Time for linear TV headends to embrace IP

The pipe of digital delights
Igor Krol, CEO Veset
Opinion
March 15th 2016 at 1:00PM : By

Veset specialises in cloud playout for broadcasters. The company's CEO talks about the benefits to embracing IP distribution

Television is undergoing major disruption in the way content is produced and consumed, and linear television faces a lot of uncertainty. Its traditional business model and margins are under attack. Broadcasters and media companies are responding to those challenges in a number of ways. One is the adoption of cloud and IP delivery technologies as a way to play out and deliver linear television globally.

Early converts to the new IP technologies have started to spread awareness amongst broadcasters and distribution platforms. Among them is GINX TV, a UK-based broadcaster focused on video gaming television, distributed globally to 26 million householders, 40 territories and 9 languages. 

“The rapid technological advances in playout technology, including cloud-based services, are a tremendous development for global TV channels like Ginx TV,” says Michiel Bakker, GINX TV CEO. “Our need for playout of multiple, localised international channel feeds at varying bitrates was met by an innovative solution from Veset. It allowed us to divert more investment to content creation and to further regionalise our business.  That is a significant benefit for any TV Channel, but especially for one that is constantly adding new territories and/or new localized feeds like ours.”

Growing pains

Historically, broadcasters have delivered content to headends using satellite or dedicated fibre optic lines which, though reliable, remain an expensive barrier to growth and experimentation. Such traditional delivery alternatives are not really compatible with cloud playout solutions of the future. It is inevitable that playout software will eventually run on public clouds such as Amazon’s AWS or Microsoft’s Azure, which do not provide fiber optic lines as a standard. This challenge calls for a software-only solution which enables content delivery at satellite and fibre operating metrics with internet based economics and availability.

Some observers may point out that the industry has been developing SMPTE 2022 for the last decade, but it has still not delivered a Holy Grail of IP delivery, notably leaning heavily on the legacy of SDI. In the meantime, pioneers in broadcast IP, such as Zixi, have been de facto establishing an industry standard for IP delivery and developing technology for distribution, which supports several capabilities including Adaptive Bit Rate streaming. 

Constructing an IP headend

While delivery over IP is becoming pervasive in production workflows across the entire pipeline, the question remains; what is it that keeps headends from from acceptance of IP-based linear television feed delivery?

Comfortable with the old paradigm, many headend operators are accustomed to working behind familiar firewalls and closed net works, shying away from IP. Many are not completely new to IP, but evidently apprehensive due to the  lack of IT/IP skills needed to test and implement new gateways in their infrastructure.

For more forward-looking distribution platforms, the big issue at the moment is making broadcasters comfortable with the reliability of the technology, service levels and ultimate responsibility for IP delivery to their infrastructure. There are number of ways to deal with this challenge.

One of the more value-added but demanding options is for a headend to build an infrastructure and offer end-to-end services to broadcasters using available IP transport and even incorporate cloud playout technologies. Needless to say it requires investment in internal expertise and competing with some of the established service providers.

Another way is to enter into partnerships with service providers, which build specialised services based on advanced IP delivery technology. For example in UK-based Cerberus is using Zixi technology to build reliable and redundant delivery services working closely with established distribution platforms. Cerberus provides service to headends by installing and looking after IP gateways and taking responsibility for service levels. 

The light-touch approach is to invest in its own IRDs (Integrated Receiver Decoders) with built in IP software which offers traditional ASI/SDI output. External playout service providers can operate such IRDs remotely taking responsibility for monitoring and delivery of the feed originated by them in the cloud. 

Securing the future 

When it comes to questions about security, Gatis Gailis, Veset’s CTO comments: “There are many ways for headends to protect themselves from feared security breaches. The main fundamental obstacle is the relative lack of IT expertise within headends. At the moment the process of installing receivers and connecting to multiplexes requires a lot of handholding due to that. There are a number of IT or hybrid solutions, from creation of so called demilitirised zones (DMZ) within headend perimeter, to use of IRDs which embed IP receiving software and convert feed into ASI/SDI to be routed with headend internal infrastructure“. 

It is up to distribution platforms whether they want to join the IP revolution and help their broadcasting partners to evolve their business models or resist change and risk losing relevance in a fast changing marketplace.