The adoption of IP workflows across the broadcast industry is proving to be a major enabler of innovation and efficiency and is leading to the same rapid phase of digital transformation that we have seen in many other industries to date. The benefits are similar across industries too, an increase in operational flexibility and agility, end-to-end visibility and management, positive bottom-line business impacts, and, specific to broadcasting, the delivery of reliable broadcast quality, live and pre-recorded video content over the public internet.
In short, it has enabled streaming at scale and furthermore allowed workflows to be set up quickly and at a lower cost point not before seen in the industry.
More than that though, it has also enabled a complete rethink of the way that media companies can do business. Content distribution has grown far more complex and dynamic than the legacy one-to-one delivery model. The ecosystem has evolved in a dramatic fashion, and the modern content provider sits at the centre of an interlocking mesh that encompasses traditional broadcasters, service providers, MPVDs and vMPVDs, leagues and rights holders, distribution partners and more.
The net result is that it is not uncommon for large content providers to deliver dozens of customised, resilient and secure channels to many internal and external distribution partners and platforms at the same time. The newly agile IP-based broadcaster has many more monetisation opportunities available to them as a consequence; live events channels, sponsored content feeds, pop-up channels, regional and localised feeds, and a whole new media audience experience available on social and web-based platforms.
Each individual media organisation ecosystem is also connected to another’s as well, resulting in a genuine global marketplace for content. This has been accelerated by the demand for content during the pandemic, and, to add a topical note, with the Writers’ Strike ongoing in the US it is easy to see that the demand for live events to fill the gaps that will start to appear in the schedule soon is only going to increase.
However, just because the services can be set up quickly and comparatively cheaply does not mean that there are not some gotchas inherent in the new IP architectures. The newly crucial distribution platforms and content aggregation services that play a central role in the new ecosystem present some interesting challenges. Normalising and maintaining high-quality channels access across disparate delivery, formats, protocols, and technical specifications that vary from company to company is a non-trivial task, especially when we are talking about dozens or even hundreds of individual channels.
Each of these must be ingested, normalised, monetised, secured, and prepared for distribution to the audience. The cloud is often critical in this regard, and we have recently seen many of our clients move transcoding to the cloud, from where it can then be pushed out to CDNs for delivery to multiple endpoints. One of the keys to success here is interoperability. Although the Zixi protocol is the market leader with 75 per cent market share, there are over a dozen industry protocols in everyday use in IP-based broadcasting, and the challenge is to maintain high levels of audio-visual quality and user experience while ensuring that additional latency is not introduced into the system — a key consideration for live content and sports in particular.
The numbers involved here are large ones. For example, we work with over 1000 providers offering 20,000 linear and event channels to 1500 distributors and platform endpoints. All in all over 100,000 total channel feeds are delivered. This global explosion of distributed, live linear and event programming has created many new revenue opportunities and gives the new generation of IP-based broadcasters a chance to build audiences at scale.
Post-pandemic these remain turbulent times in the broadcast industry, defined as much by rapid change and consolidation as they are by technical progress. For media organisations to succeed they need to move forward from the rigidity of expensive satellite contracts and embrace a new agility that enables them to swiftly monetise opportunities in the expanding digital first applications
FAST has been one of the major industry success stories of the past year, and along with the growth of connected TVs and the increasing prevalence of live events on OTT platforms, illustrates well how broadcasters have had to adapt to the new normal, and, no doubt, will have to adapt to the next new normal that will appear in six months.
To stay ahead of the game, they need to be on top of compliance validation, content, formatting, stream, localisation, ad load, delivery, strategies, security requirements, and more. All of these represent significant challenges and hurdles for newcomers to the IP-based infrastructure. However, these are not insurmountable, and with foresight and a strategy that embraces openness and interoperability, as well as being flexible enough to accommodate future requirements, they will be well-positioned to take advantage of the new monetisation opportunities that emerge.