Disney/ABC Moves Control Room And Playout To The Cloud

When one tries to get a grasp on what the Disney/ABC Television Group is doing with it’s new master control and playout system, think of it as moving from “Channel in a Box” to “Channel in the Cloud.”

In fact, Imagine’s VersioCloud, which Disney/ABC will be using as the basis of their new transformation, began it’s life as a “channel in a box” device before it moved to IP and the cloud.

“Versio was our traditional integrated playout solution,” said Steve Reynolds, chief technology officer for Imagine Communications. “The first two generations of Versio were ‘channel in a box’ solutions. Essentially, one appliance equaled one channel. If you needed twenty channels you’d buy twenty Versios and rack and stack ‘em. You’d set up the control interfaces and you were ready to go.

“What Disney/ABC is going to do is instead of having a model where one appliance equals one channel, they will run all the Versios in a virtualized computing environment. Essentially, one virtual machine equals one channel. They are running on blade servers together with an off-the-shelf IP infrastructure. We built the VersioCloud so it has no dependencies on the hardware it is running on. It runs purely in software in a 100 percent virtualized environment.”

Disney is making history as the first major combo broadcaster and cable programmer to begin to build a global distribution company entirely on a cloud-based infrastructure. The company is building its own global broadcast cloud, which opens the way to changing the fundamental way television programing is distributed, managed and monetized in the years ahead.

“By leveraging evolving IP and cloud technologies, we are able to move beyond what’s currently possible with traditional proprietary “Big Iron” broadcast infrastructures,” said Vince Roberts, executive vice president, global operations and chief technology officer at Disney/ABC. Eventually, Roberts said, Disney/ABC plans to move its entire master control infrastructure to the cloud.

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The traditional "big iron" broadcast infrastructures are a thing of the past suggests Vince Roberts, executive vice president, global operations and chief technology officer at Disney/ABC.

Disney has chosen Imagine Communications with its advanced cloud-based technology vision to provide equipment, software and technical expertise to the project. It will transform Disney/ABC’s traditional master control facilities in New York City and Burbank, California. The first phase of the massive project will focus on Disney’s cable channels, where the channels are mainly linear and easier to convent. The second stage will focus on the more complex challenge of live broadcasts.

“Master control will still run out of the existing broadcast facilities,” said Reynolds. “But instead of controlling on-premises equipment, it will be controlling the cloud playout system located in data centers throughout the world. That is really one of the key things that Disney has done here. It’s a huge leap forward for the broadcast industry to separate the broadcast center from the data center.”

The transition of Disney/ABC’s master control and playout means that the network’s uncompressed SDI broadcast infrastructure in two major broadcast hubs must be converted to IP for the cloud. Disney/ABC will use a pair of Imagine technologies for that conversion.

Two types of Selenio gateway card modules will be used in Selenio Media Convergence Platforms. These cards essentially convert SDI baseband signals to IP streams and IP to SDI signals

Selenio Media Convergence platforms will be key to Disney's move to their private cloud.

Selenio Media Convergence platforms will be key to Disney's move to their private cloud.

One type of conversion using the Selenio UCIP will move uncompressed SDI signals into IP by packetizing it in accordance with the SMPTE 2022 standard. A second method will employ multichannel JPEG2000 compression, which uses a single module to support up to four HD/SD-SDI channels or two 3G-SDI channels to IP.

“JPEG2000 over the last couple of years has really emerged as the standard that the industry is using when it needs to do low latency, high quality contribution and acquisition encoding,” Reynolds said. “It is visually lossless and there is no difference perceptually than the uncompressed signal.”

Steve Reynolds, chief technology officer for Imagine Communications.

Steve Reynolds, chief technology officer for Imagine Communications.

Behind the VersioCloud playout software is Imagine’s Zenium, a second software framework used to develop the VersioCloud. Zenium has hundreds of different software components that handle every part of the master control process, including files, graphics, audio and video processing, branding and events.

“What Zenium does is takes each one of those individual master control functions and turns it into a software service,” Reynolds said. “Imagine can use those services to build a software ecosystem by putting those components together in the right order. VersioCloud uses those Zenium components to build an end-to-end workflow for master control and cloud-based playout.”

The entire hybrid SDI-IP infrastructure will be controlled by ABC/Disney using the Imagine Magellan SDN Orchestrator, a software control system for managing hybrid baseband and IP networks.

The Orchestrator control layer allows the entire bit flow to be software-defined, significantly improving the way high-quality video is managed throughout a broadcast facility. It delivers complete visibility of the entire network on a single computer screen — offering a management view for optimal operational monitoring.

Disney/ABC is — at least for now — is working exclusively with linear channels. The current plan does not include streaming or on-demand video. The company’s WATCH services deploys viewable files to end users with portable devices — not streaming video.

Imagine Communications, on the other hand, has a vast futuristic proposed infrastructure plan that involves IP, cloud-based web programming with integrated back office business systems and advanced advertising technology.

It is not clear how far Disney/ABC will go with Imagine’s vision of the future, but the company has taken the first major step forward. So far, there are no announced dates for completion of the master control transformation.

“We don’t know yet about what will happen with other parts of our offering,” Reynolds said. “What Imagine is trying to do is is bring this kind of revolutionary technology to the entire television industry. We are firmly committed to the concept that television is moving beyond the big screen to the cloud. Consumers want to watch TV wherever they are and on whatever device they have in their hand. Disney/ABC is a great example of how we are doing that with origination, master control and playout.”

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