The broadcast industry has, for some time, been reticent to get on board with IP.
Of course, we are seeing the move to IP for delivery to the end consumer with many broadcasters and content providers embracing OTT services. Whilst this is interesting, most live broadcast contribution and production continues to be performed in a traditional fashion, with existing workflows based for example around satellite and SDI.
The question is, why is this still the case given that IP is now capable of providing flexible and dynamic solutions at a fraction of the cost?
Beating the mindset
Although there has been much discussion about the use of IP in contribution and production this is often still based around usage of IP as a data interface, instead of a production tool.
This is far from what it should mean, and fails to take advantage of the flexibility that IP could provide.
In terms of the possible reasons for a slow take-up, it all comes down to a very fixed mind-set that broadcast applications must be in broadcast-specific hardware. But the very beauty of IP is that it can be deployed using off-the-shelf hardware at much reduced expense.
In relation to this idea of an existing mindset, it’s also a common belief that “going IP” means compromising on quality. It’s a shame that this has been so widely proliferated as the reality is actually far different. In fact, I would go as far to say the opposite. IP links are quite capable of contributing a huge amount of high-definition video, over considerable distances with little to no latency.
We’re regularly doing things with IP that were once considered unacceptable, such as delivering live broadcasts onto national television over the public internet. It seems these beliefs are largely unfounded, or at least outdated, and seem to be discouraging broadcasters from getting on board.
The economics of IP
Clearly, avoiding the use of specialist broadcast equipment makes IP a very cost-effective broadcast solution. But this also means that the speed of a deployment is incredibly fast, and customers can be up and running within a matter of days, even hours in some cases. Standard hardware can be purchased easily and shipped with next-day delivery.
The necessary software is then inserted into this equipment and can be transported to locations broadcast-ready. The very same ‘off-the-shelf’ hardware is already being used for many other data-hungry applications, so we know it is capable and well-suited to broadcasters’ needs. On top of this, IT equipment can be repurposed for other applications, thereby making it even more economical.
The Birth of the IP Studio
We have witnessed a growing number of broadcasters adopting IP for contribution and to great effect. However, we are now seeing an increasing interest in IP-based production. Naturally that is a much more complicated step to take and may often require a greenfield site and starting from scratch.
Yet, those broadcasters attempting it are mostly doing a fusion of old and new, with fixed-function broadcast hardware and IP connections between them, essentially changing the cables. To me, that makes no sense at all.
From the outset an IP studio should involve standard IT hardware, that gives the advantages mentioned above, but also is multi-functional. It means that the infrastructure is much more flexible, where new services can be added to the infrastructure at will. In projects we’ve worked on this has allowed a doubling of capabilities at the touch of a button or the ability to add new capabilities on the fly.
Of course, flexibility goes hand-in-hand with scalability. The assumption has always been that broadcasting is eye-wateringly expensive, therefore limiting the activities of smaller organisations. IT-based IP networks can scale up instantly should a broadcaster experience a surge in demand, but they are also capable of scaling down, and because of its low TCO, IP is accessible even to those on smaller budgets who don’t want to compromise on quality. There are very few like-for-like systems which could offer this type of flexibility.
Embracing the future
The efficiency of IP for OTT provision has received much of the industry’s focus lately. The fact is, by failing to eschew inefficient contribution and studio methods, the business benefits of IP are significantly lessened.
IP technology has the ability to handle the content explosion that is occurring and so it is now up to content providers to wholly embrace it in order to take full advantage of the benefits.
By Kieran Kunhya, founder and managing director, Open Broadcast Systems