The year the walls came down

Crumbling walls
Ephraim Barrett, Rascular
Opinion
December 15th 2016 at 1:49PM : By

This year marked the biggest paradigm shift in the history of the TV industry, says Ephraim Barrett, sales director at Rascular

How many of us can claim to be visionaries, if you take the definition (in Google's words) to be a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like? But if you look at it as - thinking about or planning the future with imagination or wisdom -(thanks again, Google) – then it’s something that we should all be aiming for, especially now.

We would be intrigued to know just how many people at the start of 2016 predicted the degree of change we'd see – or at least start to see – this year. Yes, change – some might say turmoil - has become the industry watchword over at least the last decade. But this year has been different: it was very clear at NAB that a paradigm shift was underway.

After decades of operating within the same fundamental model, the walls around our world – what was the broadcast world, or “vertical”, in marketing terms – are crumbling. IBC2016 took what we saw at NAB one step further: we are moving ever-faster to an IP-based and to a lesser degree (at least initially) a cloud-enabled future.

We need to distinguish here between content production/playout and distribution. Of course in markets around the world – though at massively varying speeds and penetration – viewers can now increasingly select how they want to watch what they want to watch courtesy of internet-delivered content. But IP as the fundamental protocol on the production side is going to be as much a shift as the ability to stream content is proving. This is not like the move to HD, for example: this is a complete structural shift.

It’s slightly odd to look back even as recently as a year ago when the introduction of IP was obviously being discussed – and had been tried in some cases – but was still far from being the 2016 talking point that it has become.

There’s still standards work to be completed in terms of a native video-over-IP protocol, a challenge in itself. But looking at the efforts of organisations like AIMS – Alliance for IP Media Solutions – progress appears faster than many thought. We welcome the fact that the organisation’s priority “is to bring IP solutions to market that offer complete interoperability, are based on open standards, and integrate seamlessly into media workflow environments to foster industry innovation and efficiency.”

What do you automate? How do you manually intervene? How do you control all of this?

Control solutions

We at Rascular are software designers who create PC-based video playout control and media management systems. Bespoke or off-the-shelf, our applications work across SDI and IP technologies. This allows media companies the control and management they need across hybrid playout environments.

So how is our subsector being affected? In terms of the commercial aspect, we’ve been approached multiple times this year about what control solutions we offer for live real-time encoders for streaming and linear pay-TV. We are now well advanced with our third-party integration plans. We’re also exploring social media publishing to TV and what the integrated control possibilities are in that regard.

Of course, this IP trend dovetails with the increased use of virtualised playout technologies. When it comes to these, the same issues surround control as in the physical world: operators have to be able to press a button on a screen and know that it will do precisely what they want, immediately. Users still need to make things happen in a time-critical universe. At this point, software designers are having to focus on getting the main functionality of their product correct, not on wider issues like control.

Change – some might say turmoil - has become the industry watchword over at least the last decade

Orchestration

Looking at media management, the same challenges appears whatever the protocol, ensuring that very precise media for secondary events is where it should be, when it should be. Our experience shows that there’s a gap between what an overarching MAM system takes care of and what automation/scheduling does. For either to handle secondary events – now and next, for example – across multiple channels generally requires bespoke work that costs or simply isn’t possible. From our perspective, it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking to a SDI branding device or an IP playout encoder with that capability. It doesn’t matter whether it’s virtual or physical.

We now hear the word “orchestration” used when asking how you automate. What do you automate? How do you manually intervene? How do you control all of this? This is in reference to this new hybrid SDI/IP world. The answer is more of the same based on our ongoing work with encoding companies.

Of course, this transition won’t happen overnight. This will take time but the process is accelerating at a rate faster than anyone anticipated. As software designers, we have to be able to abstract the operator interface and be able to replace the hardware or software it’s controlling underneath without operators really knowing. 2016 has been a real eye-opener.