Exciting signs of innovation as the media and broadcast industry gets together
After several years of being confined to quarters, the broadcast and media industry’s event and conference season was back with even more energy and inspiration than ever in 2022.
Some of the events that really stood out for me were the IBC trade show in Amsterdam, the SMPTE Summit in Los Angeles and the DPP Leaders Briefing in London. Very different gatherings, but seen together they give us a great opportunity to look at some really exciting innovations and new perspectives that have taken place under the cover of Covid.
The topics below – often interrelated – are the ones that most grabbed my attention.
1. Everyone loves the cloud
Yes, our industry has talked about cloud for a long time. But the consensus at IBC is that cloud is now used in almost all areas of content production. The IBC Accelerator Cloud Based Live Events, Analytics and Low Latency Protocols (in which we took part) showed that live sports and other events with multiple camera feeds can be delivered at scale. Cloud-based live-video production really can offer stability, effectiveness and high performance.
Challenges remain of course. But at SMPTE, a number of industry visionaries painted a really bold, optimistic picture of cloud-based production. Frame.io showed its vision for RAW video editing in the cloud – we should have that by 2031. And Port 9 Labs talked about using uncompressed live video in the cloud – and doing it in standardised interoperable way. It’s exceptionally challenging, but definitely what the industry should be aiming for!
Back at DPP, the focus was on business realities. Broadcasters want to be ‘cloud first’, preferably with public-cloud providers. Supply chain issues around studio hardware have made public cloud even more attractive. But media-specific instances aren’t always available when needed. And for an industry that needs to operate sustainably, reporting on energy usage isn’t granular enough. The common complaint was that vendors aren't moving to cloud fast enough and usage billing isn’t always fully integrated.
2. 5G is going places
One of the most satisfying themes of conference season was the story of 5G, which is now production ready and commercially viable. Our own successful trials of bespoke, private 5G networks at sporting events like the Commonwealth Games have proved its value. The Production in the Middle of Nowhere IBC Accelerator (another one in which we took part) showed that a highly portable ‘network in a box’ with a mix of Low-Earth Orbit satellite links and public 4G/5G to backhaul signals can broadcast from pretty much anywhere – from the highland games to a Kenyan wildlife conservation park.
At SMPTE the 5G Records consortium is now looking at co-timing multiple cameras across 5G networks with precision-timing protocol (PTP) – which will ensure that cameras are precisely time-aligned in live broadcasts. They also showed us ways of presenting 5G wireless cameras as registered devices on an NMOS-managed SMPTE 2110 studio network. That opens up the exciting possibility of a totally IP studio with wired and wireless cameras seamlessly integrated. As one of the pioneers of 5G production workflows, it was a real thrill to see what they are planning next.
Back in London, the agreement at DPP was that with broadcasters embracing 5G in production, it’s time to focus on how it can enhance the viewer experience. Virtual and augmented reality are very much in the industry’s sights.
3. IP video transport is mainstream
Digital IP-based video has become normalised – at last! In the past three years, equipment manufacturers built the kit, ironed out the bugs, and were keen to show it at IBC. After a hard journey, ST.2110 is widely deployed and it feels like everyone is using SRT (a key component of BT’s Virtual Media Connect). Broadcasters building all-IP studios is yet more proof of the real progress made in the past three years.
At SMPTE, it was all about how the use of these techniques is improving all the time. JPEG XS encoding is becoming even more efficient, for example, by adding inter-frame encoding capabilities to its third edition.
At DPP, sports production company IMG showed their view of remote production for non-live content, with cameras streaming straight back to the gallery. A bit like frame.io’s vision for cloud, the camera is directly connected over an IP link to the gallery. Which means resources are efficiently centralised, and programmes or replays can be cut before the event ends.
NDI is another technology on an exciting journey. Unlike ST.2110, which requires multiple 10 Gigabit network links and big routers, NDI works on office-style 1 Gigabit networks. It’s cheaper, it needs less specialist engineers to design and operate, but it raises questions about video quality and scaling. Can it be used to create a real-world studio for Tier-1 events? That’s something that we at BT are currently looking at.
4. Automating news
The BT Vena broadcast platform is powered by APIs, so at both IBC and DPP it was fascinating to find out what others are talking about when it comes to using these data interfaces. The Next Generation News Studio IBC Accelerator showed how studio cameras could be controlled remotely over a web interface, and how an automation system insert those recordings into all studio outputs, all with minimal oversight.
On the business side, DPP attendees discussed the potential for this technology to address their very real cost pressures. For example, automatic facial recognition will be used by some news producers to catalogue content – to eliminate time-consuming trawls to find key moments for their reporters.
5. Studios transformed
High-resolution LED walls using Unreal Engine to create virtual worlds were a highlight at IBC and SMPTE. A 180-degree LED screen, the size of a studio wall, allows creatives to change backdrops with ease. They have the power to make mountains taller or change the seasons – or just stop it raining.
There’s work to be done. Audio can be tricky, especially the echo produced in large, empty studios. And with the current generation of DMX, it is difficult to get studio lights consistently aligned on colour. Still, the potential is huge!
At DPP, TV broadcasters explained how they were using virtual studios for more than drama output. By using Virtual Production cash can be released to invest in scripts, actors and overall better quality TV – and better value for viewers.
6. It’s a people business
The Media industry is as much dependent on people as it is on great connectivity and innovative tech. That’s a key part of our ethos at BT, and it was echoed throughout these events.
As industry leaders gathered face to face, the importance of personal connections was clear. This industry needs to build relationships to deliver what our customers want. Attendees at DPP were very clear on this point: broadcasters want suppliers to partner with them to create solutions – not simply sell products or single pieces of kit.
That, of course, puts pressure on providers to hire the right people. Across the value chain, we all need to find new ways to recruit, train and bring new people into the industry while maximising skills of more experienced teams.
As ever, innovative technology is essential. But it can deliver so much more when the right people are behind it. Being able to meet up with peers, colleagues and innovators once more has proved how important that human factor is. Happily, there’s plenty more to come in 2023. I can’t wait!
Creativity connected. Content assured.