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Opinion: How unified video encoding APIs are redefining industry standards

Thomas Kramer, VP strategy and business development at MainConcept, explains how unified APIs are enhancing integration and streamlining workflows in the media industry

APIs are nothing new. Especially in the media and entertainment industry, vendors and providers rely heavily on the ability to meet a certain level of efficiency, quality and most importantly, deadlines. An API (Application Programming Interface) is a link that allows applications and programs to communicate and integrate with each other. The API has become a crucial component for success. To effectively develop and integrate with external programs, industry professionals will need access to an API, often multiple. But what happens when an organisation needs more than one vendor, and things get hard to handle?

The complexity of managing multiple vendors

Let’s explore this from our industry point of view. Broadcasters and media providers are seeing an influx of streams, channels and vendors when distributing content. In the world of APIs, this means various sources, all of which might not necessarily gel together.

In a perfect scenario, all APIs and the vendors attached to them would be easily integrated or communicate with each other. Unfortunately, this is not the case. What is more often the case when dealing with multiple APIs and vendors is interoperability. For example, if working with a specific hardware manufacturer, the organisation will not only need to deal with the hardware codec and API, but also a variety of other APIs for several purposes. 

The issue of API integration

Multiple APIs and vendors can cause problems quickly, often interfering with the overarching efficiency of the workflow. For media providers, broadcasters and industry professionals, meeting a certain standard of quality and keeping to deadlines is crucial. For this reason, when integration starts to become a problem, it needs to be addressed fast.

An API must be well designed and understood by all organisations and programs using it, and – perhaps more importantly – it should remain virtually unchanged for the entire period of use. Changing an API or modifying and upgrading it in some way can result in all participants of the workflow needing to adjust the technicalities on their end. Introducing a unified API removes the need for excessive engineering maintenance and development and ensures that should there need to be any changes, only one component of the workflow needs to be addressed.

Enter the unified API, which is kitted out with a large SDK library of hardware and software codecs, meaning that it can fit practically any use case. When an organisation is faced with reduced interoperability between APIs and vendors, implementing a unified API can solve more than just the issue of interoperability. Often, users also experience a rise in efficiency.

The future of unified APIs

Many OTT and live production organisations must consider how different devices will react with content while prioritising efficiency, timely delivery and quality – which cannot be sacrificed. Introducing a unified API not only means a decrease in engineering system pressures, but also faster integration, single support contact and improved financial costs across the business and the workflows involved. In our industry there are several examples, including FFmpeg, GStreamer, Vulkan, DirectShow and MainConcept Easy Video API. Each of these allow developers to design around a common language within that framework. With rising costs and fickle consumer demand, not to mention the unprecedented moves across the industry involving AI and ML, simple and direct is better.

For many broadcasters and media providers, the focus is shifting from on-prem and heavy equipment workflows to hybrid or cloud operations. The industry is moving fast, and it is likely that many industry professionals will need to move faster than they think to keep up. With media providers producing more content for more devices, making the move towards unified API integrations means that professionals can manage multiple vendors and distribute multiple streams from one server without the hassle of tons of different APIs.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see the moves made by the industry in terms of APIs, and how AI and ML will fit into the evolving content workflows. It’s safe to say that for many, an expanded SDK library will line up well with the ever-increasing pressure of consumer demand and the intense movement of device usage across the globe.