With a new normal in place due to the ongoing global pandemic, BroadcastPro ME asks the experts if the current scenario will help accelerate IP adoption in the months to come.
There has been a reluctance among many traditional broadcasters to move to IP workflows. The associated cost, the learning curve, a move into unknown territory and several other factors have contributed to the fear and reluctance to take that step. But the global pandemic, which forced people out of their office spaces, have compelled broadcasters to revisit their attitude to IP.
According to Kieran Kunhya, Managing Director, Open Broadcast Systems, the biggest barrier to IP adoption has been the feeling among traditional broadcasters that “migrating to IP means a drop-in quality and a rise in latency”.
“This is simply not the case but many in this industry believe that,” he says.
Tim Burton, Managing Director of 7fivefive also believes mindsets have played a big role in deterring broadcasters from taking that step.
“When broadcasters start looking at IP, they often assume that it will mean a massive undertaking to change the infrastructure. That often plays a part in delaying projects from migrating to an IP-based workflow or planning extremely long-term projects.”
That is not to say that there haven’t been some interesting examples of broadcasters using IP to good effect prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Examples include live boxing, and Atlantic Cup football. In the Middle East, Prolane is delivering a managed service to enable IP contribution and distribution using the Reliable Internet Stream Transport (RIST) protocol. However, it is still mainly the domain of niche video content or as a backup for mainstream programming.
While many other broadcasters have IP firmly in their plans, Chris Clarke, CEO of Ceberus, points out that “often, IP is part of a very long-term roadmap for many of the more traditional broadcasters and content providers”.
“Rather than looking at it as something they can switch over to quickly, it has been seen as several years down the line.”
Of course, one of the other barriers to IP adoption has been the stability of internet connectivity. In many areas of the world, internet is simply not reliable, and it varies from region to region. Kunhya points out that the Middle East is an example of a challenging region for delivery of video content using IP.
“Not all countries across the Middle East have stable and reliable internet connectivity, which could lead to a drop in signal quality if left unchecked,” he explains.
Producing Content with Social Distancing Measures
With social distancing rules still enforced, and in the vast majority of cases, people still staying at home, 7fivefive’s Burton says: “In the last couple of months, the global events have undeniably made it challenging to produce live content. However, that has led to a total change in mindset. Whereas before, a live show would require everyone to come to a facility, now broadcasters are having to find innovative ways around that.”
Clarke seconds this, adding that live sport has been one of the worst affected areas within broadcast.
“When major sporting events were cancelled, we saw smaller sporting events filling that content gap. This meant those sports providers suddenly had to figure out how to reach big, global audiences. Sporting events and sports broadcasters will now be compelled to be innovative with the type of content they can create so such a situation does not shut them down again.”
There have been some great examples of that innovation. Formula 1, for example organised an esports race featuring a mixture of Formula 1 drivers and other celebrities. Whilst it won’t replace the real thing, it did help to keep some level of fan engagement while races were cancelled. A lot of broadcasters have been digging through the archives to find pivotal moments for highlight reels. This includes rare footage found of an F1 World Championship race from 1950.
The one thing that is for sure is that demand for content remains huge.
“Over the coming months, consumers will continue to demand content, and lots of it,” says Burton.
“More time spent at home inevitably means more time spent viewing content. At the same time, consumers are fickle and will quickly cancel subscriptions if their content demands are not being met adequately. VOD content fills a gap but there will always be a strong appetite for live content. Anything that can be created virtually or shot from home will be important to fill that gap and keep those viewers satisfied.”
“The way in which live content is produced changed in no time at all. All sorts of broadcasting content, from news reports to entertainment, are being filmed in people’s own homes now,” says Kunhya.
“One of the most significant examples of that has to be the One World: Together at Home broadcast, which saw artists from across the world filming themselves performing in their own homes. It even saw bands doing collaborative performances despite all being in separate locations.”
IP During the Crisis
With broadcasters facing the need to continue content production while observing social distancing guidelines, IP has a massive part to play.
As Kunhya highlights: “Obviously, it would not be practical to run dedicated broadcast fibre links to every presenter’s home, but IP means you don’t have to. By implementing IP contribution workflows, broadcasters have been able to enable their staff to create video from literally anywhere.”
This is a view shared by Clarke. “The crisis has forced many traditional broadcasters to turn to IP and cloud workflows from production right through to delivery. They are also having to adapt extremely fast. We are seeing many cloud tools offering free access, credits, and/or tutorials to help make that transition quick and seamless and that is certainly making a massive difference for broadcasters to take that leap.”
However, Burton warns that “the biggest challenge right now is for those broadcasters that have legacy platforms and have not invested time and money in modernising them over the years”.
“They are having to adapt fast but that means they are not building on a solid base; instead, they are having to adapt a very different infrastructure to work with IP and remote workflows. Inevitably, something will be missing. Prior to social distancing, access to the studio and on-premise infrastructure was unlikely to be an issue and broadcasters would generally take the approach of gradually modernising infrastructures over a long period of time. This crisis forced many to get on board very quickly with a whole new way of working.”
Clarke agrees: “Right now, there is a certain amount of ‘sticky tape’ approach to IP adoption. Broadcasters should be using this time to consider their future roadmaps and begin scoping out the tools and processes they need to help them get there. This means that when live events pick back up again, they are ready to run with new, more efficient and robust tools and processes already developed and in place.”
The Future of IP
Ultimately, this crisis has brought the value of IP to the fore.
“This period will help prove the untapped potential of what IP can do, together with demonstrating its flexibility, adaptability, and cost-efficiency. Once broadcasters realise the potential of IP, they are unlikely to go back to more unwieldy and expensive options,” comments Clarke.
Burton also believes that IP will become more widespread.
“This crisis has forced media companies to adapt their infrastructures to enable IP contribution and distribution. As that was previously one of the biggest barriers to IP adoption, I think it is likely the transition will happen naturally now. It will no longer be a massive undertaking that is looming, but something that is already operational and can simply be tweaked to suit where needed.”
Kunhya comments: “We have been saying for a long time that the tools are already available to enable reliable IP contribution and distribution. Technology such as the RIST (Reliable Internet Stream Transport) protocol even makes it possible to deliver video over unstable internet connections without losing quality. Now that broadcasters are experiencing that first-hand, they will much more likely see it as a viable alternative for the future, even when other methods become accessible again.”
However, broadcasting needs to change to adapt to this new normal.
“Conventional broadcasting will have to become more flexible to incorporate this new approach. I believe this crisis has taught us that content is king, not the technical delivery,” concludes Burton.