Internet Protocol (IP) in Broadcasting

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The fact that the Internet is all pervasive is a given in our life. However Internet Protocol (IP) or the main communications protocol in the Internet protocol suite is the medium that transfers data across network channels. IP is really an enabler of innovation, a component of a technology transformation that opens up the potential for media companies to significantly advance their businesses and better accommodate video consumers of the future. The transition to IP is much more about the business implications than the adoption of a new technology.  Naturally then this has become a big buzzword in the broadcasting industry. While many broadcasters have already made a gradual shift to IP, others are mulling ways to make this transition successfully.

Advantage IP

IP technology brings many benefits to broadcasters in terms of scalability and flexibility. For compliance monitoring software, IP support enables customers to dig deeper into their playout and OTT streams through real-time and post broadcast metadata analysis. Due to the technology’s ability to address and route streams, IP provides the opportunity to create new workflows not possible before. Because of its packetized nature, it allows for editing and post processing, presenting opportunities to enhance the viewers’ experience. “IP also opens up possibilities for software and platforms not traditionally found in broadcast, such as switching and routing, asset management, transcoding for viewing in different mobile devices, editing, and search engines,” said Rafael Fonseca, Vice President Product Management at Artel Video Systems.

Innovation Intent

The move to software-defined systems running on commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware opens up the chance to rethink architectures. You no longer need big and expensive pieces of purpose-built equipment which only do one thing. The move to an open platform means tapping into much larger economies of scale, as well as the productivity advantages that come with the adoption of an agile and flexible platform. “Broadcasters and content providers are empowered by IP, for example, to spin up new channels and reach new devices at a fraction of the cost and time it takes using traditional systems. A micro services, cloud-native approach to workflow design also means greater efficiency and the ability to rapidly incorporate new technologies and features into your operations. The result is technology platforms that are not only much more efficient, but capable of new levels of creativity and productivity,” said Raj Yadav, Regional Sales Head, South Asia at Imagine Communications.

Stumbling Blocks

Though Media over IP provides many benefits to broadcasters, the transition from SDI does present challenges. “For this reason we advocate software based solutions such as our LogServer suite for broadcast compliance logging and monitoring as it can better handle the move from traditional to IP based workflows. As standards such as SMPTE 2110 begin to take hold, we will be able to help our customers make the transition through software based reconfigurations versus forklift hardware upgrades,” says Mark Horchler, SVP Marketing, Mediaproxy. IP technology has some challenges in the current scenario. For one, broadcasters will need to harness the flexibility of IP networking to support the time-sensitive services found in their network. “Latency, quality of service, and high availability must be maintained. Shifting to IP turns the network into an addressable entity very much like the public internet, with the potential to be vulnerable to distributed denial of service attacks (DDOS). Broadcasters will need to create “walled gardens” and implement safeguards to protect from these and other rogue entities,” said Fonseca. The challenges of building a broadcast-ready network with next-gen architectures, which are rapidly diminishing, are no different than they are for traditional infrastructures. “Reliability, precision-timing, high quality, etc., are all attributes that engineers must strive to achieve regardless of the technology domain. The good news is that it is now possible to engineer a network in the IP realm that is just as robust and reliable as a traditional broadcast network. All of the elements are ready today and proven in service. Imagine Communications started rolling out proof of concept systems for major broadcasters around the world starting five years ago. Today, we are delivering complete, broadcast-ready, best-of-breed systems that deliver magnitudes more of agility, without sacrificing quality or reliability. Probably the biggest single challenge along the way was achieving standardisation so that multi-vendor systems could be built. We took the initiative by being one of the founding members of the Alliance for IP Media Systems (AIMS), which drove the standardisation agenda and led to the adoption of common standards like the SMPTE ST 2110 family. AIMS has a roadmap for the future, which will lead to simple, seamless interoperability,” said Yadav.

Balancing Act

In spite of the fact that the technology has many advantages and challenges, it is largely believed that the advantages outweigh the challenges. “From an infrastructure perspective, IP would allow broadcasters to select infrastructure that is not purposely built, thus reducing cost and leveraging new developments that come from the larger network community. In terms of service and quality assurance, IP unleashes visibility and controllability of the services and the network supporting it. IP also allows for applications normally found outside the industry to be leveraged within the industry, such as asset management, intelligent search engines, and editing,” said Fonseca. IP technology, including SDI over IP, is a major step forwards for broadcasters. “Content is increasingly being consumed on IP enabled devices such as smartphones and hybrid set top boxes so it makes perfect sense for IP to be adopted in broadcast production environments as well. The transition to IP may be challenging for some, but the benefits of being able to instantly provision new channels or adding new services such as OTT will enable broadcasts to innovate and respond quicker to viewer trends,” said Horchler. Again, there is no point in moving to IP connectivity because it is something people are talking about. You should have clearly defined creative, operational and commercial advantages before you make any technical plans. Imagine Communications recommends moving to a new technology foundation at your own pace and only when it makes business sense to do so. “Hybrid solutions are also possible in order to bridge between baseband and IP as you transition their infrastructure. Over the past year or so, as competitive threats have increased from media companies that rely on native-IP platforms, it has becoming increasingly clear that the risks associated with the adoption of next-gen technologies is waiting too long to start your transition. Any purchases media companies make today, even the adoption of SDI-based equipment, should offer a clear path to an IP future,” added Yadav.

 

Interoperability Matters

Interoperability is absolutely central to the revolution happening in the industry. For 70 years or more, television engineers have been able to select products from different vendors which best meet their operational requirements, confident that all the equipment will work seamlessly together. That fundamental ability to select the best-of-breed products that are right for you cannot be lost. “That is why we supported the establishment of AIMS, and why we are completely supportive of the SMPTE 2110 family of standards, because those standards and the rest of the AIMS roadmap is the path to complete, transparent interworking. Today you can go out and buy products from multiple vendors, which are compliant to ST 2110, and be confident they will work together. The last few instalments of the world’s largest tradeshows, both NAB and IBC, featured IP interoperability showcases that involved equipment from more than 70 vendors. By all reports, these showcases represented the largest interoperability events in the recent history of the broadcast industry,” says Yadav. Many vendors have IP-based products, but broadcasting companies and production houses have said that these are not inter-operable. However while great strides have been made in interoperability, still there is room for interpretation of the standards by vendors. The industry has demonstrated at various industry forums like NAB and IBC, among others, and recognizes that a mechanism to achieve interoperability compliance needs to be put in place. “Through our membership of the AIMS Alliance, we’ve been working with other vendors representing the entire broadcast production ecosystem to ensure interoperability. Standards such as SMPTE 2110 will help smoothen the transition from SDI to Media over IP,” opined Horchler.

Making the Cut

So how can broadcasting companies and production houses make a successful transition to a full-IP network? “Transitioning to IP will present broadcasters with a series of challenges and opportunities in three areas: networking, network management and service assurance/availability. In general, broadcasters would need to develop a migration plan that does not interfere with their ability to continue offering services and running their businesses. This implies deciding which parts of the network get transitioned first versus which ones can support the business during this transition. The key is to minimize technology “islands” that might hinder service availability and assurance. A general challenge of this transition is the need to train personnel on the relevant aspects of IP technology. In other similar transitions, organizations have had to acquire expertise by means of bringing personnel from other industries with the expertise in IP. In many cases, the personnel had IP expertise but not relevant industry expertise, example, broadcasting, therefore the organizations had to train the IP experts on the new industry they were migrating to. From a networking perspective, broadcasters will need to harness the flexibility of IP networking to support the time-sensitive services found in their network. Latency, quality of service, and high availability must be maintained,” said Fonseca. Transitioning to IP implies that the elements in the network are addressable entities with monitoring, control, and reporting capabilities that could be executed remotely and from a central location. This means that the investment is not only in networking equipment, but in a robust management network that will become the enabler for future efficiencies in the IP domain. Shifting to IP turns the network into an addressable entity very much like the public internet, with the potential to be vulnerable to distributed denial of service attacks (DDOS). Broadcasters will need to create “walled gardens” and implement safeguards to protect from these and other rogue entities. “To make a full transition to IP broadcasters need to ensure that every component of their broadcast workflow from contribution to studio production and on to playout is IP connected and applying broadcast IP standards such as those endorsed by the AIMS Alliance. This includes not only content production and delivery, but also logging and monitoring. Our software has been designed for IP environments. IP based content can be monitored and capture over IP networks. Live streams can be viewed from anywhere with access to the broadcasters IP network, whether on premises or in the cloud,” said Horchler.

Shifting Mindsets

Experts aver that building a full-IP broadcasting infrastructure is more about having the right frame of mind than the right technology framework as this needs more of a cultural shift and a well-thought-out architecture that considers the requirements needed in support of the broadcast services which is fundamental to success. “Full-IP broadcast studios are not going to benefit from the technology if broadcast engineers do not rethink ways to improve and enhance their workflows by leveraging the flexibility and agility of IP. Our software has been developed to provide the maximum flexibility and scalability required for making the transition, not only to IP technology, but also new and more efficient IP based workflows,” explained Horchler.

Transiting Successfully

Moving operations to an IT-based environment will require today’s broadcast engineers to acquire additional knowledge and skills. The new technology is solid, but it will require a commitment from broadcast engineers to learn how to architect an IP network to deliver the same experience and quality of a traditional network. Broadcast engineers who are naturally hungry to expand their knowledge base and enthusiastic to apply their skills to a new medium will definitely excel in an IT environment and be among the first to successful transition operations to the technology foundation of the future. It is not reasonable to expect anyone to throw out viable equipment before it is life-expired. The capital investment in existing plant must be respected. So you have to plan a staged transition and select a technology partner to support you through the transition. “One of the benefits of the new, software-defined architectures is that, through the use of an orchestration layer, you make the best use of the available hardware by only spooling up the processes you need at any time. A smart orchestration layer, like the Magellan SDNO from Imagine, has the capability of providing the overall control for traditional equipment as well as software solutions. This allows you to start building new workflows using a mixture of legacy hardware and new technology, working together seamlessly. The transition is made from traditional hardware to new platforms seamlessly and without disruption to your work,” added Yadav. Hybrid solutions can also be implemented to bridge between baseband and IP as broadcasters transition their infrastructure. Any purchases media companies make today, even the adoption of SDI-based equipment, should offer a clear path to an IP future.

Cashing on Efficiencies

Many companies believe that shifting to all-IP will give them cost and manpower efficiencies. “Moving to all-IP broadcast environments is not just about reducing costs, but also delivering more innovative services. IP environments are better suited to more complex content consumer markets where viewers want to access content from anywhere at any time,” agreed Horchler. CNBC in Mumbai have deployed Mediaproxy software for monitoring live broadcasts over their IP network. “As the leading provider of broadcast compliance solutions, we have built our software for both traditional and IP broadcast environments. This allows us to work with our customers to ensure that they have all the right tools for logging content and monitoring live video playouts and related IP metadata so that they can provide the same high quality of service levels that their viewers have come to expect,” added Horchler. There is the need to investigate new formats like 4k, HDR and VR. There is the demand from consumers for instant availability on any platform. And there is a shift in the economics as broadcast advertising comes under threat and new revenue opportunities arise. “You may find, therefore, that the manpower efficiencies arise from releasing staff to concentrate on these new challenges, confident that the basics are being managed by the technology platform. With regard to cost efficiencies, again the change is one of mind set. The traditional broadcast architecture was characterised by a large capital expenditure to create a new platform, followed by seven to 10 years of largely static performance limited by the capabilities of that platform. In the software-defined world, the hardware and applications are separated. The hardware now uses IT standard computing and storage, in a broadcast machine room, in a data centre or in the cloud. Wherever it is, there will be a constant turnover as disks are maintained in a risk-free state and processors are upgraded to the latest power capabilities. One of the attractions of moving to the cloud or platform as a service is that this can all be managed by experts in the IT field, as an operational expense rather than a capital investment,” says Yadav. Shifting to IP leverages economies of scale and provides greater efficiencies due to the controllability and observability that this technology offers. And while this is taking time now, this is a trend that is sure to change the broadcasting industry on a brand new positive note.

This story appeared in Digital Studio India’s Dec-17 here.

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