NAB NY Panel Considers Future of Broadcast/OTT Playout and Distribution

Broadcasters and playout facilities are already coming to grips with distributing programming to a multitude of outlets and platforms, in addition to conventional broadcast channels. This is only set to grow as more operators enter the market to exploit the potential of emerging technologies such as 5G. As this burden increases, facility and service operators are looking for ways to reduce costs and complexity by having centralised distribution rather than separate means of playing out programmes to terrestrial TV, OTT, streamed services and social media.

While this will ultimately lower the stresses involved in multiple playout, the entire media sector still faces challenges in implementing these new, consolidated workflows. This will be discussed during the NAB New York Show in a session with the punning title - at least for David Bowie fans - of "Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: Turn and Face the Strain!" The New Distribution Strategy. Moderated by Alan Wolk, co-founder and lead analyst of TV[R]EV, this will feature panellists Gabriel Berger, CEO of Think Analytics; Steve Reynolds, president of playout and networking at Imagine Communications; and Chris Walters, CEO of Encompass Digital Media.

The brief is to look at how distribution is likely to change as audiences become more fragmented due to the increasing influence of OTT and time-shifted channels. This will also involve discussing the pros and cons of OTT apps and vMVPD (virtualised multi-channel video programming distribution). With Berger and Walters set to give their views on market analysis and managed services provision respectively, Reynolds will discuss what the future may hold for the development of playout and automation technologies in multi-channel environments.

"As audiences continue to fragment, there are more options where people can get content from," says Reynolds, speaking ahead of his NAB NY appearance. "Operating expenses continue to go up linearly for the traditional broadcaster, which has to think about not just over the air transmission but hand-offs to cable and satellite or direct to consumer services like NBC's All Access."

Up until now broadcasters have had to add additional playout facilities to handle this proliferation, which is driven by viewer demand as people realise they are not tied to just one way of watching TV or video. "Increasingly, if you're in the business of making channels you have to think how you can keep your audience if you have only a single means of distribution for the multiple outlets," Reynolds comments. "That now means not scaling up but consolidating."

Steve Reynolds, president of playout and networking at Imagine Communications

Steve Reynolds, president of playout and networking at Imagine Communications

That, he adds, is not an easy proposition because broadcasters want to maintain their core playout for terrestrial TV while at the same time feeding other platforms: "They want to keep [existing] systems in place but extend their operations. In the early days of OTT, about five to six years ago, there would be one system for traditional broadcast and another for OTT, streaming and even live events. That business model is going away now; we won't see independent systems for those different elements. They will merge back into one."

The change - and possible strain as mentioned in the panel session's title - is to have the broadcast operations support OTT. "There is a lot of technology around to handle distribution," Reynolds says. "Many operators have been trained to use one system to make TV but now they need to extend those traditional systems into OTT environments and support fragmented distribution. This also has to include ad insertion models. The core broadcast system will still be in place providing asset management but it has to be more scalable."

The aim of this is to create a "unified origination system", one service that provides playout for live broadcast plus MVPD, re-transmission, OTT streaming and video on demand (VoD) packaging. "All of those things can come out of one system," comments Reynolds. "If you think of it as one converged broadcast system then it is possible to handle all those different services and distribute them to the consumer."

The key to this, Reynolds explains, is a change in how broadcasters think about what playout facilities should be: "There has to be a move towards a different implementation model. We're not talking about the big iron, proprietary, monolithic systems of a few years ago. What people are coming round to are software systems running on off-the-shelf computers with an infrastructure that is 100 percent IP, with everything moving in packets. With that it doesn't really matter if the signal is going to an antenna or the latest iPhone."

With the advent of technologies such as MPEG DASH, broadcasting is now a transport stream based on formatted delivery. There is more than likely plenty of strain ahead for operators of all kinds in making a unified system work properly and run efficiently but, Steve Reynolds concludes, they are responding positively to the idea of this new way of working.

"Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: Turn and Face the Strain!" The New Distribution Strategy takes place on Wednesday 17 October from 15:30 to 16:15 in the Advanced TV Solutions Theater.

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