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Evolution of outside broadcasting

Ian Trow
Product Manager for Compression and Cloud Solutions, BT Media & Broadcast

Up until recently, advances in compression performance or catering for new formats heralded a revamp of outside broadcast (OB) provision. Now the landscape is considerably more complex, and additional factors need to be considered by service providers. These include outsourced service provision, readiness to adopt new technology and, last but not least, the underlying business case.

Occasional use providers are actively monitoring competitors to assess where they are in terms of these critical deployment factors. Get it right, and you can clean up in a market that is obviously in transition. However, take on too high a risk and you’ll assume a steep learning curve pioneering service infrastructure, evaluating technology, standards and best practice at a solutions level. And budgeting with a raft of new subscription, licensing and pay as you go consumption models.

Complex OB market

JPEG-XS enters a complex OB market where it is not only being evaluated in relation to previous JPEG iterations, but faces competition from proprietary approaches, such as NDI. These have established themselves as credible complete solutions in the production domain and are now being actively considered for OB usage.

Interestingly, as video performance appears to be of diminished importance in the decision criteria, JPEG-XS has raised concerns. In particular, how it compares to JPEG-2K and other light compression approaches currently commonly used in OB. This is due to JPEG-XS favouring algorithms that more readily lend themselves to application hosting on standard server platforms or small hardware footprints. This is a key consideration for those looking to transition from current processor and memory heavy appliance dominated approaches.

Media encapsulation has advanced with the development of ST2110, the adoption of essence-based workflows, and precision timing PTP. Also robust error protection allows for IP to fully displace legacy transport stream approaches and network device discovery. So why then all the debate around the future of OB? Surely it is only a matter of time before the standards and best practices behind ST2110, PTP and media over IP are matched with JPEG-XS – and before widespread adoption takes place for OB applications. However, this argument assumes a seamless deployment model exists with a killer business case and no viable alternate approaches.

On the deployment model front, trialling standards like ST2110 and PTP in a facility-based production environment has raised concerns about complexity and cost. Adding the need to host applications in the cloud makes the whole approach of media standards crafted for OB workflows in IP environments more complicated. It requires significant work in the following areas: DevOps, network carriage of media traffic, solution re-architecting and reskilling from an operator perspective. Application vendors no longer architect solutions with traditional media handoffs, formats, and interfaces in mind.

Adhering to standards

Complete service platforms are emerging where standards adherence is only an issue for ingest, egress and monitoring. The impetus behind such a revised approach increases when cloud hosting is factored in. Bringing the application to the content, as advocated by Movie Labs recommendations for cloud deployment, opens the door to a completely revised approach to media workflows. Exciting times are ahead for those working within DevOps, network architecture and operational issues areas.

To successfully revamp OB workflows involves changing operational practice to play to the strengths of cloud-hosted media applications. It also requires an awareness of issues that are common in an enterprise environment, namely: processor utilisation, device discovery, network segmentation, performance, congestion, and redundancy provision.

So it’s clear, at least from a deployment front, that a seamless solution model is yet to gain widespread adoption. There’s plenty of expectation and the issues are being worked through. But as of now, those wishing to transition to revised OB workflows are navigating the complexities associated with media standards and best practices – ideally within a cloud-hosted environment.

The issue of cloud hosting opens both technical and commercial aspects when considering media applications. For episodic and cinematic production, it’s predominantly a commercial issue. For OB there are unique ingest, network, redundancy and resilience issues that need to be addressed technically. Also the complex Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) associated with occasional use circuits must be considered.

The shift towards cloud-hosted opex and metered usage appears compelling, but OB consists of lots of hidden costs. These are associated with subscriptions, licensing, and niche on-prem functionality to overcome performance issues not currently fully addressed by cloud-hosted solutions. Add the operational constraints associated with OB, and it’s clear that the readiness of OB to totally endorse an all-IP based environment (common in a studio environment) is far more restricted.

Software-defined networks (SDN) are now emerging in studio LAN environments. Achieving the same level of deterministic performance over a WAN is far more challenging for remote content. Not to mention, training operational staff with the network skills to operate COTS equipment across complex combinations of networks and domains.

This raises the issue for the last critical element in any OB evolution, namely a service level portal to provide the necessary operator level abstraction. This is vital to make any total solution embracing the many disparate technologies and skillsets viable.

New light

BT is now looking at OB provision in a new light. We are keen to get the balance right between maintaining critical service provision while adapting to endorse cloud hosting, new standards and best practice as a complete on-demand package. Against this backdrop, the commercial environment for the network provision of media has developed where the prospect of two alternate takes on remote production are emerging.

The first option is to backhaul all the content. The competitive rate cards for high-capacity fibre now make this a very real option and the operational experience gained during lockdown have reskilled staff. Alternatively, backhaul proxy feeds and edit in the cloud. As with the first approach, lockdown has forced operators and service providers alike to re-evaluate OB workflows and rapidly endorse revised approaches far quicker than expected.

With all the revamping of OB provisions in play, the industry now has another issue to address – how sustainable are future OB services?

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