Replacing SDI with IP offers significant benefits, not only in cost but also in the flexibility of design that IP supports. It’s high time we made the leap into IP-based content delivery, says Alec Stichbury Content delivery has entered a new landscape and is virtually unrecognisable compared to a decade ago. Multi-platform distribution is evolving […]
Replacing SDI with IP offers significant benefits, not only in cost but
also in the flexibility of design that IP supports. It’s high time we made the leap into IP-based content delivery, says Alec Stichbury
Content delivery has entered a new landscape and is virtually unrecognisable compared to a decade ago. Multi-platform distribution is evolving to match the viewing habits of todays audiences, who expect content on demand to be delivered to whichever device they choose. In this multi-platform environment the need for flexibility, quality playout and cost-effectiveness is driving a technological change in content delivery methods. More and more broadcasters and content owners are moving away from their dependence on traditional, proprietary hardware solutions.
A new software-centric approach is being adopted to meet the functionality and innovation needed to support the changing appetites of consumers. Since the inception of television, broadcasting has been the domain of the broadcast engineer and has relied on traditional hardware manufacturers to support the changing requirements of the market. This rate of change, however, has been too slow and has often meant that the broadcast function has been superseded in terms of technology and process innovation by online and non-linear strategies.
The high-cost barriers to entry that the traditional hardware, high proprietary broadcast platforms dictate are slowly starting to erode, leading to a new cloud philosophy in broadcasting. More agile and scalable offerings are now in place, freeing broadcasters and content owners from the constraints of their inflexible, difficult-to-scale hardware platforms.
The payout of cloud playout
In organisations generally, the wider benefits of migrating services to the cloud have been well documented from significant savings in capital expenditure, to the ability to be highly flexible and scalable and cater to varying business demands. This is no different in the broadcast content playout arena, as an IP-centric, cloud-based playout model provides substantial benefits to broadcasters and media companies in the broadcast chain.
Broadcast companies in the Middle East and across the globe are facing growing pressure to economically launch new channels while protecting and extending their long-established brands, and the new generation of automated cloud-based playout can play a critical role in meeting these strategic objectives. Playout in the cloud provides the agility companies need to compete in a changing marketplace. In simple terms, it allows broadcasters to ingest, transform and transport content free of geographic boundaries, to extend and expand their brands, and to forge productive new relationships between content providers, broadcasters and affiliates.
Cloud is particularly appealing to new entrants to the broadcast market, since the barriers to entry are significantly lower as no investment is needed for playout infrastructure. Traditionally, the barriers to entry into the broadcasting and media business were very high, limiting the number of players; now software virtualisation is bringing far more competitive opportunities. For existing broadcasters, however, the use of cloud also has significant benefits.
Playout in a virtualised environment ensures that broadcasters can quickly, accurately and effectively deliver changes and rapidly adopt new approaches to meet market trends, much more easily than with traditional models. This agility also ensures that the solution is scalable and can grow to accommodate the organisations needs.
Broadcasters see real business, market and competitive benefits in areas such as channel creation, for example, as a cloud-based architecture allows new channels to be created on an anywhere, anytime basis with considerably lower barriers to entry. When channels and content no longer operate within the constraints of a localised, hardware infrastructure, content can be transited, edited and played out with the speed and flexibility of internet technology.
One new technology, Deluxes LeapCloud, leverages the advances in virtualisation and cloud computing and can be flexed to meet demand on a tactical or strategic basis. It enables channels to be launched in a traditionally unrealistic timescale and can also be used if an existing channel needs to be distributed to a new territory without the traditional long lead time and high cost of uplink and space-segment, and with more certainty around quality of service.
Cloud generally also provides broadcasters with increased visibility of and access to assets and channel outputs across the workflow. With this visibility and ability to manage the workflow of making an asset broadcast-ready, errors that can cause on-air outages are eliminated. Adopting cloud can also reduce operating costs in terms of staff required and distribution contracts.
Another major benefit is redundancy. Cloud infrastructure is typically hosted within a secure data centre, which provides better resilience of the platform and improved opportunities for disaster recovery. Moving the playout platform into a software-oriented environment ensures that there is no single point of failure within the chain, as the solution is replicated as part of a disaster recovery solution. Even more resilience is offered if the infrastructure is hosted in multiple data centres connected through dual and diverse network links.
Adoption of IP
Cloud-based playout relys on software-oriented systems and leverages massively from Internet Protocol (IP) as a transport system, which is where one of the barriers to cloud adoption lies. In the current broadcast arena, few operators use IP as the main mechanism for transporting live video around their facilities. Playout systems still rely on proprietary hardware and other traditional mechanisms and are very much focused on the use of legacy video serial digital interface (SDI). SDI creates a one-to-one relationship between one device and another; it is fixed and cannot scale. Baseband video is by design a point to point medium. The introduction of IP into the broadcast environment means it will ultimately though slowly replace SDI.
Replacing SDI with IP offers significant benefits, both in cost and in the flexibility of design that IP supports. IP is intrinsically a point to multi-point protocol, which therefore enables a simplified design philosophy. Furthermore, the design is delivered over non-proprietary network devices, reducing cost and enabling greater scaling capabilities.
Typically, broadcast environments already feature IP networks. As a result, adopting IP as a standard method of transport will not require significant further capital investment or operational investment, as many of the existing networking skillsets apply. Careful design is required to ensure network separation of business and management traffic from that of broadcast IP traffic. This is further complicated for multi-tenanted scale-out facilities where traffic has to have absolute separation.
For organisations looking to make a step change in technology, for example, broadcasters seeking to replace legacy systems that are approaching end of life, adopting an IP-based approach is extremely beneficial. It reduces the complexity of the hardware build and supports the push towards non-proprietary IT services. One of the knock-on effects is the ability to deliver the flexibility required to meet current audience demands.
The combined challenge of an ever-changing multi-channel world and the need to operate more cost-effectively is seeing the broadcast industry slowly starting to embrace the potential of cloud delivery platforms and the supporting IT infrastructures. The rate of adoption looks set to rise, with IP being used across more aspects of the workflow, and the latest software-oriented platforms provide the necessary resilience, agility and reliability to service the transition for broadcasters.
Alec Stichbury is Technology Director at Deluxe LeapCloud.