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Connect – on the move

Special Report

This Special Report has been taken from Journal Issue 113. To view the full magazine, click here.

Roger Thornton

Copy Cruncher 

IABM

Introduction

The Connect segment of the BaM Content Chain® encompasses the moving of content, whether real-time (live) or file-based, within and between facilities. This covers a wide range of products and services including IP (and SDI) infrastructure, routing, interfacing and conversion, file-based delivery as well as bandwidth and connectivity services including internet, fiber, satellite, microwave, and cellular.

Connect was already one of the fastest growing segments of the BaM Content Chain®, and the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown has dramatically increased demands on connectivity; according to the most recent IABM survey, Connect is the only BaM Content Chain® segment that is still growing during the pandemic. We spoke to IABM members about the drivers of change and trends in this BaM Content Chain® block, what effects they have felt to their business as a result of the pandemic, how they are responding, and what we can expect next in this dynamic sector.

Drivers of change

In the latest IABM Buying Trends Report, buyers’ overall top considerations are ROI, agility and efficiency – along with training. Chiming nicely with these desires is Dejero’s VP Marketing, Richard McClurg: “In the Connect space, it’s the macro-level drivers that are at play: the desire for more content; the need for greater flexibility in being able to move content around, faster, and more efficiently; the ability to quickly scale up and down operations; and the need to reduce costs,” McClurg says. “While fibre and dedicated satellite links have been used extensively for moving content in the past, the level of flexibility and cost of these solutions don’t always meet the needs of content providers in the new, often digital-first world. The use of the public Internet, and less expensive broadband and cellular connection paths, bolstered with on-demand satellite when needed, and augmented with technologies that boost the reliability such as Dejero’s Smart Blending Technology, now make this approach viable, helping to achieve the efficiency and cost savings that broadcasters and media organizations are striving for.”

Signiant Chief Marketing Officer, Jon Finegold, also sees “Quite a few macrotrends driving change:

1. There is far more collaboration as content creators can easily tap into a global network of highly specialized companies and talent

2. Distribution has expanded dramatically as content is delivered to many new platforms, across more borders, and in new formats

3. The storage landscape is far more complex as content now sits in a variety of storage types from many vendors across multiple locations along with a growing trend towards using multiple cloud providers

4. And, of course, file sizes continue to grow as do security challenges

“While none of these things are new, they all continue to evolve quickly. As a result, workflows are more global and more complex and that is driving massive change in Connect,” Finegold adds.

For Ronan Poullaouec, CTO at AVIWEST, the drivers in Connect are “5G and more generally IP workflows,” he says. “Indeed, we can see more and more remote production uses cases that rely on IP architectures and low latency live video broadcasting solutions. Of course, 5G will speed up the use of cellular networks for live and file operations with better confidence in the transmission and higher video quality. The use of Non-Public-Network with private frequencies (as CBRS in the US) could be also a game changer for live transmission from private areas.”

Going virtual

For Bitmovin, the lockdown has accelerated the trend to more and more virtual events, which will be here to stay. Says Bitmovin’s Digital Marketing Specialist, Joshua Shulman, “The global pandemic was a huge influencing factor towards how all (in-person) events function, but this is likely to carry over to events once the virus is firmly under control. Although virtual events have existed for some time, this has opened up the opportunity for innovation. However, the general technological shift towards online marketing and sales initiatives should carry these changes in the future. Having more virtual events like Connect.by allow more of your target audience to actually attend and participate in these events.”

Jan Eveleens, Director Business Development Video Solutions at Riedel, has no doubt where the major trend lies. “Obviously the most important driver in Connect is the move to use more and more standard (COTS) IT equipment for both networking and also processing,” Eveleens says. A quick look at IABM’s recent Supply Trends Report tends to back this up, with software now accounting for a larger share of vendor revenues than hardware for the first time since the report was introduced – over 10 years ago.

How big a driver is IP?

According to IABM research data, IP is a big driver of spending in the Connect segment, but with its adoption still being slower than expected, what is the real rate of adoption of IP technology in the Broadcast and Media industry – and how is it changing operational practices? 

Riedel’s Jan Eveleens is forthright. “The transition from SDI to IP is now increasingly gaining momentum! Adoption had been rather slow as there was unclarity and uncertainty about technological standards and concerns about interoperability between vendors. But there have been other essential factors having their effects on the progress of IP:

1. First, IP technology requires very different skillsets and many organisations that want to transition to IP need to (re)train their personnel, hire new talent, or trust third parties [note that this also reflects the fourth pillar of end-users’ top priorities – training]

2. Then IP is kind of a moving target. Initially the industry focussed on HD and 10G networks, which has now shifted to 25G and UHD with manufacturers redesigning their systems accordingly. These systems are only now coming to market

3. And, as is the case for any new technology, IP solutions still require a premium in terms of costs that so many organisations have not been able to be convinced enough to pay. This premium is expected to decrease over time enabling more organisations to decide to invest in IP technology.”

At a price

Cost is also an issue identified by AVIWEST – particularly with uncompressed video, but other areas can see real advantages now by leveraging the company’s technology, Ronan Poullaouec contends: “The use of IP technology in the B&M market is taking a step forward but its adoption has a cost and it can be quite complex to define the right architecture. For instance, the changeover to IP technology as uncompressed video over IP (e.g. SMPTE ST2110) can be extremely complex and expensive,” he says. “This is not the case for all the market areas in the B&M industry. As an example, it has become easier and easier to manage live transmissions over IP networks from anywhere. Of course, this example requires the right solution to guarantee the transmission. This is the case with our (double) Emmy Awarded SST protocol that guarantees the highest performances over unmanaged or managed IP networks. This protocol enables broadcasters to reliably and securely transport live video over any IP networks (thanks to packet loss recovery mechanism, jitter correction or multiplenetworks bonding). Moreover, the time synchronization algorithms integrated in SST allow to manage multi-camera workflows without the need for external synchronisation sources (like genlock signals or other sync signals).”

According to Jon Finegold at Signiant, the rate of take-up of IP depends on a number of factors, and he explains why it has not been as rapid across the board as some expected. “If you look at the newer providers, they are building everything IP from the ground up while more traditional players are adopting IP, but typically driven by some catalyst – new facility, new projects, etc. Companies are still getting value from their existing infrastructure and using tools to bridge between old and new so there isn’t a hard line when the existing equipment will be shut down. IP adoption will continue but probably more as a step function tied to specific events.”

Coronavirus – accelerant or drag-anchor?

Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, work on new facilities has essentially stopped. As a large share of investment in new IP infrastructure is focused on greenfield projects, we asked our correspondents if the crisis have a negative impact on IP technology investment and, with media organizations leapfrogging into the cloud due to necessity, how will this impact the demand for IP technology post-pandemic?

“Yes it may delay some big investments (as mentioned: work on new facilities, new TV studios, etc) but it will boost other investments as remote production workflows, live transmission from outside or cloud-based solutions,” says AVIWEST’s Ronan Poullaouec. “The changeover to cloud solutions will of course speed up the deployment of IP-based workflows to manage the transmission between local/ on-premise equipment and hosted cloud services.”

Moving faster

Riedel is seeing more positive movement on IP investments and the coronavirus pandemic fuelling a move to the cloud – at least for now. “Riedel still sees a healthy appetite of media organisations to invest in IP technology,” says Jan Eveleens. “Probably the move to IT based systems is stimulated by the Corona crisis as many organisations are now re-thinking their future operations. This is also true for using cloud-based technologies, certainly as some Coronaimposed measures make the use of other solutions and workflows very difficult or impossible. But it is to be expected that post-pandemic organisations will re-assess what is most efficient in terms of workflow and cost.”

Signiant has plenty of direct evidence of the rapid changes wrought by coronavirus, and fully expects that this is not a temporary move. “While new facilities are on hold during the pandemic, adoption of new technologies, specifically cloud and SaaS, are growing fast,” says Signiant’s Jon Finegold. “What we see is trends that were happening already are simply being accelerated. Remote production and remote collaboration, cloud adoption, streaming, etc. were already moving quickly. The pandemic has simply accelerated these things out of necessity and those that were already moving in these directions, seem to be in a much better spot.

“Signiant has a unique lens on this in that our tools are used widely for remote production, remote collaboration and of course to move data into and out of the cloud,” Finegold continues. “We watch these trends closely and all have been rising in our customer base but things took a steep, hockey stick upward curve in March as the world moved entirely remote. Because a lot of this was already in motion, we expect it to stick post-pandemic.”

Is IP helping drive 4K/UHD adoption?

Riedel’s Jan Eveleens certainly thinks so: “Being ready and prepared for UHD is an important requirement for most customers now. As the majority of customers do not want to invest in an entirely new 12G SDI infrastructure, the move to IP is often driven by the requirement to support UHD or at least to be futureproof for UHD.”

Future-proof

For Signiant, 4K/UHD isn’t a destination – it’s just a waypoint that can be supported by flexible, agile infrastructures. “IP offers more flexibility in general and given the world we’re in right now where there are new formats and new platforms popping up all the time, it just makes sense to be thinking about an IP future,” says Jon Finegold. “4K/UHD is certainly a catalyst for technology investment but simply having agility is the best way to think about the future. Don’t build out infrastructure simply to support 4K/UHD, build out infrastructure that will enable you to support whatever comes next.”

“4K and UHD are seeing an increase in usage overall, as expected to match the hardware available on the market,” says Bitmovin’s Joshua Shulman – but it doesn’t have to be all about IP status, he contends: “Sure, this is something that IP may support better at this time – but technologies like Bitmovin’s Multi-pass Encoding and Web/OTT Player are built to support high-quality content while reducing bitrate expenditure with more efficient compression techniques and multi-codec distribution strategies. 4k and UHD will grow regardless of IP status, as other technologies are developing to support these formats without an immediate need for WiFi enhancements.”

“Deployments of 4K/UHD are finally starting and we expect to see a ramping up in the adoption of 4K/UHD,” agrees Ronan Poullaouec at AVIWEST – although primarily via the internet rather than OTA. “Of course, IP technology will make this adoption easier and cheaper for broadcasters. OTT may simplify the distribution of 4K/UHD and HD programs to a wide public and in comparison with the DTT technologies, there is a big gap.”

Remote Production

At first glance, one would expect remote production to make big gains during a period of lockdown – and, if the benefits are felt, not rolling back to previous ‘norms’ after the world gets fully going again. While sports events – major drivers in the drive to remote production – have been cancelled, other production genres have indeed embraced remote production according to our correspondents. “With Coronavirus, we recently have noticed a huge interest in remote production solutions,” Ronan Poullaouec says. “While remote production was mainly used for sports production before the Coronavirus, we now can see it for News, Interviews, Entertainment TVs, etc. Remote production seems to become a standard workflow for all TV stations. This is good news for our business.”

“Remote production is one of those trends that has been steadily growing for some time and that’s been a great trend for Signiant,” says Jon Finegold. “With the pandemic, remote production has accelerated dramatically out of necessity and we expect much of that to stick as it was already trending in that direction. Signiant software is used widely in remote production workflows allowing remote editors to pull clips from the live feeds in near real-time using standard IP networks as well as for getting graphics, quick edits and clips back to the truck or to the venue for playing on the jumbrotron.”

The new normal

Richard McClurg at Dejero also notes wide adoption of remote production and doesn’t see things changing back to the way they were pre-pandemic. “While the term ‘at-home production’ is used by some to refer to remote production, little did we know at the beginning of the year that it would take on a whole new, literal meaning.

“This unprecedented situation of the pandemic presented major challenges for broadcasters striving to continue live news and weather reporting while staff adhered to government requirements of social distancing. Technical teams had to quickly figure out new workflows and technologies to adapt to the current situation as many broadcast facilities had to be evacuated. They had to quickly enable presenters to successfully broadcast from home, often relying on consumer broadband for connectivity. Smartphones replaced high end cameras and tripods, lighting, mics, IFB communication and teleprompters had to be arranged and often improvised,” McClurg explains

And the numbers back up the scale of the move to remote or at-home production. “Dejero has seen a tenfold increase in the use of its mobile apps to provide live broadcasts in these scenarios and our Smart Blending Technology has proven itself well in this scenario, with the ability to blend any IP connection type: broadband (either directly or over Wi-Fi) as well as cellular,” McClurg says. “We’re delivering the reliability that wouldn’t be there if using just a single connection. Since fibre or satellite connections are not available, we’re proving that public Internet links can be made just as reliable with the right technology in place. In a sense, it’s been a great way to demonstrate our capabilities.”

Remote production is of course not just a one-way street – the return path has to be interactive too. “We’ve also seen a big increase in demand for our return video/teleprompter solution,” McClurg adds. “We’re able to deliver extremely low latency (as low as 250 milliseconds) program and teleprompter feeds to tablets, smartphones or computer monitors that presenters have on hand, instead of more traditional purpose-built equipment. That way they can check their position when live to compensate for graphics and overlays, as well as read teleprompter scripts controlled and updated remotely at the broadcast facility.

“We’re also seeing greater demand for our general purpose connectivity solutions. Some broadcasters have deployed our GateWay network aggregation devices to presenters in areas where Internet service is not so reliable, or where cellular connectivity from a single carrier can be spotty. We’re able to use whatever bandwidth they have and blend in cellular connectivity from multiple providers to deliver the bandwidth and coverage that’s required for high-quality video transport as well as provide a much more reliable connection to the broadcaster’s private network and general-purpose access to cloud services and applications.

“While these GateWay devices typically provide the connectivity for encoders, receivers, return feed servers and any other equipment in production vehicles and portable flyaway kits used in typical remote production scenarios, they are now being redeployed to support broadcast-from-home workflows,” McClurg adds.

What will the future look like? “We can’t predict when remote production will go back to ‘normal’, but we do think that broadcasters will rethink some of their workflows, seeing the success of what’s been done during the pandemic,” says McClurg. “We also think they’ll reassess their business continuity and disaster recovery plans to have portable kits that can be quickly deployed and connected should the need arise. Dejero is well positioned to help achieve this higher level of preparedness.”

Pandemic or not, the move to remote production is already an important driver for Riedel. “With the transition from SDI to IP and bandwidth becoming more abundant and cheaper, remote production will increasingly become a standard workflow for many media organisations,” says Jan Eveleens. “Quite a few media organisations are using it already for some events or are experimenting with it. We see this as a positive development as all our products are very suitable for use in remote production applications.”

5G – Connect gamechanger?

“For Dejero, 5G is simply the next evolution of wireless technology, another connection that can be aggregated with other 3G and 4G cellular connections, along with any other IP connections that may be available, to reliably deliver the bandwidth that broadcasters and media organizations need when operating remotely,” says Richard McClurg. “In the broadcast world, 5G is fuelled by the exponential growth of video over IP and the growing consumption of high-quality video through traditional channels and new media. Its benefits go beyond resolution and will transform field and mobile broadcasting, making scenarios possible which were previously reserved for wired environments. For example, 5G’s lower latency for all communication and applications between the station and the field crew will enable more to be done remotely in live broadcasts.

“The incredible ‘Holokid’ performance that took place in Romania last year is a good example of this,” McClurg continues. “Working in combination with Vodafone Romania’s 5G network and Musion 3D’s holographic technology, Dejero’s transmitters and receivers helped create a live, life-sized, 3D holographic video stream, which allowed a stage-shy 11-year-old guitar player to join a rock band live on stage from a studio 2km away, bringing alive a perfect human hologram. Dejero’s extensive experience of live outside broadcast and mobile broadcasting in challenging conditions was key to the success of this show. The combination of various technologies and 5G delivered the confidence and low latency needed to get a high-quality live stream across networks in a reliable way that creates realistic end results.”

McClurg however tempers his enthusiasm with a note of caution: “But due to the cost and effort required from operators to make a full transition to 5G – not to mention the many technical and regulatory decisions yet to be made – it will take some time to implement and become widely available. Therefore, the 4G LTE and LTEAdvanced infrastructures, as well as 3G infrastructure in many areas, will still be relied on for many years to achieve the bandwidth required for broadcast quality video, broader availability of cellular signals, low latency, and the high reliability needed by all.”

New creative avenues

Ronan Poullaouec at AVIWEST also sees great potential for 5G in broadcast and media – as well as many other areas. “5G brings higher bandwidths and lower connection latencies to users. This will serve applications and services that need high reactivity and high bandwidths: online & interactive gaming, video conferences solutions, AR+VR live videos, etc. But compared to 4G that already provides high bandwidths and low latencies under certain conditions, 5G will allow a lot of new services like the network slicing that will be a real ‘game changer’ for professional usage. This slicing will allow professionals to use their own network in the network with dedicated bandwidths and characteristics even in overcrowded areas. This will guarantee the quality of service for professional applications like live content production for the media & broadcast market.”

Like Dejero, Riedel sees 5G as a useful addition to range of connections available, and open up new creative avenues. “5G is an interesting new technology in the total available network technology mix,” says Jan Eveleens. “It will allow certain parts of the chain from content creation to content consumptions to go wireless, where this was not possible yet. Being no longer bound by wires will create new opportunities for new creative or more efficient workflows.”

While Signiant is yet to see 5G having a major impact, it is certain to add another powerful connectivity choice in the future, and perhaps become dominant. “While we don’t see a ton of 5G in play yet in the B2B supply chain, we are having a lot of conversations about it,” says Jon Finegold. “For Signiant, this is great news as the more bandwidth that is available, the more our intelligent transport can add value, maximizing throughput on whatever pipe is there. 5G will offer more versatility and with Signiant software that combination could be very disruptive to other types of networks used in the B2B supply chain.”

The impact of Coronavirus on supply chains

Given the fast-growing complexity of media supply chains, we asked our correspondents whether the industry was unprepared – or not connected enough – to deal with the Coronavirus crisis. Signiant reports that its customers were already well prepared and its customer base has also expanded substantially in recent months: “Signiant has a unique perspective on this in that our Media Shuttle product is widely used for remote work and remote collaboration, now connecting more than 25,000 businesses across the media and entertainment industry,” Jon Finegold explains.

“We believe no business, institute nor government was prepared enough for a crisis as we currently are experiencing,” says Riedel’s Jan Eveleens. “There will be important lessons learned once we’ve come out of it. These will certainly also apply for the media supply chains.”

Playing catch-up

Bitmovin concurs. “Many were unprepared!” says Joshua Shulman. “Stay at home orders came hand-inhand with bandwidth caps – thereby forcing organizations to reduce the quality of resolution in many countries. Other tech-oriented problems that we identified through our customer-base were immense drop-offs in Video Start-Up time and an increase in data downloads. Although some organizations were able to shift and update their technologies to match new restrictions and usage requirements, many are still playing catch-up.”

“We have seen a big evolution since the beginning of the pandemic and TV stations have changed their working method and adapted their programs to face the extremely complex supply chains,” says AVIWEST’s Ronan Poullaouec. “Again, thanks to IP technology, TV Stations are able to easily and quickly share live content, to manage interviews with people without dedicated and expensive production equipment or also to produce high quality content with Mobile Journalism Solutions (like the MOJOPRO application by Aviwest).”

Security matters

Keeping those signals secure remains a key issue for everyone in the media supply chain, which is exacerbated by more reliance on remote connectivity. “Security remains a concern and it only grows more challenging with remote work and more inter-company collaboration,” says Signiant’s Jon Finegold. “Again, having the right tools in place is critical which is one of the big drivers for Signiant as our commitment to enterprise-grade security and offering much better controls and visibility to operations teams makes it much easier to manage these collaborations in a secure fashion.”

AVIWEST also has security high on its priority list. “Security is of course an important topic when using IP technology and especially public IP networks,” says Ronan Poullaouec. “Our solutions not only guarantee a high level of security (with optional content encryption & watermarking) but also an excellent robustness with the management of redundant systems. As an example, our encoders and transmitters can use multiple networks with different level of priorities for each network to manage the live transmission. This is very useful to secure the transmission if the main link fails.”

For Jan Eveleens, the answer lies in standards: “Riedel sees security of networked (IP) systems as very important and are following and promoting all guidelines and recommendations from JT-NM, SMPTE, AMWA and EBU.”

What’s next in Connect technology and workflows?

Connect is not only the fastest growing segment of the BaM Content Chain®, it’s also one where the technology is moving at breakneck speed too. We asked our correspondents to gaze into their crystal balls for what to expect next.

Connectivity is kingmaker

Richard McClurg at Dejero has a very clear idea – and how his company can facilitate it. “In the broadcast and media world the adage ‘content is king’ is held dear. That being the case, we like to think that ‘connectivity is the kingmaker’. While there is demand for an increasing amount of content, the cost to produce that content must come down. The economics of falling advertising revenue demand it. The traditional way of doing things with large crews and lots of equipment on location is coming to an end, and quite possibly has ended with this pandemic.

“Live feeds from smaller crews will be brought back to a centralized location and that location may not be a single geographic location, but may shift across a continent or even around the world. We see the use of cloud-based solutions now accelerating, something that the industry has been relatively slow to adopt.

“This all requires reliable connectivity to move content around. While 5G is seen by some to be the solution, coverage challenges and the need for diverse connection paths remain. We see our Smart Blending Technology and Hybrid Encoding Technology playing an increasing role in transporting broadcast-quality video in the emerging workflows, being able to respond in real time to fluctuating bandwidth, packet loss, and latency differences of individual connection paths.

“Our solutions are not just being used for contribution from the field, but the distribution of content as well; blending broadband, cellular and satellite links depending on the connectivity that’s available at source and receive site. Our solutions will naturally evolve to address the changing needs of our customers,” McClurg concludes.

“In live broadcasting, the combination of 5G, IP technology and remote production makes sense for a lot of different workflows: live content production for News, Sports, Entertainment, Multi-camera workflows, MOJO solutions, etc.,” says Ronan Poullaouec. “AVIWEST has been working on live broadcasting solutions with bonded cellular transmitters and encoders able to work on any IP networks. AVIWEST already announced the introduction of its 5G transmitter AIR and PRO3 with up to 6 embedded 5G worldwide modules. A new ultracompact rackmount encoder will be soon introduced with disruptive performances & features (among others: Video IFB, VPN for remote control of equipment, low latencies, premium VQ thanks to HEVC hardware encoder, etc). Our unique StreamHub application is now available as a hardware appliance, as a cloud service or as a software container that can support a wide range of IP protocols (SST, SRT, TSoIP, RTMP, etc) and up to 16 inputs and 16 outputs simultaneously. This makes it perfect also to manage live distribution and content sharing over IP networks. A typical use case is the distribution network between HQ and network affiliates.”

Bitmovin’s Joshua Shulman sees his company having an impact right across the segment. “As Connect is working towards improving device reach, resolution quality capabilities, and content security features – it’s more important than ever to leverage new and constantly evolving solutions. Bitmovin’s Multi-pass encoding and Multi-codec supported player tie in seamlessly with the highest quality resolutions and best-in-class DRM platforms. Bitmovin’s product suite supports the newest codecs on the market (AV1, VVC, VP9, and the incumbent EVC and LCEVC codecs). Our encoder yields top resolution quality while expending minimum bitrates.”

For Riedel, it’s back to commoditization. “The trend towards even more COTS is unstoppable. Next steps may include virtualisation of processing and also networking, based on mechanisms and technologies that are deployed in the cloud already. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) will also have an influence in Connect most notably in control and monitoring,” Jan Eveleens concludes.

To conclude

Final words to Signiant, who are focusing on making it “easier and more secure to do an intercompany content exchange,” says Jon Finegold. “While our Media Shuttle product has long been used for people to send and share assets between companies our newest product, Signiant Jet is making it easy and secure to setup automated, hot folder content exchange between companies. All managed from our SaaS control plane, companies can make a secure request to a partner and once accepted, the companies can set-up mutually agreed upon transfer jobs. Each company maintains complete control of their own environment without having to share passwords or open up their networks to partners. With 25,000+ companies on the platform, Signiant has become the trusted broker for secure, inter-company content exchange.”

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