Virtualisation will turn broadcasters into orchestrators

Broadcast control room
John Hickey, Black Box
Post Production
June 16th 2017 at 11:18AM : By

Broadcasters will evolve into becoming orchestrators and content aggregators, says John Hickey, senior director of KVM for Black Box. He says virtualisation, enabled by KVM technology, will be a key factor in their success

As we look beyond 2020 we can see a world where a cloud utility model will turn broadcasting into a software driven business - often with the leading broadcasters becoming Broadcast Orchestrators in a larger eco-system.

Broadcast Orchestrators will own few of the assets. Instead, they will own the platform that delivers aggregated content or services – and a great experience – to customers. They will monetise the platform through advertising, subscriptions, or revenue sharing. The model is similar to Uber, the world’s largest transportation company, which owns no vehicles, or Airbnb, the largest accommodation provider, which owns no real estate.

Other broadcasters will morph into Live Content Creators (sporting events, news, etc.) and use Broadcast Orchestrators to deliver to their audiences. Virtualisation is core to these new models.

KVM tools

Virtualisation, which first emerged in the 1960s, is the idea of creating an environment where independent applications and/or services can appear to own the same server when in fact they share it. Keyboard-video-mouse (KVM) technology was used as an initial mechanism to break the link of physical access and having to be at the device – essentially a first step in virtualisation of access. KVM switches have been integral to media facilities ever since, allowing broadcasters to locate computers away from their production environments.

Virtualisation of servers and networks in the cloud takes this to the next step. Virtualised hardware frees applications and services from specific machines and allows workloads to be ‘portable’. Streaming video over IP, rather than as SDI over fixed cabling, provides the flexibility to change workflow and video stream routes quickly in response to changing circumstances.

The move to leverage the cloud as the content storage and distribution platform with IP-connected commercial-off-the-shelf servers and software-defined workflows means ‘the virtual master control’ room can be used to automate and deliver workflow processes and technologies in a more agile and scalable way. This further reduces the need for traditional master control operations and reduces the need for task specific hardware, helping to lower capital expenditures. The outcome of this process will see broadcast networks operate along similar lines to data center-based systems common in IT.

Broadcast Orchestrators will own few of the assets. Instead, they will own the platform that delivers aggregated content or services to customers

The transition is already underway. Disney/ABC Television is moving its TV channels to a cloud-based virtual master control. The BBC has moved audio file storage, mixing and playout in a single data center to provide local stations IP access to these centralized resources so that the stations can create and transmit their on-air programming.

The driving reason for this transition is the ability to spin up new channels quickly in response to viewer demand including delivery methods and formats. The virtualised production model provides this, where software defines the production process, the cloud enables content storage/distribution, and commodity-priced IT hardware serves as the access and control interface.

While there is a compelling business case for IP-based virtualised broadcast production, there are significant hurdles to moving completely to this new model. For example, there is a lack of industry supported standards for virtualised production over IP. SMPTE’s 2022-6 standard is a good start but it is not sufficient to create a fully functional end-to-end solution. Such solutions need to handle traditional sources such as SDI and physical servers’ DVI/DisplayPort outputs as well as the new protocols of SMPTE video and virtual machine access.

Many papers and marketing programs imply a complete fork-lift upgrade of broadcast facilities to move into this virtualised world. But in real-life there is rarely the ability to select this option due to budget and time constraints. The transition to a virtualised/IP model will take time - many in the field estimate the end of SDI on premises will take between 5 and 10 years.

Virtualisation planning

The fact that TV production/playout will become distributed over IP and software-driven doesn’t mean that the old ways of doing things will suddenly disappear. The model is changing the bit flow across networks and doesn’t mean it will change the workflow. Additional access to Virtual Machines will be needed to manipulate files and playout lists. These different resources, physical and virtual, will need to be accessed by operators in a transparent and similar manner to optimise efficiency and control.

A core component of the evolution is KVM technology which needs to provide ‘virtual access’ to physical resources as well as newer virtual resources. KVM technology can and should enable many users to connect to multiple computers or virtual desktops over IP so that the user has the same experience as if sitting directly at the PC.

Broadcasters building out new infrastructure need to consider this – even if initially they do not have virtualisation on their plan. They need to consider solutions that provide future-proofing as the world moves to virtualisation while supporting today’s needs of virtual access to physical servers.