By Adrian Pennington | The Broadcast Bridge | Published 22nd May 2020
Playout automation has been enabling fewer people to control more channels for decades but we’re not quite at the point where human interaction can be eliminated altogether. Since most linear broadcasters will either move to a software-based deployment for their channels themselves or give them to a service provider that carries out that transformation for them, The Broadcast Bridge assesses the benefits and the challenges in so doing. Part II examines the crucial role of IP and the workflows and skillsets needed to operate such infrastructure.
The major premise of software-defined operations is to consign proprietary and hard to interoperate equipment and siloed workflows to history.
IP, and especially uncompressed IP, is the stepping stone. That said, the vast majority of playout infrastructures are still SDI, and a baseband solution is inherently incapable of being software only.
“Key to the transition will be the widespread adoption of open standards which enable interoperability between different vendors’ solutions in the IP environment,” says Daniel Robinson, Head of R&D, Pebble Beach.
Initiatives from AMWA, the Advanced Media Workflow Association who are developing NMOS (Networked Media Open Specification) are helping to drive this forward.
James Gilbert, Pixel Power, agrees, “We need standards and ST2110 only touches the surface of what is really needed to have software-defined best of breed systems in which you can connect video between different vendor’s products. What is not standardised is the control layer and that needs a big amount of work although AMWA and NMOS are working in the right direction.
“Inevitably there will be certain pieces of the puzzle which will stay with the vendor since it will be impractical and inefficient to open it up completely.”
There are many benefits to be gained from deploying a channel in the cloud. For service providers, MCOs, sports broadcasters, and corporates, virtualised playout can deliver an affordable option to deploy or contract IP-based channels instantly without the burden of racks of complicated hardware, and weeks or months of setup and provisioning.
But questions remain about the economic, logistical and technical benefits to the end user, and judging by the high volume of on-premises playout solutions that Pebble Beach install and commission – whether IP or baseband - it’s clear that this path is not one that every broadcaster or media company is ready to follow.
“Adding a virtualised infrastructure adds an extra layer of complexity and specific new requirements into the mix,” explains Robinson. “Don’t underestimate the level of in-house expertise you will need access to in order to implement a full-scale virtualised platform. Make no mistake, you will need to understand every nut and bolt of your virtual environment. In the more traditional set-up you will own the playout device and the vendor will take full responsibility for how that device performs, what benchmarks it complies with etc.
“However, with a virtualised solution, the vendor is simply the software provider, meaning that you, or your nominated representative, have responsibility for the overall performance of the virtualised platform and networks.”
Robinson adds that buying a bare metal box, a certain amount of RAM and a number of CPU cores will give you a reasonably predictable performance under given circumstances, but when you put your application on to a hypervisor, you are adding a whole new layer of software between you and the hardware which has a potentially huge number of ‘tweakables’.
“Don’t forget to check that your chosen hypervisor supports the disk drives and storage you want to use with your COTS hardware. If you need to change your hypervisor will your hardware be supported?”
Failure scenarios and failover contingencies needs to be considered. Who or what will be switching IP streams? If your VM fails, you may lose the transport stream altogether. Can your downstream distribution deal with no stream at all? Where are your IP streams going? Can you test them?
Shift in skillsets and workflows
Moving to any new workflow, whether it is an all IP or an all software architecture, does require new training and/or skill sets. Gilbert finds that operators are usually on board with any change in working practice.
“We don’t encounter resistance to that and part of that secret is involving them in procurement process so they can look at alternate solutions and feedback.
That’s not to say that the lines between traditional broadcast and IT aren’t blurring. In future there will be no distinction. In the past you needed technicians who understood how to hook up video signal and monitor Tektronix scopes. Now its Dev Ops and agile scrum developments to orchestrate solutions from different manufacturers. They need to understand the language of rest APIs as well as how to operate a scope.”
In the MCR, broadcast engineering competence will shift towards Python and C suite, high bit rate media transport technologies SMPTE 2110 / 2022, TCP/IP, and containerisation.
Such skills may simply be part and parcel of the incoming workforce. “Software defined technology will help attract young generations into the industry,” Gilbert says.
Aside from client training, Evertz have also tried to eliminate the learning curve, by creating UIs and feature sets to provide something that feels the same as operators are used to.
“For example, when we come to routing in a MCR environment, Evertz MAGNUM and VUE provides the same source, destination take familiarity, even if in the background its routing feeds up and down from the public cloud,” says Martin Whittaker, Technical Product Director, Evertz.
It is hard to be specific about what workflows might emerge but we can say that workflows are no longer set in stone and they evolve constantly and iteratively. We are now in a world where we are continuously tweaking and refining our operational practice and customer experience.
“Leveraging faster release cycles from the vendors we partner with as well as carrying out a significant amount of development in-house allows us to solve small issues with quick feature releases or small applications,” says Richard Cranefield, Head of Product for Playout Services, Red Bee Media.
It’s important to note that you won’t just need to measure the behaviour of the playout software application; you also need to monitor the behaviour of the entire infrastructure. Simply verifying that video and audio are playing does not give you the full picture. The range of available monitoring options in an SDI environment usually far exceeds those available in the IP domain. Diagnostics can be harder for IP too, so you’ll need to investigate what tools are at your disposal, as well as staff who are able to interpret the results.
“Operational monitoring is also critically important, especially in public cloud scenarios,” Robinson alerts. “As well as monitoring latencies and considering how and where your operators will monitor the playout, you need to consider any control latencies that will need to be added. Playout automation may need to send out control commands taking into account the monitoring latency for the user.”
The transport streams a playout infrastructure generates will go through the enterprise network switches and so can overload the network bandwidth potentially impacting on-air performance. That’s despite the fact that the playout software application may be running on a completely separate network.
Robinson’s advice is to check that the playout software vendor will give you access to the raw data that shows how the application is really performing on the virtualised platform. Among the multitude of parameters that can be measured, the sleep/wake time of processors of certain hypervisors may not be good enough for real time playout, he says. Latencies and behaviour will vary depending on the hypervisor you test.
The principal barriers to achieving a transition to truly virtualised playout and MCR operation are time and expertise, according to Red Bee Media which has gone through the process. Its platform is entirely software-based, including multi-viewers, and alarms and monitoring.
“We believe that you have to emulate all of your legacy appliances in software and not just some of them,” reports Cranefield. “To do so has meant integrating emerging technologies from multiple vendors and taking on responsibility for the performance of the hardware that those technologies now run on. In taking software from broadcast vendors and then running on our own cloud we’ve taken on responsibility for the fabric that everything runs on. The cloud infrastructure is now the part of the system that would have been the PCB in an old-world appliance. Who is accountable for a ‘device’ not working is now much more blurred, so we have had to upskill our engineering and network teams to deal with a greater level of responsibility in keeping the platform working, or understanding why parts of it are not.”
The R&D project that got Red Bee to this position lasted two years and was deliberately not pegged to any customer projects until they’d nailed it.
“Many broadcasters who want to undertake software transformation for themselves will still have to do this work, but they may struggle to dedicate the time and cost of developing the intellectual property required to get it right and can only leverage that investment over their own channels,” he says.
By TVBEurope Staff | TVBEurope | Published 1st June 2020
Pixel Power’s James Gilbert wonders what keeps his customers awake at night, and thinks we need to “sex up” opportunities for young people
How did you get started in the media tech industry?
I read engineering at Cambridge, and for beer money did some development work for a company making a graphics system, including a 24-bit (“full colour”) framestore. This was around the time of the Quantel Paintbox. When I graduated in 1987 I had an offer to go into digital audio processing, but I had met my business partner Nick Wright, and together we set up Pixel Power, and I have been here ever since. I think it is really important to remind people that we started in broadcast graphics and we have been committed to the broadcast industry for 33 years now. A couple of years ago we joined Rohde & Schwarz because it was a great fit: we are now part of a bigger company dedicated to the broadcast industry.
How has the industry changed since you started your career?
The most obvious difference is that, although Pixel Power was always a software company, at first we had to build our own hardware to support the software. Today we can buy the same workstations as banks and airlines, which are powerful enough to run the very complex software that we produce. But the bigger issue is a change in the sense of the industry, in the way we think. Today the industry is more dynamic, more adaptive: the pace of change is much faster. Because we can rely on the IT industry to do the hardware development, we can be much more responsive to the demands of our users than we were. When we started, decisions were made by engineers because everything was limited by what was technically possible. Today vendors can quickly respond to demands by users, which has meant that we are no longer dominated by a handful of manufacturers, chiefly those with the latest in video tape formats. It is a much more creative, fast-moving industry today.
What makes you passionate about working in the industry?
My interest remains in finding out what keeps our customers awake at night, and finding solutions that will allow them to make better television, more costeffectively. That is as much about people as it is about technology: if the right workflow for today means changing long-established workflows, then it is down to us to create the path to adapt and change. Everyone says that this is very much a people-driven industry, but this is really true: my kick comes from understanding what people need to do and finding ways to achieve it.
If you could change one thing about the media tech industry, what would it be?
That is easy. I would lower the average age. We still haven’t cracked the challenge of attracting new talent into the industry. Not just to my company, but into the industry as a whole. Even though television is self-evidently glamorous, whether you are looking at the latest dramas or the latest Attenborough documentary, we do not seem to be able to sell it to kids at school age, so they are lined up for university with the right qualifications and the right goals. To do that, we have to find the right way to engage young people. We need to show we are not all old blokes in dustcoats, but developers working on solutions to very demanding challenges.
How do we do that? How do you think we crack that challenge?
Who wouldn’t want to be involved in creating the next Blue Planet or Normal People? We have to sell the excitement of delivering things that engage everyone around the world. It should not be hard to ‘sex up’ the opportunities in, say, designing machine-learning driven live graphics as opposed to, say, finding bugs in the ‘like’ button on Facebook. In an ideal world, every vendor would be engaging with local schools to explain what they do and evangelise the industry. Just at the moment – with a lot of business's fighting for survival – that may not be an easy option. If you are a small company of 10 people, then sending one out to do presentations at schools is a huge burden, so the bigger businesses may have to shoulder a big part of the load here. But it surely should be an easy sell.
How inclusive do you think the industry is, and how can we make it more inclusive?
I think we have a pretty good record in inclusivity – we are doing better than many industries. We can point to strong female leadership in our customers, as well as good female role models on the vendor side. Organisations like Rise provide excellent resources including mentoring. But I say it again: if we can get young people coming into the industry, then we can get young women coming in to provide fresh ideas and, in due course, fresh leadership.
Where do you think the industry will go next?
Up until a couple of months ago, my answer would be that there will be more consolidation. Niche companies are great for innovation but not so good at serving a worldwide industry that is used to a high level of service. Now we have the Covid-19 factor to add in, and I am afraid that it will have a lasting effect on companies, particularly those who were already close to the edge. In terms of trends, I think we will see more remote productions. Obviously today we are seeing a lot of content generated from home which would once have been a studio. But interest in remote production has been growing for a while, with sufficient bandwidth over fibre or 5G for multiple cameras from a distant venue to a production centre. Added to automated tools, it is a way to achieve quality production – and quality will always be important – while controlling costs. The industry will also take a fresh look at exhibitions, I think. There was no NAB this year, and we now know there’ll be no IBC. But not going to Las Vegas did not cause the end of the world, so how much do we need the big global events, at least on the scale we have become used to? For us, the benefit of a major exhibition was being able to sit down with potential customers and work through the details of a project, most of the time these meetings were arranged long before we got on the plane. Surely there are other ways to create opportunities for these one-to-one conversations.
What’s the biggest topic of discussion in your area of the industry?
Replacing legacy technology with more agile solutions. That was already the big driver in conversations about playout automation, but Covid-19 has brought home the realisation that software-defined architecture provides much more flexibility and resilience. One of our customers, a major broadcaster in Germany, discovered that its legacy playout system simply could not be operated remotely. Systems that separate control and content, that virtualise workflows, not only give agility but allow management from wherever you need to be. Sadly, we now all know how important that is.
What should the industry be talking about if it isn’t at the moment?
You can guess my answer to that! How are we going to get the best, the brightest, the most enthusiastic talent into the industry, so it can continue to innovate and continue to deliver compelling content in impeccable quality? Recruitment really is an existential threat to our continued success, so we should all be talking about how much time we devote to telling the rest of the world, and young people in particular, how exciting our industry is and how they should come and join us.
By Feed Staff | Feed Magazine | Published Issue 30 / August 2020 Edition
Pixel Power divulges the practicalities, advantages and disadvantages of cloud playout in the latest edition of FEED Magazine.
The broadcast industry has a habit of lusting over the shiniest, newest thing and jumping for it without taking the necessary steps to get there beforehand. Right now, that shiny new thing is cloud playout, a flexible and scaleable solution for broadcasters wanting to spin up channels faster, deliver traditional and OTT content more efficiently, and ensure a low-cost, reliable disaster recovery strategy (just in case there’s a pandemic or something).
But is it a destination all broadcasters need to go to? If so, how do we get there and what do we need to consider? Pixel Power, a Rohde & Schwarz company, answers these questions and delivers a comprehensive journey to cloud playout, with comments from CEO James Gilbert.
Broadcast technology has evolved to the point where it’s possible to deliver linear and non-linear content from the public cloud. Up until quite recently, a linear playout chain was built from separate pieces of dedicated hardware and controlled using serial or Ethernet cabling. Broadcasters could choose the different components from various manufacturers – a ‘best of breed’ approach – and would expect their chosen automation system to control them and make them work seamlessly together to deliver their required output. As general-purpose computing power increased and became more affordable, it became possible to implement certain functions of a hardware-built playout chain within software; creating ‘channel in a box’playout devices, which were capable of collapsing several hardware functions into a single device. However, graphics, DVE and subtitling would still rely on dedicated hardware boxes, as these functions are more specialised and require extra computing power that goes beyond what an underlying general-purpose computer can provide.
Today, general-purpose computing power is continuing to increase and IP standards for video and audio streams are evolving fast. New integrated playout vendors have emerged with experience in areas like graphics and subtitling, and hardware devices have been completely replaced by software modules, with SDI transports replaced by IP streams. The dedicated hardware is gone, and the complete linear playout chain is pure software. This means that it can be virtualised and deployed in a private data centre or public cloud.
DATA CENTRE VERSUS PUBLIC CLOUD
“Cloud means different things to different people. For some, it’s a private data centre, made up of racks full of standard computer servers; for others, it’s a public cloud provider like AWS, Azure or Google, which make their own computers,” explains Pixel Power CEO James Gilbert. A private data centre invariably offers broadcasters more flexibility in infrastructure than a public cloud provider, since it may be possible to install dedicated hardware equipment or even some SDI infrastructure if needed. Public cloud implementation is different: there is no possibility of changing the infrastructure, so the solution must be able to work within the constraints of the specific cloud offering.
But there are many reasons broadcasters are considering deploying some or all of their content delivery in the public cloud. Gilbert says: “If you’re a media business, your focus isn’t going to be on running data centres, it’s going to be on creating content; content that inspires your viewers. You don’t want to be concerned with building and maintaining a big infrastructure project.” The public cloud can be purchased on a usage basis, so there’s no need to invest up front in hardware infrastructure; it can be scaled up or down depending on changing market and business needs; and most public cloud vendors offer a range of different virtual machine types with varying degrees of computing power if more features need to be added. Furthermore, most public cloud vendors offer a wide range of locations, which may be useful for legal, commercial and practical purposes.
If there is a festival or sports event that a broadcaster wants to cover for a short amount of time, they can quickly and cost-effectively launch a new channel in the cloud and take it off the service line-up once the event is finished. In addition, cloud playout simplifies disaster recovery, since a broadcaster can contract a cloud back-up more cost-efficiently than an on-premises playout. This is because a cloud backup has the option to start up and create the operational cost only in the event of a disaster, whereas an on-premises backup needs a dedicated pre-investment for a disaster event. There are some disadvantages – the biggest one being cost. Certainly, for a 24/7 broadcaster, cloud deployment would cost more over a three-year period than hosting an equivalent infrastructure on their own premises. Gilbert explains: “If you’re running a 24/7 operation, you don’t need the kind of flexibility that a public cloud provider would give you to start up a channel, run it for a few hours and then shut it down. It makes far more sense to invest in your own infrastructure, because it will be cheaper than renting it by the hour or reserving it for a year.”
When implementing a cloud-based playout, there are considerations that need to be made. For example, there are many ways to use public cloud infrastructure for your playout. You can rent it and be responsible for the software installing and operation yourself; or you can purchase a fully managed service through a third-party vendor who purchases the infrastructure from the cloud provider. Gilbert enthuses: “For optimum cost reduction and greatest flexibility and control, running your own cloud-based infrastructure is preferred, provided you have the skills to build and manage it.” Deploying to and operating cloud infrastructure requires specific new skills that may not be available in the organisation – although it might be possible to upskill existing staff or seek help from the solution provider to assist with the migration process.
Gilbert says: “You need new skills; it’s a whole new language. It’s important to understand the architecture of the provider and how best to use what it has got to offer, as well as its limitations – because there are things you can’t do in the cloud that you can do on-premises. For example, multicast network is a big no-no in the public cloud. Although, it’s more of a deliberate limitation to prevent a rogue virtual machine engine affecting other customer’s virtual machines in the cloud. It provides isolation and protection, and it’s good practice to have even within a broadcast facility, but it does cause some constraints for those that require that functionality.”
Another consideration is security, since you’ll be putting valuable content and probably consumer information covered by GDPR in the hands of an external company, rather than keeping it in-house on your own servers. But the reality is that the leading cloud providers have very robust security and encourage their customers to use it. “The security team at even a small cloud provider have a skill set and experience far greater than that of a major national broadcaster and there should be comfort in that,” insists Gilbert.
Then there are technical considerations, such as deciding the data centre location. There may be legal or regulatory constraints, such as latency and the availability (or lack of) high-bandwidth connectivity. Choosing the right IP standards for your cloud playout is also a challenge – the standardisation process often lags behind vendor technology offerings, leading to the risk of adopting something that later becomes nonstandard or obsolete.
“A lot of standardisation effort is around ST-2110 uncompressed video, but this is generally not a viable option for cloud playout; cloud network infrastructure is unlikely to support the required bandwidth and packet throughput and the egress cost of the uncompressed video would be prohibitive. A more likely mezzanine format of 30-50Mb H264 RTP MPEG-TS is well-established and a better fit for cloud infrastructure,” says Gilbert.
Monitoring and control also need careful consideration. The automation clients could be cloud hosted, with simple remote desktop access from any location to interact with them; or they could be installed locally, with appropriate connectivity through a firewall to the cloud playout infrastructure. Gilbert says: “If you distribute via satellite or terrestrial, you need to bring your feed back down to the uplink point, so that might be more suitable for local monitoring and control. For internet distribution, it probably makes more sense to keep monitoring and control fully cloud-based.” It’s also unlikely that one provider will give you everything you need, and in any case, it might be wise to choose other parts of the overall solution from alternative vendors. Integration might be required with a scheduling system, a MAM, a transcode farm or a CDN/VOD platform. The ability to draw upon significant computing power at will could support AI add-ons, such as automatically adding metadata to video and audio content in a media library. But whatever the integration, it’s important that the chosen supplier is able to support licensing and implementation on the cloud platform.
Finally, there’s the question of availability. When you have your own equipment in your own rack room, your availability is clear. The picture is not so clear with cloudbased infrastructure and you will need to ask your provider important questions, like does it have sufficient capability to give you what you need to run the channels? Availability might not be there unless you pay for it, perhaps by reserving critical parts of your infrastructure to guarantee availability. In a disaster recovery situation, it’s possible that other local broadcasters or businesses might use the same data centre, so if a natural disaster happens, the data centre spare capacity is likely to be used up quickly.
Moving playout to the cloud is perfectly possible and there are clear and straightforward ways to make it happen. However, despite the end goals being the same, every broadcaster’s processes are different, so careful planning is key. The shiny new thing is shiny for a reason – it is worth getting there, but for the right benefits. Our industry did it before, moving from tape to file-based workflows, and reaped the rewards. Getting the perfect playout solution for you relies on working with trusted partners along that path.
By nxtedition staff | nxtedition | Published 29th April 2020
The Swedish Newspaper Expressen, based in Stockholm, switch their entire broadcast system to nxtedition – the ultimate storytelling solution. Expressen runs three channels 24/7: Expressen TV – news and breaking news, DiTV – a financial news channel and Sport Expressen TV – Sports news channel. These channels are broadcasted not just on TV, but also online and mobile.
Expressen has been making TV since 2005, with a re-launch in 2015 with a focus on breaking news and has become a seasoned player in the broadcast market for newspapers in Sweden. Their experience in the broadcasting arena over the years has made them aware of what they want, and need, from a storytelling solution in order to be “fast and first” with breaking news on-air and to devices.
“We needed a modern and reliable storytelling tool to allow us to be more creative and flexible to make sure that we can focus on what’s most important for us – which is to present breaking news to our viewers, and avoid struggling with complex broadcast systems so we can present the stories in a fast and reliable way,”
- Robin Jansson, Head of Technology of Expressen TV.
Expressen chose nxtedition because of its simplicity to learn, operate and scale. The unique storytelling and collaboration aspects overshadowed any other technical and over-engineered solutions.
nxtedition provides all the journalistic planning tools, story scripting NRCS, media management, rundown creation, studio automation, graphics, ingest with metadata, website clip publishing and final channel playout all from within a single nxtedition system.
Rather than using a mix of different software from multiple vendors, the entire team of 50 collaborate within nxtedition’s single unified system from story concept right through to production delivery. The efficiency and productivity gains in creating live and pre-recorded content in nxtedition gives an unprecedented speed advantage for breaking news to viewers over their competitors.
“nxtedition and Expressen TV is a perfect fit. Expressen is a modern organisation who realised that in order to be competitive and to always improve the experience for their audience they needed to adapt to new technologies fit for the 21st century”.
- Ola Malmgren, CEO of nxtedition.
By nxtedition Staff | nxtedition | Published 22nd May 2020
Blick TV is making Swiss media history and breaking all the boundaries of traditional publishing & broadcast mediums. Its ‘web first’ live news platform, powered by nxtedition, means Blick TV is the first digital-only TV broadcaster in Switzerland. Blick TV chose nxtedition to take care of journalistic planning tools, story scripting, media management, rundown creation, studio automation, graphics, ingest with metadata and final channel playout all from within one nxtedition system.
Based in the newsroom of Ringier Pressehaus, Zurich, Blick TV is taking a radically different approach to live news coverage by leveraging nxtedition’s unique capabilities to collate, produce and output content to Blick.ch and the Blick app as both a live video stream and video on demand.
Blick TV isn’t predicated on the traditional linear television format but instead relies upon news which can be updated every hour and also broadcast live in the case of breaking news reports. Viewers can watch live or on-demand at the Blick.ch website and on the custom-designed Blick app. The editorial focus is on breaking news, politics, business, sport and entertainment.
‘Ringier has the courage to conquer television and reinvent it for the Internet. I am really looking forward to working with my competent, creative and powerful team’
-Jonas Projer, Editor-in-Chief of Blick TV.
The installation was a collaboration between Qvest media & nxtedition. Qvest worked over the summer to build a two studio installation complete with green screen, virtual set, respeaking subtitling along with the two control rooms and robotic camera systems.
nxtedition provides all the journalistic planning tools, story scripting, media management, rundown creation, studio automation, graphics, ingest with metadata and final channel playout all from within a single nxtedition system.
Blick TV broadcasts 16 hours a day in 15 minute repeating segments between 6 am to 11 pm each day before switching to a repeat playout stream to complete the 24-hour news cycle.
Rather than using a mix of different software from multiple vendors, the entire team of 48 collaborate within nxtedition’s single unified system from story concept right through to production delivery. The efficiency and productivity gains in creating live and pre-recorded content speeds up and enhances the production workflow vastly.
‘I was very impressed with the flexibility and adaptability of nxtedition. It was very easy to tailor it to our specific workflows! Also, working with minimal technical staff, every bit of automation counts, and especially reducing potential sources for human error in the control room during fast and complex live shows. nxtedition helps us with that with its many clever and well-designed features.’
-Beat Vontobel, Head of Technics
A good example of these gains can be measured in how nxtedition’s unique ‘salami-slicing’ feature is utilised by Blick TV. During each live segment, every individual news story is automatically sliced off the nxtedition ingest server as soon as the director steps into the next news story.
Each newly created video ‘slice’ is automatically added to the repeat rundown for the live stream channel, as well as available for publication for VOD. This is achieved without any human intervention at all and all the salami clips are packaged for playout with subtitles and graphics included as metadata.
The mobile version of Blick TV can be viewed in both portrait and landscape format with no pause in the streaming and all videos have graphics and subtitles overlaid inside the app using metadata that streamed with the video.
Directors are capable of accessing each individual story segment for any graphicsor subtitle corrections, new developments or even drop in live over any segment, anytime day or night. By fully exploiting these productivity gains, when breaking news happens – Blick TV can truly be ‘fast and first’ to on-air.
“Blick TV is the first digital TV in our country and we are the first to be live within minutes if something happens,”
- Christian Dorer, Editor-in-Chief of the Blick Group.
“This has been a great project for all of the team at Blick, Qvest Media & nxtedition. The challenging vision that Blick set out to us at the beginning of this project was always a perfect fit for the nxtedition solution, it’s exciting to see it all up and running today. We worked hard alongside the Blick team and Qvest Media to create a truly 21st-century virtualised news solution for the Blick audience to enjoy”.
- Ola Malmgren, Co-Founder & CEO of nxtedition
By David Davies | IBC 365 | Published 25th June 2020
Implementing some degree of cloud-based playout has been a marked trend for a while now, but this year’s momentous events are certain to accelerate developments, writes David Davies.
In the context of the profound changes that have impacted most aspects of broadcast workflows during the past few years, it was surely only a matter of time before playout underwent a similar quiet revolution. That has now arrived in the form of cloud-based playout, which opens the way for broadcasters to enjoy greater flexibility and cost-efficiency, either as a sole platform or as part of a hybrid playout infrastructure that typically includes on-premise facilities.
By Mo-Sys Staff | Mo-Sys Engineering | Published 13th March 2020
On Friday 6th March Mo-Sys were thrilled to be named Business of the Year at the Best of Royal Greenwich Business Awards 2020. Hosted by TV presenter and journalist Steph McGovern at the InterContinental Hotel, the awards ceremony recognises the achievements of businesses across the borough. In addition, Mo-Sys also came out victorious in the Made in Greenwich category, an award which celebrates the talent and creativity of local innovators who are bringing exciting products, good and services to market.
For those that don’t know who we are or what we do, we are based in Morden Wharf on the Greenwich Peninsula and we manufacture sophisticated camera technology for television broadcasts and feature films.
If you have watched the BBC’s Match of the Day programme this season or if you’ve seen any of the recent General Election nights on BBC or Sky, then you would have experienced our technology in action. Our specialist equipment which gives precise camera tracking data, broadcasters can add informational graphics and immersive virtual sets into their productions, giving audiences a more engaging and satisfying viewing experience.
Since relocating to Greenwich in 2015, we’ve been on a mission to deliver the best technology that will transform the way films, TV series and broadcasts are made. Now, our innovations are making greenscreen shooting cheaper and simpler than ever before, in turn giving smaller companies the same opportunities as the big players that have long since dominated both the film and broadcast industries.
Michael Geissler CEO and Founder of Mo-Sys:
“After being shortlisted in the 2019 Awards but unfortunately missing out in the Micro to Small Business Award category to the well-deserved BeGenio – we were delighted to be named winners in the Made in Greenwich category and receiving the Business of the Year award.”
“It’s very easy to get swept up in day to day business activity but entering the business awards was a great opportunity to take a step back and reflect on our achievements over the last year. It’s even more fantastic to be recognised for the work we do and to come out victorious. Thank you to everyone all of the judges and the council for recognises for our innovation and all of the hard work we do”
Mo-Sys’ credits include: Aquaman, Stranger Things, The Walking Dead, Life of Pi, The Shape of Water, House of Cards and Westworld. Broadcast customers include BBC, Sky, Fox, ESPN, CNN Discovery Channel and The Weather Channel, Netflix and Sony.
Contributions by Micheal Geissler | TVBEurope | Published in the April 2020 edition
TVBEurope asks eight experts for their views on the benefits, challenges and future of remote production
WHAT DO YOU VIEW AS THE BENEFITS OF REMOTE PRODUCTION?
WOLFGANG HUBER, PR MANAGER, LAWO
The primary aim of live remote production is to move as much equipment and as many staff as possible from the remote location back to the studio facility. Thus, remote production offers the possibility of both dramatically reducing production costs at the higher-end and improving quality at the lower-end. This is achieved by redesigning the production workflow such that the majority of tasks take place in the studio rather than at the remote site. Ideally, the only task taking place at the remote site would be signal acquisition - the capture and conversion of camera and microphone signals into a form transportable over wide-area networks. In this model, all signals are transported back to a studio facility, where the program production takes place. Contrast this to conventional remote broadcasts, where the production process happens on-site, and only the finished pictures and audio are backhauled to a broadcast facility for distribution.
MICHAEL GEISSLER, CEO, MO-SYS ENGINEERING
When you take travel and rest time into consideration, the top operators might only be doing the job at which they excel for maybe 40 days a year. With remote production, those people could be working for maybe 200 days a year. That is not just a massive boost in productivity, it represents a huge reduction in carbon footprint, by eliminating long-distance travel and specialist clothing. Production companies are already talking about saving half a million dollars a year.
PETER MAAG, CCO AND EVP STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS, HAIVISION
The beauty of employing a remote production model is that it allows broadcasters to do more, with less. Remote production offers broadcasters the opportunity to produce more high-quality content to meet the rapidly growing demand while simultaneously creating efficiencies. And the efficiencies gained by using a remote production model are dramatic. By eliminating the costly and complex logistics associated with deploying OB trucks full of expensive equipment and production teams to the field, broadcasters can instead focus on optimising the use of their resources to produce more high-quality content. For example, a replay operator on-site at a sporting event might be only utilised for three hours during a four-day period. If the replay operator is at home, however, they could be running replays around the world, all the time.
DAVE LETSON, VP OF SALES, CALREC
Like the rest of the industry, we see multiple benefits to remote production, though it’s important to highlight that while the principals are the same not all remote productions are created equally in terms of scale. Firstly, using OB trucks is no longer necessary at every single live event. This is beneficial in multiple ways: fewer staff need to travel and therefore better employee welfare; far less equipment is required on-site; it’s environmentally more sustainable; and there is far less equipment downtime at the central production location. There’s also the fact that multiple sports events – football matches being a prime example – can be covered in a day or over a weekend because the centralised production technologies aren’t committed to a single event. In the long run all this adds up to significant cost savings.
ON WHICH AREAS OF CONTENT DO YOU SEE IT HAVING THE BIGGEST IMPACT?
DR REMO ZIEGLER, HEAD OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT, VIZRT SPORTS
Remote production will have its biggest impact on any live production that is typically faced with big travel and logistic costs. Sports and news production are prime examples. With regards to sports, various aspects will benefit from remote production. The bigger leagues and federations with dedicated connections to stadiums enable the transmission of high-quality, low-latency signals to a centralised production location. Only small production crews, comprised mostly of camera and audio technicians, are required on-site, while the rest of the production equipment and operations staff remain back at the production centre. The impact of remote production is amplified when one considers the opportunity of distribution through OTT. Many more signals, or specialised cuts, can be produced which are tailored to different customer segments. Producing all these outputs is heavily facilitated through remote production.
WH: The impact applies to all productions covering events that happen outside the studio, like in arenas or stadiums, for which many signals are required to cover the event - and particularly sports with long distances between the camera and microphone positions, like football, rugby, biathlon, motorsports, but also open-air concerts of a large scale. It also opens up the possibility of extending the depth and range of live event coverage into areas previously inaccessible through cost. For example, more specialised sports, lower league and regional coverage, even to college and university level. The industry sees an unquenchable public thirst for sports and other live events coverage and remote production provides the means to broadcast more of it.
MG: Anything that is somewhere for a short time will feel the impact – anything that today is covered by an OB truck or flyaway kit. Obviously, sport heads the list, but it also includes music and entertainment. It will also have a huge impact on corporate events. Product launches and business presentations will be raised in quality, not least through the ability to afford more cameras. Production-as-a-Service will have an impact on linked events: fashion weeks, for example, could see the same skilled production team covering every major event.
PM: Remote production has the most significant impact on events – and it’s not just limited to live events. Whether it’s for a sporting event, esports, a press conference, or a political panel, a remote production model reduces the number of people and resources required on-site, allowing production costs to be lowered. Even for events that aren’t broadcast live but where speed is critical, remote production can dramatically accelerate the production process. At-home/REMI workflows are particularly attractive options when it comes to tier two and tier three events such as college football, for example, where deploying resources on-site is simply not costeffective. In this instance, remote production enables broadcasters to expand their coverage to meet demand while keeping production costs in check.
HOW SOON WILL IT BECOME THE INDUSTRY NORM?
RICHARD MCCLURG, VICE PRESIDENT MARKETING, DEJERO
We’re already there. Dejero has enabled remote production workflows for over a decade. Dejero enabled the first live coverage of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games torch relay, delivering unprecedented live coverage following the torch as it travelled 45,000km across Canada. In 2013, another first enabled Sky Sports to broadcast live from all 92 English Football Clubs in a single day. Using revolutionary wireless technology at the time, Dejero blended multiple cellular connections and provided enough bandwidth to deliver high-quality live broadcast content, at significantly less expense and complexity than traditional video transport technology.
NORBERT PAQUET, HEAD OF LIVE PRODUCTION SOLUTIONS, SONY PROFESSIONAL SOLUTIONS EUROPE
Consumers are demanding more content, available whenever and wherever they choose, without any drop in quality. With this escalating pressure on broadcasters, remote production will naturally become the norm and act as a silver bullet to help keep up with growing industry demands. We’ve already seen overall connectivity (mobile or fibre networks) become a major game-changer for our industry, particularly when it comes to live production. And, with remote production set-ups, resource sharing and a more collaborative, faster turnaround time, it’s becoming even more popular. At Sony, we’ve been at the forefront of this revolution and have, to date, worked with many customers around the world to develop remote production set-ups in news, magazine and live production.
LARISSA GOERNER, DIRECTOR OF ADVANCED LIVE SOLUTIONS, GRASS VALLEY
The biggest hurdle to widespread adoption of at-home models is the challenge of latency. As we look to the future, though, broadcasters and production companies will continue to drive toward more captivating experiences that draw in viewers, using higher resolutions and more camera angles that will put greater stress on the network and available bandwidth. More efficient encoding solutions – JPEG2000, JPEG-XS and MPEG – offer an attractive alternative.These options deliver ultra-low delay, comparable to transporting the signal over fibre, and come at a significantly reduced cost while ensuring there is no difference in the viewers’ experience.
RZ: When we look at some of our leading customers, remote production is already the norm, since they have adopted Vizrt solutions that facilitate a remote production workflow. However, our larger customers are not the only ones benefiting from remote production. Many smaller productions also take advantage of the same concepts to reduce their cost and the size of their footprint. The rise of IP and the availability of software-defined productions tools, which in turn can be virtualised in the Cloud, will make remote production the norm for the majority of media productions.
HOW BIG A PART DO YOU THINK 5G WILL PLAY IN REMOTE PRODUCTION?
NP: 5G will play a key role in powering remote production for many organisations. Firstly, the low-latency transmission offered by 5G is crucial for any productions such as sporting events or news broadcasts where delays are unforgivable. Secondly, the higher bandwidth 5G offers helps deliver less compressed content to the mobile viewer but also unlocks additional applications for remote production too. Finally, given 5G enables Cloud-based production models, it helps reduce the deployment of physical OB resources, which makes productions much more sustainable.
LG: As an emerging technology, 5G will play a significant role in the broadcast industry as a reliable way to deliver content to consumers. In terms of remote production, 5G can be utilised for its greater capacity benefits. However, bandwidth is not unlimited in 5G and as we are still seeing an increasing uptick for live UHD content, baseband cannot be transported over 5G and has to be encoded in order to handle demand for this format. This adds another step in the creation process and will slow down adoption for high-end live sports production. Currently, for tier two and three productions, 5G is a means to end in providing easier contribution to the remote location and is a good candidate to enable more creativity in content production.
PM: There’s nothing mystical about 5G: it’s a faster, wireless, mobile network. As 5G gathers momentum and begins to easily handle multiple video streams from a venue it will definitely act as a catalyst to accelerate the adoption of remote production. However, very fast, reliable, and affordable network pipes are already available from any venue today and it’s important to remember that a network is just a network and all networks are getting faster; both wired and wireless. What’s more impactful than the network are technologies like the open source Secure Reliable Transport protocol (SRT), pioneered by Haivision, which enables video transport over any network.
DL: From a Calrec perspective, little will change with 5G. RP1 one was deliberately designed to be transport agnostic. From our perspective, it does not matter whether we are piggy-backing audio on a camera feed via a JPEG2000 path or via a closed AES67 wide-area network. For our clients though, 5G offers vast potential. It’s not implausible to consider a camera at a field of play sending pictures directly back to base over 5G. Companies have already achieved this with multiple 4G links. 5G technology could offer a true paradigm shift in areas ranging from traditional SNG to Premier League football. However, where there are local commentators or reporters, some local IFB mixing will still be needed and RP1 becomes even more relevant.
HOW DO YOU INCORPORATE SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES IN REMOTE PRODUCTION?
RM: Remote production is no doubt reducing the industry’s carbon footprint. The amount of kit and crews required to travel to live events is greatly reduced compared to the traditional production workflows. Less OB and larger SNG trucks are on the road. Centralising production staff at the broadcast facility means that fewer people are having to travel to the field, cutting airmiles and transport. Initiatives, such as ‘Find a Provider’, which is featured in Dejero’s Cloud-based management system, enables broadcasters to find freelancers across the globe, making it easier to find local resources to acquire content. Dejero’s MultiPoint Cloud service enables broadcasters to share field resources and contribute the pool feed simultaneously to many broadcasters, geographically dispersed.
LG: In general, the decrease in travel brought about by remote production already has a significantly lower impact on the environment. However, we believe more can be done. Enabling workflow consistency for a variety of content productions is a goal for us. Grass Valley cameras, switchers and replay products all enable the highest flexibility for any workflow, therefore allowing the creative talent to be where they are most needed to add better value. Recurring tasks can easily be centralised and produced with fewer operators, ultimately allowing more content to be created at a consistently high quality. Our DirectIP solution, for example, enables almost all production and technical staff to work from a centralised location. We also give customers the flexibility to locate creative talent either at the venue or the production hub. We continuously strive to innovate across the entire portfolio providing the latest software and hardwaretechnology to enable sustainable production in the market.
RZ: Remote production reduces the number of required people and equipment on-site. That means fewer people travelling, and fewer pieces of production equipment shipping, by plane, train, and automobile. Furthermore, a remote dedicated production centre, designed around software-defined production practices, reduces hardware usage, power consumption, and the need for active cooling versus inefficient mobile units.
MG: The headline benefit is that fewer people need to travel to the event, meaning is a significant reduction in carbon footprint. As remote production becomes ever more sophisticated – with remote camera operation, for example – so the reductions become greater. This does depend upon complex technologies becoming mainstream and commoditised, to simplify the installation and the power consumption of rig and connectivity. The recent coronavirus outbreak is seeing a very large reduction in business travel. The ability to control cameras from a central hub in any place of the world will be extremely attractive to productions, not least because of the reduced environmental impact. WHAT WILL BE THE CHALLENGES FOR REMOTE PRODUCTION AS IT GROWS?
WH: Growing demand for content and tighter schedules of events to be covered are challenging on the administrative side, as equipment needs to be available reliably at any time for a new production as soon as it is not used anymore for the previous one. Access to and reliability of the fibre infrastructure must be guaranteed. There the System Monitoring and Realtime Telemetry for Broadcast Networks like Lawo’s SMART come into play to allow for constant control and monitoring over the complete IP network installation from capturing to playout. And the more concurrent productions that are happening, the more essential it is to have such a monitoring system in place to ensure signal, sync and packet integrity and thus flawless operation.
MG: The real issue will be the management of change, particularly for people. It is a different pitch for operators: taking them away from immersion in the action and giving them comfortable, familiar working environments in exchange for greater productivity. The people issues, and the shifts in budgeting, are cultural changes, which always see a natural resistance.
DL: Connectivity is a key issue. Also getting staff to understand and adapt to it, though our customers tell us that once it’s been explained and tried, this stops being an issue! The other thing, of course, is reliability. For Calrec, this hasn’t proved an issue either. Lastly, for quick turnaround projects, or where there are multiple events in a row/ across a season, technical and workflow practices have to be set in stone. But we don’t see any reason that remote production use won’t grow significantly from here.
By iSIZE staff | iSIZE technologies | Published 29th April 2020
Enhanced video streaming start-up iSIZE Technologies has today announced the appointment of Paul Massara, Ex-CEO of Npower, and Maria Ingold, Ex-CTO of Disney-Sony joint venture FilmFlex Movies, to its Executive Board.
Massara brings over two decades of experience in the energy sector to the role, after various executive positions at Centrica plc, Northstar Solar and Habitat Energy, before becoming CEO at energy giant Npower. With a similarly impressive track record, Ingold joins the Board with extensive technical experience, having helped innovate the beginnings of audio and video on PCs at IBM and early 3D PC computer gaming at Ocean, before becoming a Senior Technical Executive in streaming, including a 5-year tenure as CTO at Disney-Sony joint venture FilmFlex Movies, which produced one of the most successful on demand film services in Europe.
Commenting on his appointment, Massara said: “I am very excited to join iSIZE Technologies, a start-up which is shaking up the streaming industry. Having dedicated much of my career to furthering the environmental cause, I am very much looking forwards to taking iSIZE low-carbon, sustainable technology solutions to new heights in 2020.”
Speaking about the role, Ingold commented: “I’m thrilled to be part of iSIZE at such a relevant time. With nearly 30 years of technical expertise in the entertainment and media industry, I am well-placed to see the potential iSIZE has to revolutionise the sector and am delighted to be part of its future.”
Sergio Grce, CEO at iSIZE Technologies, added: “We are very pleased to have both Paul and Maria on board here at iSIZE. With years of commercial and technical experience under their belts, these appointments demonstrate our accelerated growth trajectory as we continue to expand our corporate horizons in 2020.
With Paul’s impressive business acumen and Maria’s technical credentials on side, we are confident that iSIZE will continue to flourish as we look to make our mark in the streaming sector in 2020.”
iSIZE Technologies, a London-based provider of intelligent video coding and delivery technology, launched its pioneering AI-powered encoding platform in 2016. Last year, the innovative start-up was awarded a special merit prize at The Digital Media World awards for its proprietary BitSave software, a cloud transcoding technology which, by compressing vast quantities of data, significantly reduces the energy input required to stream videos.
By Maria Ingold | iSize Technologies | Published 21st April 2020
I grew up off-grid in a cabin in the New Mexico mountains. That was isolation. By contrast, isolation in the time of coronavirus is incredibly connected. While working, socialising and relaxing from home have impacted that connectivity, new patterns are emerging as well as opportunities for the future.
What is the scope of the impact?
Akamai, a content delivery network (CDN), saw global internet traffic increase by 30% in March, an entire year’s growth, and without live sports streaming. Comcast saw a 32% increase in peak USA traffic over March, with plateaus in early lockdown markets.
Even before COVID-19 video was 60% of downstream internet traffic. When Conviva analysed three weeks in mid-March they discovered that video streaming viewing hours jumped more than 20% globally in that last week, up 27% in the USA. By the end of March, Comcast saw a 38% USA increase.
Although Internet service providers (ISPs) and CDNs are engineered to deal with peak changes, when usage spiked, the European Commissioner asked streamers to switch to Standard Definition (SD) when High Definition (HD) wasn’t necessary. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) then issued recommendations for adapting streaming quality during times of crisis.
Assuaging one concern, Conviva discovered that daytime viewing jumped nearly 40%, spreading peak load, but that still leaves lots of bits flowing across the internet.
Netflix and Google’s YouTube agreed to reduce bitrates in Europe for 30 days, with Netflix dropping by 25% and YouTube moving to SD as a default globally. Both were crucial, because while Netflix usually has the largest percentage of video traffic, YouTube is currently generating almost twice the traffic of Netflix. Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+ and Walt Disney’s Disney+ soon followed.
Consumers were concerned. They were paying for HD but would get SD. Netflix explained that customers would still get the SD, HD and Ultra-High Definition (UHD) resolutions they paid for, just no longer the highest quality from a “bitrate ladder” of low to high bitrates and resolutions.
What are the long-term opportunities?
Netflix’s total energy consumption for 2019–451,000 megawatt-hours — could power 40,000 average American homes for a year, at an 84% increase over 2018, compared to 20% user growth.
Netflix has 167m subscribers. Disney+ has 50m, with 226m subs predicted by 2024. Reducing bits creates a more sustainable energy-consumption to user-growth ratio and helps companies meet their environmental impact objectives.
During the 30-days of COVID-19-inspired bitrate reduction, streamers will have saved money by reducing storage, distribution and energy costs. If one million people watch one hour per day, at 1 GB of data per hour (somewhere between SD and 720p HD), and it costs .0025 USD to stream 1 GB to one person, that’s nearly $1 million per year ($912,500). YouTubers watch one billion hours per day. That’s nearly $1 billion per year. A 25% savings is $228 million.
While these short-term actions enabled quick bitrate reductions and increased margins, they don’t preserve quality. Consumers won’t tolerate that indefinitely.
How to cut costs and maintain customer satisfaction
A codec encodes (usually in hardware) the moving image source and decodes (usually in software) on a device to display it. It reduces bitrate as much as possible while attempting to maintain fidelity. Codecs range from older, widely supported but higher bitrate like MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) to newer, less supported, time and power-hungry but lower bitrate ones.
Per-title encoding is a bitrate reduction tactic pioneered in 2015 by Netflix. To measure fidelity, Netflix used quality metric PSNR (Peak Signal-To-Noise Ratio), but it doesn’t always measure how it looks to a person. Neither does SSIM (structural similarity), designed to improve on PSNR. So, Netflix co-created VMAF (Video Multi-Method Assessment Fusion), a perceptual quality metric.
Machine learning (ML) can reverse engineer perceptual metrics to make encoding more effective. When this precedes encoding — precoding — it works with any codec, encoder and decoder. There are trade-offs between the sharpness of VMAF, which can look artificial, the naturalness of PSNR and SSIM, and the blurriness and lack of fidelity caused by reducing bitrate.
I advise iSIZE, a machine learning precoder that claims 20%-40% bitrate savings (up to 60%) without changing the resolution and typically improving VMAF. Latency is one frame. I asked expert reviewer Jan Ozer to independently test iSIZE’s BitSave product. He tested using the MPEG AVC (H.264) codec.
Jan confirmed that “BitSave is a legitimate processing technology and not a [VMAF] hack”. Ultimately, “[a]fter many hours of testing, [Jan] found that BitSave’s technology is valid and valuable” though he recommends subjective testing. I agree and recommend testing various bitrate savings and metric balances. Regardless of the solution you choose, remember to balance long-term sustainability and cost-cutting with perceived customer experience.