The CTOs discussed ways to embrace the changes in broadcast technology and how to use them as a vehicle to move forward and rngive viewers quality content.
give viewers quality content
The tech panel addressed the challenges of deploying technologies in a fast-changing broadcast scenario. Moderated by Robert Sveb, Director of Global Technology Services at Al Jazeera Media Network, the discussion centred on cloud and IP strategies in the MENA, software-defined networks, developing digital services within a linear TV environment, and merging broadcast, broadband and mobile for a great multi-screen experience.
The panel included an impressive lineup of panellists: Mohamed Abuagla, Executive Director of Technology & Operations (CIO/CTO), Al Jazeera Media Network; Israel Esteban, Executive Director of Technology, beIN Media Group; Peter Van Dam, Director of Technology at Live HD, Abu Dhabi Media; Frank Kerrin, Director of Technology Support and Projects, Broadcast Engineering, OSN; and Ian Cockett, CTO, Pebble Beach Systems.
Robert Sveb set the ball rolling by asking the panel about the rapid convergence of broadcast and IT, and where it is leading. With extensive industry experience, the panellists spoke about how the technology has changed dramatically in the last 15 years.
Frank Kerrin of OSN said that the industry has evolved from being tape-based to file-based, allowing workflows to be more IT-centric and flexible.
The convergence of IT and broadcast has resulted in an interesting shift. AIMS is encouraging the manufacturers to move to an IP world with the adoption of IT technology. Today, manufacturers are no longer box shifters and are no longer tied down by proprietary hardware. A broadcast infrastructure can very well run on the cloud or virtual machines.
Sveb asked Israel Esteban of beIN Media Group how IT has been advantageous to the broadcast industry. According to Esteban, television viewing is undergoing a seismic shift. As demand for content increases, broadcasters will rely on technology to ensure faster time to market.
In the past, we spent a lot of time to help broadcasters to digitise. We need to adapt ourselves to the digital environment and develop tools to manage more content for a fast turnaround. We cannot imagine a new project without cloud or IT, he said.
Sveb then asked Peter Van Dam of LIVE HD how his company is dealing with the IT onslaught, especially in the live production environment. He asked if OB vans are still reliant primarily on broadcast or baseband technology.
Van Dam likened the shift to IP to the move from SD to HD, and said that IP is the way forward but will take time.
When we moved from SD to HD, we could still use SDI. IP is here but there are parts of the broadcast chain that are not quite ready for implementation. Live production is still based on traditional workflows while we struggle with IP standards or the lack of them.
Regarding the trucks getting bigger and having to deal with more complex production workflows, Van Dam said that very soon, remote production will take over and trucks will become compact, based on Cisco switches, but will never go out of fashion.
Commenting on Al Jazeeras 20-year journey, Abuagla said that Al Jazeera has evolved in the past two decades, moving away from big and bulky equipment to a more compact IT infrastructure. Along with transformation in the equipment, the skill set of the team has also matured over the years, with more software-centric processes in place.
Ian Cockett added that broadcast is moving away from proprietary hardware and adding more software-only solutions to run workflows.
Everyone was using the same vendors and the same technology for SDI distribution on video servers 15 years ago. This is changing, now we have internet companies, telcos as service providers that want to go into data centres, because they cant afford the same business model based on the same tech they have been using in the past, he said.
Sveb then asked the panel if a pure IP environment is doable. While many broadcasters are considering hybrid systems, a move to pure IP seems like a distant reality. What are the key drivers of pushing IP? Is 4K a key driver?
Van Dam noted that it is early days for the OB segment to move to IP, but growing remote productions will be a step in the right direction.
Cockett added that big IP installations involve a lot of cost. You cannot buy cheap switches, you need to have enterprise grade switches whose costs are quite prohibitive, which in turn adds to the cost of the shift to IP.
Sveb then asked if 4K is possible without IP, and how beIN is handling its 4K channels.
Esteban commented that the major challenges in 4K deployment that make it an expensive proposition in the region are the high cost of bandwidth and security issues. While all broadcasters have a clear mandate to deploy 4K, the time frame is not yet clear.
Cockett added that 4K is mainly driven by display manufacturers, but setting up an infrastructure to deliver it is not easy. Van Dam noted that production is already happening in 4K, especially sports and special events, which have clear commercial goals to fulfill.
Kerrin said that just like the move to HD, 4K will happen gradually.
The way forward is to create smaller 4K islands and then slowly graduate to the next level, to mitigate the costs involved.
Van Dam also directed the panels attention to the fact that the MENA region is not homogeneous in terms of development. In many territories in the MENA, people still use 4:3 TVs.
We need to look at 4K, but who are we serving? Are the viewers ready? Many territories are not yet ready for deployment. But we are gearing up for it because as a government entity we are driven by service rather than achieving commercial goals.
Abuagla added that 4K is not a priority for Al Jazeera, for several reasons.
Display manufacturers have to make cheaper units, the cost of distribution of 4K content has to be meaningful and, thirdly, being in the business of news it is more important for us to get the message across to the user than to see how good it looks. We dont see a big business case for 4K just yet. Maybe on the documentary side, but now 4K is not needed for news, he said.
Sven then asked the CTOs to shed light on their cloud strategies.
Abuagla said Al Jazeera is moving quite aggressively on the cloud front.
We built the Al Jazeera Media Cloud with the idea of connecting all of our major hubs globally in a cloud mesh, to enable anyone sitting in a remote office to access resources from these hubs. We are also working on a combination of private and public clouds to host media services, he explained.
He added that Al Jazeera is looking at running its OTT services from the cloud and is in talks with big cloud players such as Amazon and Microsoft to build an infrastructure.
We are looking at creating interactive tools for journalists in the field to fast-track the production cycle and get the story out to the viewer as quickly as possible, Abuagla said.
Sveb asked Kerrin about OSNs OTT strategy and how cloud features. He said that cloud could be a great enabler for OTT services.
Although the cloud is expensive to use, the upside is you only pay for what you use, which makes it an attractive tool to deal with spikes in OTT consumption. If we suddenly have a lot of content that needs to be played out on multiple devices, cloud computing comes in handy. We are presently looking for public cloud to store our backup, which will open up opportunities to augment our services manifold. We also plan to run all of our OTT from the cloud, he pointed out.
Cockett concluded the discussion by saying that in the fast-changing broadcast scenario, it is no longer a surprise to see a big public broadcaster playing out from a PC or a tier-one service provider moving its business to the data centre.
Today, public cloud utilisation is for DR and to maintain low-cost business continuity. We will see more of that. Also, more users of live playout will do other versions for mobile and streaming. A few years down the line one may still find SDI, but one part of the business is moving very quickly into a software-only setup, he summed up.