The epic HBO series Game of Thrones has demonstrated the power of storytelling and production brilliance in its ability to impact entertainment and popular culture. Much like one of Game’s embattled citadels, traditional broadcast – the medium that has delivered this and many more cultural phenomena – has been under extended siege as new online and mobile platforms siphon off audiences and advertiser budgets.
Consider the array of disruptive video concepts that became new video businesses, from Netflix to Twitch to Cheddar, and platforms like Facebook, Google and Instagram that have captured advertiser imaginations with the promise of precision segmentation, immersion, interactivity and – the holy grail – data and analytics!
So a pivot has been in order for a considerable time, and broadcasters have reacted with varying urgency around the world.
State broadcasters have typically had a greater mandate and security to continue their course, whereas commercial enterprises have explored and embraced new creative, technological and format ideas. 3D, 4K and multichannel surround have each been hailed as potential industry saviours, or at the very least defensive weapons. Now it seems as though broadcasters have broken the siege mentality, if not the siege itself. This attitude change was very evident at NAB 2017.
The attachment to the old ways of doing things has been lifted, and broadcasters are actively embracing the opportunity to do things differently.
Borrowing military tactics from another time, many broadcasters have come to emulate Sun Tzu in evaluating the terrain, identifying strengths and opportunities, gathering intelligence, and defending and attacking strategically. One key element of this is recognising where your strength lies (strong brands, real audiences, quality, engaging content), and another is the newly-acquired ability to deploy content better and in more ways (back-end workflow with front-end versioning), to connect with existing and larger audiences.
Applying this approach, the successful broadcaster has effectively become a content delivery network (CDN) and is now better prepared to address broadcast, media streaming and multiscreen viewing services by delivering TV everywhere (TVE) and internet protocol television (IPTV) to multiple devices.
Sports content is one area where the advantages of a new CDN infrastructure are obvious and compelling. Whereas content creation and consumption opportunities used to exist just around a game, now opportunities exist around the bus pulling into the stadium, the team entering the dressing room, fans streaming to their seats, other fans at remote locations and many more sub-narratives that viewers will consume on a diverse array of devices in various screen formats.
To address this opportunity, the broadcaster/CDN needs more (less expensive) content capture technologies; a workflow infrastructure to ingest, organise and share content and tasks; and a distribution strategy to share the content in all its shapes and sizes. These ideas from the sports domain are being successfully migrated to entertainment, news and reality TV, and even being deployed by early adopters in corporate and worship applications.
Sustained success doesn’t simply stop at this one pivot. Broadcasters/CDNs realise this and are building agile, scalable CDN infrastructure to support IP video production and distribution. The irony is that workflow infrastructure agility and scalability require the embrace of IT thinking and technology – the perceived enemy at the gates for decades.
While real-time media networking has in the past been limited to networks with a single LAN, consider a system that enables audio networks to span multiple subnets with no change in performance and near zero configuration time. This change is key to allowing networks to scale to ever larger numbers of devices across a campus or broadcast facility, while letting IT administrators preserve the balance of security and access that fully routed, multiple subnet configurations permit.
Additionally, elaborate VLAN set-ups employed as workarounds are no longer needed. Instead, consider a system that allows users and IT admins to use conveniently located switch ports to send audio between devices no matter where they are in a facility. Similarly, network agility is important where new content and commercial events present opportunities, threats and urgency that need to be addressed on the fly or in close to real time.
Just as digital presents considerable opportunities, it also brings significant risk of a network getting hacked and valuable content getting shared illicitly. The pursuit of agile, scalable, IT-informed CDN workflow infrastructures can now also yield collateral – in some cases, existential – security benefits.
With the ability to organise, share and version content on the network, and to assign access, responsibility and deadlines to individuals or departments, network administration becomes a huge consideration for a workflow strategy. IT administrators have long been accustomed to protecting network assets by assigning privileges to both users and user groups, ensuring that only trusted individuals may use the system. This basic element of management and risk abatement has been missing in the AV networking world, leaving many networks effectively open to any user with physical access.
By welcoming and extending the decades-long work of IT professionals, the AV community stands to make immeasurable gains in functionality, security, flexibility and quality of content presentation. Fear of the unknown is human and very understandable; but it is no longer excusable, given the overwhelming benefits and cost savings of networking over previous technologies. As with so many advances, acceptance will breed new possibilities that in hindsight will appear inevitable, obvious and indispensable.
Brad Price is Senior Product Manager and Joshua Rush is VP of Marketing and Product Management at Audinate