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Hardware Infrastructure Global Viewpoint – March 2016

EBU and IABM Members Tour LiveIP Studio at VRT

The joint EBU/IABM Media Production event explored the viability of live IP production from camera to distribution with true interoperability. The event took place in the studios of Belgian broadcaster, VRT.

Key players within the Broadcast & Media industry came together in early March in a unique studio environment to examine the business and technology case for the full IP studio.

Facilitated by a collaboration between EBU and IABM, more than 50 members of the combined broadcaster and supplier community participated to learn about and experience the first fully IP studio built in Europe by VRT in Brussels.

Day One
John Ive, Director of Technology and Strategic Insight hosted the event and wasted no time getting into the nitty gritty of the issues. He chaired two key sessions throughout the day, one focusing on the strategic and management viewpoint.

First to be discussed was the background of change in our industry right now, covering the three big drivers of change:

  • Changing from linear production to cross-media content production
  • Competition from non-traditional broadcast companies
  • The need to control costs
John Ive, Director - Technology & Strategic Insight, IABM.

John Ive, Director - Technology & Strategic Insight, IABM.

And the four main themes behind technology driving the business:

  • Greater focus on the user experience
  • The need for more flexible production workflows
  • Media cyber security
  • Broadcast services and distribution services

Echoing throughout the first day were the sentiments of the IABM’s Annual Conference in December, that the industry needs greater collaboration between suppliers and broadcasters to roadmap a technology and business plan for the future of the business.

At the forefront of this was the need for assistance from suppliers when broadcasters are investing large sums of money in new or refurbished facilities. Most broadcasters are facing a dilemma when it comes to re-equipping new buildings to take their businesses forward for the next five to ten years. What technology investments need to be made, what workflow dynamics need to be accounted for and what cost-savings can be forecasted to fit within a decreasing budget?

Put simply, how much do you commit to future unproven IT/IP based technology compared to known legacy systems based upon like SDI? Will SDI continue to suffice despite a huge growth in media consumption across mobile and internet and the increasing need for broadcasters to be more efficient?

The appeal of IP is its alluring hope of increased flexibility, more agile network and workflow possibilities with potential cost savings. These factors become an intoxicating mix for hard-pressed broadcasters.

In summary the technology works, is robust and could deliver savings compared to traditional broadcasting methodologies. Some of the lessons already learned:

  • The need to use open standards
  • The importance of an easy user and operator experience
  • The need for reliability and quality
  • The essential requirement of data security

However, it became clear that more collaboration was essential in driving the business case for full IP broadcasting. There are still some key hurdles to cross that just cannot be done without collaboration, for example –

  • More work on standards is required
  • System design, workflows and business models all need to be revisited because reproducing an SDI environment in IP, will in the long term, not deliver the full benefits
  • There is a huge issue with regards to the ‘softer’ issues of change management – changing work practices, skills, expectations and the more human elements associated with moving over to IP
The LiveIP Project is a collaboration between the VRT, the EBU and a group of innovative technology companies.

The LiveIP Project is a collaboration between the VRT, the EBU and a group of innovative technology companies.

Hans Hoffmann (PhD) Senior Manager at EBU.

Hans Hoffmann (PhD) Senior Manager at EBU.

Day Two
Hans Hoffmann, EBU Senior Manager of Media Fundamentals & Production began the day by reviewing the drivers for the change and what lessons could be learned from the VRT Sandbox use case. He identified the following key requirements:

  • Flexible change to adapt to new workflows
  • Effective in terms of workflow, cost and change
  • Fast content production and distribution, anytime and anywhere
  • Scalable with growing content demands in terms of technical quality
  • Security 

He summarised the longer term view as follows:

  • The innovation cycles of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) are much shorter than the broadcast industry expects. Users need to more quickly adapt.
  • Parallel tracks for development and innovations; Technology, Standards, Creatives
  • Cloud first – business driven approach
  • IP Networked Media – technology drives innovation
  • Virtualization and automation – changes the workspace drastically

Mick de Valck, VRT Director of Technology and Innovation, then presented “The strategic & management viewpoint,” discussing the real-world challenges for broadcasters moving to live IP. 

He also outlined the mission of the Live IP project: To build and operate a live TV production studio using IP-based & IT-centric hardware & software. The solution will:

  • Enable digital shift & new workflows
  • Prove the agility and scalability of IP
  • Prove that it is possible to “do more with less”

The move to IP will require:

  • The innovative collaboration of industry leaders
  • Must be based on open standards
  • Provide the next level of interoperability

IABM Participation and Tour
IABM members who participated in the project included, Karel de Bondt, Project Manager and technology architect, Wouter de Cuyper and Michel de Wolf of Dwesam. The pair presented a start to finish overview of the Live IP Sandbox project offered hints at what’s next. De Bond explained how the VRT system is designed around three distinct components; the Studio, Datacenter and the Control Room. The Datacenter is a shared resource enabling efficient use of processing and storage among multiple studios and control rooms.

A VRT studio tour began in the Control Room, then the Data Centre. De Wolf explained that one IP network cable could replace multiple SDI interconnects on some of the equipment. The tour then advance into the studio

Day one ended with presentations from Carsten Higler, Department Head from German broadcaster, SWR, on remote production; BBC R&D Principal Engineer, Phil Tudor, on object-based production; and finally, Felix Poulin, the EBU’s Senior Project Manager laid out the EBU’s standards roadmap.

Day Two
Day two began with a professionally produced program using the Live IP studio and broadcast live to the Internet. The entire event delegates became the studio audience and were invited to put questions to the panel.

In the live debate, Hans Hoffmann set out the case for change and highlighted the key strategic challenges of the move to Live IP for broadcasters, the decisions they need to make and the new skillsets professionals will need to operate in this new production environment.

“The fundamental paradigm shift is that we move away from the very traditional broadcasting industries to technologies that have been ‘not invented here’, which is ICT.

“We need to identify ways to slightly modify these technologies for the user requirements that we have as broadcast media companies,” Hoffmann continued. “And there are very strong requirements in terms of the quality of service we expect. For that reason, we use off-the-shelf technologies on the one hand, but on the other we need to slightly modify and add standards on top of these technologies to enable us to reliably use them in our environment.

“The most important thing is that we do not start from a theoretical approach,” Hoffmann added. “We are looking in the EBU with our members for practical use cases. It was wonderful that VRT came along to provide this space, this platform, to do it in a real environment. It is also important we have broad support from the industry, based on standards.

The new scenario is we all come together, we test the technology on the one hand, but at the same time we also bring the creatives on board and we pilot test. That in my opinion is the secret to success of this wonderful project. This is innovation, and it is to the merit of public service broadcasters.”

Sandbox Project
Mick de Valck explained the Sandbox project. “We are working with 13 different parties. There’s the VRT team, the EBU, iMinds and ten different vendors. They’ve all worked very closely together and it’s really been a very interesting, open innovation experience.”

The live program included video inserts which provided further insight in to the project and a detailed explanation by Michel de Wolf of Dwesam Creative Engineering describing the system concept.

The second day concluded with a panel discussion between broadcasters, the EBU and vendors, once again facilitated by the IABM’s John Ive. A wide ranging discussion looked at how to develop a common understanding and collaboration between end-users and vendors, interoperability issues, skills required, whether a single standard is possible or a multiplicity is inevitable, and finally, what are the timescales we are looking at to turn theory into a practical, industry-wide roll-out of Live IP production.

“Many people talk about Live IP production as if it were already a done deal,” said John Ive. “In reality, however, there are many issues to be solved and hurdles to overcome. VRT’s work in the Sandbox has been invaluable in shining a light on both the enormous potential - and the challenges - of moving wholesale to IP in the live environment.

The panel session was recorded and will be available on the on the VRT Sandbox website.

IABM members participating in the project include: Axon, EVS, Genelec, Grass Valley Group, Lawo, Nevion, Tektronix and Trilogy.

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