AIMS one year on: Grass Valley

Interop, Houston
Mike Cronk, Grass Valley
Opinion
November 10th 2016 at 4:11PM : By

Mike Cronk, AIMS chairman of the board & Grass Valley's VP of core technology, reflects on his AIMS experience over the past year

AIMS, the Alliance for IP Media Solutions, was formed at the end of 2015 by companies looking for a solution to the growing problem of interoperability in a post-SDI world. Starting with a few casual conversations amongst CEO’s, the organisation rapidly expanded and in less than a year has been joined by over 50 member companies.

 

The use of Internet Protocol (IP) has revolutionised many industries, from factory automation, to healthcare to telecommunications. For our industry it offers great potential as well. The ability to distribute content in new ways, the ability to flexibly “spin up” new channels much more quickly than before, and the ability to support new formats such as UHD and HDR without wholesale infrastructure rebuilds are but some of advantages IP offers.

However, one year ago the broadcast industry was facing a huge challenge with regard to the adoption of IP. That challenge was fragmentation. As recently as IBC2015, the industry was awash with multiple, mutually incompatible proposals for how video, audio and metadata would be carried over IP in live and studio applications. As a result, at IBC2015, it looked like we were headed for the same sort of fragmentation we had become accustomed to in our industry where tape formats are incompatible and multiple file exchange formats exist for the same application.

Fast forward to now and the future is much brighter. All major players in the camps which were offering different proposals for IP interoperability have agreed that the emerging standard, SMPTE ST 2110 - now in drafting - will be the preferred method of interoperability. As never before in the history of our industry, seven key organisations (AES, AIMS, AMWA, EBU, IABM, VSF, and SMPTE) co-sponsored an interoperability event at IBC2016 in which over 30 companies demonstrated interoperability over IP. 100% of the technologies demonstrated in this event were on the “AIMS Roadmap”, a common set of interoperability technologies which are based on truly open standards and specifications.

In short, in the ten months since the founding of the Alliance for IP Media Solutions (AIMS) in mid-December of 2015, the industry has coalesced on a roadmap for IP interoperability.

How did AIMS help to generate such progress in such a short time period? I’d like to suggest three things.

Common purpose

First, AIMS was founded on a powerful idea: that the value of a network is directly proportional to the number of people (and companies) using the network. In other words, there was a force field in place to encourage companies to work together. In the same way that having a common protocol on top of IP, HTTP, resulted in new business opportunities for hundreds of thousands of companies, a common set of IP protocols for broadcast offers opportunities for everyone involved. Fragmentation of our industry was not in the interest of most companies in the industry. AIMS provided a voice to those companies for whom IP interoperability was important.

Second, AIMS sought not to create a new protocol, but instead to leverage the good work on-going in our industry from our most prestigious standards and specifications bodies, namely AES, AMWA, EBU, VSF and SMPTE. These organisations are strong proponents of open standards and were already engaged in work to come up with a common set of protocols for IP interoperability. Rather than choosing to back proposals from individual companies, AIMS chose to weigh in on the open standards and specifications coming from organisations like AMWA, VSF and SMPTE. Such organisations follow a more stringent, collaborative development process than individual companies and so their standards/specifications typically have greater longevity and clearer intellectual property licensing policies.

Lastly, and critically, rather than seek to replace the work of any existing organisation AIMS sought to augment and support the great efforts of these already existing standards organisations. AIMS’ mission is “to foster the adoption of a common, ubiquitous set of protocols for interoperability over IP”. With that mission, AIMS keyed on two aspects of “fostering adoption” which supported the work of these organisations: promotion of the AIMS roadmap and providing technical feedback to AMWA, VSF and SMPTE.

Organisations like AES, AMWA, VSF and SMPTE typically don’t do much promotion. AIMS, through its marketing working group, became their biggest cheerleader, advocating for the technologies these organisations were developing.

Additionally, since so many AIMS members were in the middle of implementing these technologies, AIMS, via its technical working group has been able to identify gaps in the proposals and provide feedback to AMWA, VSF and SMPTE. By not competing with AES, AMWA, EBU, VSF and SMPTE and supporting their efforts in complementary ways, AIMS found a niche and has made strong progress towards fulfilling its mission.