Systems Integrators Have Their Heads In the Cloud

Although there are still many cables to connect and physical hardware to implement, the overall scope of many of today’s system integrator projects around the world is changing dramatically, incorporating lots of software and IP connections. Once the exclusive domain of project engineers well versed in SDI infrastructures, IT experts are now the driving force in the design and building of a broadcast facility that makes heavy use of cloud-based operations.

The hot topic, of course, is IP,” said Rainer Kampe, Chief Technology Officer at Germany-based systems integrator Broadcast Solutions. The company is expanding and recently opened a new location in the UK. “In times of budget restraints and increasing production demands, customers want future-proof solutions that leverage their investments in equipment and studios to the highest degree.”

The first part of any project, Kampe said, is for broadcasters to consult with a veteran systems integrator (SI) and figure out what they need and how they like to work. Since there are no IP-only solutions today that can operate on a global scale, IP might make sense in parts of a facility but will be, as of now, combined with legacy technology.

“If you want to use IP in a project, you automatically end up with a hybrid approach, with IP and baseband working together,” he said. “Another new technology the industry is embracing is HDR (High Dynamic Range). We have already realized several projects where HD/UHD and SDR/HDR are working side by side. This results in some special considerations for workflow and workspace design.”

Broadcast Solutions’ Rainer Kampe.

Broadcast Solutions’ Rainer Kampe.

Remote processing (including remote production, or “At Home”) and the cloud is becoming a part of every global client project. Broadcast Solutions has developed a cloud-based control system called “hi”, which uses cloud technology to make it the best and most flexible experience for the user. Hi uses a decentralized software architecture built on open source technologies, which allows it to run on almost any platform (on a laptop, a dedicated server, on virtual machines or server clusters), including cloud services like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or in the customer’s own data center.

Support Partners, based in the UK, is another company that has put a lot of effort and training into using the cloud to the best of its abilities. They like the strategy so much, in fact, that they have embarked on a company wide strategy to have all of its clients’ operations located inthe cloud by the year 2020. According to Harry Grinling, CEO, the goal is to get clients workflows off “on-site heavy tin” and into the cloud for a range of benefits.

“There’s no question the media and entertainment industry needs to make this transition,” Grinling said. “The [media & entertainment] industry tends to be very cyclical and the cloud allows you to scale up or down as the needs arises. This type of flexibility was never possible before now."

He said there are great benefits and values that can be enjoyed by using the cloud: one being the ability to use analytics to measure viewer success.

“This will be vitally important for broadcasters as time goes on,” he said. “We can use these insights to drive machine-learning models to be able to automate and deliver content.”

One of the latest projects completed by Broadcast Solutions is the Streamteam Nordic/Telia remote production hub and virtual studio in Helsinki/Finland. The facility will handle all matches of the Finnish Ice Hockey League, which will be broadcasted by Finnish/Swedish telecom provider Telia via its IPTV service, set-top boxes and streaming platform, beginning with the 2018/2019 season. Streamteam produces over 450 Finnish League ice hockey games per season from the most modern remote production facility in the Nordics to date. The Finnish league sometimes plays up to seven games simultaneously (Currently, two of the seven matches are produced in UHD and five in HD).

[Within the hub, a Grass Valley Momentum production platform is used with seven Kahuna production switchers and a Sirius 850 video matrix (456 x 840 I/O).]

Kampe said that covering all matches at the same time (in both HD and UHD) and adding studio production to the program required Streamteam Nordic to build a centralized production hub. The new facility contains eight production rooms, an audio control room, five post suites, and a Master Control room connected to the seven remote sets.

“They connect all venues to the Helsinki hub via Telia's DWDM (Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing) network,” he said. “The virtual studio, which produces pre- and post-game live content, is linked to the hub by four 10 Gbps fiber-optic connections.”

Streamteam’s production facility also includes a centralized video referee room with up to four video referees overseeing the matches in all venues. The overall system design takes a hybrid approach, leveraging IP-workflows for interconnecting the venues and hub, while production within the hub and the studio uses the 3Gps baseband SDI format. Signal transport between the hub and the venues is based on JPEG2000 encoding.

“The task was to give Streamteam a solution that is future-proof and will provide them with a boost to expand their business further in the country and also abroad,” Kampe said. “Remote production has already shown its benefit in terms of operability and flexibility. The Streamteam/Telia project is a superb example of a hybrid approach.”

At Broadcast Solutions, they work with broadcasters as well as clients in the advertising and consumer electronics space, so getting the right content to the right viewer at the right time is always part of any conversation about building a new facility.

Support Partners’ Harry Grinling.

Support Partners’ Harry Grinling.

“We’ve seen viewership change from liner TV to on device,” Grinling said. “Some of the more traditional broadcasters have been caught up in a cloud of confusion about who their new competitors are. When we talk about the M&E industry, they think it’s Facebook and Amazon. The way we get clients to re-look at their business models is to carefully explain the advantages of migrating to a newer platform.

“The risk is that they make the transformation for transformation’s sake as opposed to having a clear and well-defined strategy. That’s where we come in.”

Another issue, according to Support Partners’ Grinling, is that many broadcasters’ systems and processes are based on a very linear process for producing and delivering content. That’s difficult for businesses to adapt.

“There are lots of people who are frightened about the change,” he said.

Both system integrators we spoke to agree that leveraging the cloud is about adding more value to the business. The goal is to reduce repetitive manual tasks, and free up people’s time to add more value to the business, and put more money on the screen as well.

“For example, one client has a media asset management system on premise,” Grinling said. “It’s made up of a vast amount of hardware, spinning disc storage and LTO libraries. That will be a siloed service that does not function very well across the other platform they use. So, we’re looking to see how we transition that into the cloud, giving them the same functionality and access to their content as they had before. In the end, using our IT and broadcast engineering expertise, we can show the client a number of benefits that it will bring to the business.”

“The cloud offers new possibilities for sharing resources, which is a very appealing fact for our customers,” Broadcast Solutions’ Kampe said. “However, I think hybrid approaches will be daily fare in broadcast environments for some time until a full-IP workflow spanning the complete production chain will be possible.

With its newly established UK location, the company has recognized a demand for remote production workflows, legacy technology, IP, HDR and the cloud simultaneously.

“Broadcasters in the UK are looking for partners to master the industry’s paradigm change and we see a vast potential for our company to grow in this market.”

Perhaps the most challenging part of any project is the lack of off-the-shelf solutions to solve IP-centric problems. Working with the customer on a new project today, they said, is more a work in progress.

“Developing IP projects is a more joint effort and follows a step-by-step approach with a finished installation that isn’t carved in stone but open to changes and adaptation,” Kampe said.

One benefit of today’s cloud-first approach is expandability. On premise systems take a long time to upgrade and can be costly. In a cloud environment, signal-processing capability can spin up very quickly. With the right algorithms in place, the system can be design to scale up or down automatically, as the need arises

“The other benefit of cloud processing is being to analyze the material we have,” Grinling said. “By putting it into the cloud it allows us to be able to analyze that information, using cognitive tool sets (like those from Google, AWS, Microsoft, etc.) to quickly search that archive and find the files you need at a moment’s notice. Metadata makes this possible.”

There’s no question the media and entertainment industry needs to make this transition to the cloud. The challenge is that broadcasters are relatively late to the digital transition that has occurred in other industries over the past five years. The system integrators we spoke to are determined to change the prevailing mindset of insecurity about the technology and get M&E companies into the cloud.

Many broadcasters are looking to systems integrators to help them achieve their goals of systems flexibility and cost-effective operations. Finding the right SI partner is key to any successful project.

“The best strategy is to approach new projects with the latest tools and the expertise of our teams around the globe to benefit our customers,” Kampe said.

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