and down of broadcast functions and floating them around network edges and core locations.”

Monetizing Content

Many infrastructure vendors at the show were also addressing business-first strategies and new ways of monetizing content through innovative distribution. Imagine Communications showed its Versio Platform, a comprehensive playout and media workflow solution that includes microservices for ingest, prep and playout to automation, graphics, master control and branding. As a cloud-native, microservices-based playout solution, Versio Platform supports baseband, IP, and hybrid IP/SDI scenarios and can be deployed on-premises or in a private or public cloud environment. 

Grass valley’s iTX Flex is an automated playout platform for cloud-based signal processing and virtualized play out.

Grass valley’s iTX Flex is an automated playout platform for cloud-based signal processing and virtualized play out.

“As the industry continues to evolve, we continue to add practical enhancements to Versio that deliver business value to every customer, no matter where they are in the IP transition,” said Steve Reynolds, president of Playout and Networking at Imagine Communications. “All of the new Versio Platform features address media companies’ real-world challenges.”

At IBC2018, Imagine also introduced container functionality in Versio Automation. The company describes containers as “high-level packages of primary and secondary events, which can be treated as a single object.” These objects can be created manually or generated from a Traffic system and are easily expanded, collapsed and re-ordered. This streamlines media workflows and significantly improves operational efficiency compared to traditional, cluttered systems.

Even companies like EVS that have traditionally offered hardware-only products is riding the IT-centric wave. At the IBC Show the company showed its Via platform that features a microservice-based architecture that supports three main modules: VIA Flow, VIA Mind and VIA Opengate. Via Flow uses modular services to simplify media management and create customized workflows, Via Mind uses the power of artificial intelligence to create smarter workflows and Via Opengate uses an open API for easy integration with third-party systems for every business service.

The EVS stand also featured several presentations on how VIA forms the foundation of EVS’ latest products, including X-ONE, Xeebra, DYVI and the new version of IPDirector.

“Most large media companies understand IT and how it can help them run their operations,” said Ian Flecther, CTO of Grass Valley and inventor (as CTO of OmniBus Systems) of the iTX platform, one of the first file-based, software defined networks introduce to the industry in 2006. It’s now called iTX Flex and billed as a "true cloud-automated playout platform for cloud-based signal processing and virtualized playout."

“It’s up to [video industry] manufacturers to get up to speed and learn the language that these IT guys speak," he said. "They are the ones that are changing the television broadcasting as we've always known it."

And that was on the thinking of many vendors at the IBC Show.

Editor's note:

The IBC 2018 exhibit hall attendance was 55,884, down about 3% from last year while exhibition space grew by 667m2 (7,200ft2). Conference registration was up by 14% year-over-year, said IBC officials.


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