Zero Friction & The True Promise of IP

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Zero Friction & The True Promise of IP

Media organisations can now capitalise on the groundwork laid by IP with the operational and business agility of zero friction, says TAG Video Systems…

The transition to IP has been widely and rightly heralded as a game-changer for the broadcast industry. The technical work for which SMPTE and organisations including the VSF, EBU and AMWA have been awarded a Technical Emmy is well deserved. 

But we have not reached the end game. In fact, the operational changes that IP workflows offer media companies have barely begun. IP has been accepted as a technical overhaul of the solid but inflexible infrastructure of SDI but what it has actually done is flipped on its head the whole concept of workflow. When media organisations have moved systems to software and solutions can be deployed in the cloud or on common of the shelf (COTS) hardware it can start to introduce the operational flexibility that will pay dividends.

Today, there is too much friction impeding businesses from realising the promise of IP. TAG Video Systems believe there is a way out of the impasse.

“With IP, broadcasters should be able to do anything they want,” says Paul Briscoe, TAG’s Chief Architect. “Rather than pushing work linearly from source to consumption, we can build dynamic systems to perform one function one day and a different or multiple functions the next. IP is no longer just a technology revolution. The industry is now at a turning point where it can capitalise on the workflow revolution.”

How did we get here?
Prior to IP, the industry’s workflows were largely unchanged since the 1950s. Content moved from acquisition to production and onward to distribution.  Legacy systems built on SDI began to hinder systems installation and business growth. Trying to change a facility’s purpose involved physical uplift and fixing of patch panels. The versatility needed to be a successful studio business responsive to demand was sorely lacking.

The primary broadcast applications of live production, playout, delivery and OTT tended not to be housed in the same facility. They were likely to be operated by different teams. A multiviewer operated by live production couldn’t be operated by someone in QC or delivery. Siloed black boxes performed siloed functions within siloed divisions.

IP liberates this entire approach. The premise of ST 2110 was to consign the proprietary nature of black box development to history. It replaced arcane point to point signal transport with an entirely new essence-based mechanism to frees the media business from the chains of hardware.

This has the additional benefit of providing a common ‘backbone’ for the facility. Instead of having to worry about running the correct type of cable and signal to various locations, engineering personnel can easily configure and control network switches and routers remotely, allowing them to work from wherever they are.

Suddenly, any format and any combination of audio, video and metadata can flow bidirectionally across a facility or between facilities using the same protocols, the same switchers, the same common IT architectures.

Complete operational agility
Suddenly, it is possible for a product such as a multiviewer to serve the needs of any and all broadcast applications. It follows that it should also be possible to manage the product’s licences so that it is optimised at all times. The client can pick and choose where it is used, when it is used, and so maximise asset utilisation.

TAG describes this ability to move quickly from application to application as ‘zero friction’. The concept forms the backbone of its 100 per cent software based integrated IP Multiviewer, Probing and Monitoring solution.

“Bringing everything to a single point in terms of monitoring and multiviewing has several advantages beyond operational flexibility,” explains Kevin Joyce, Chief Commercial Officer, TAG Video Systems. “You have one instance of software which means you are distributing your training and support costs across the entire application base of the product. You have licensing that offers the flexibility of deploying on physical premises or in the cloud. You can move your licences around from instance to instance as demand requires. In addition, to which, all formats can be accommodated whether compressed or uncompressed. This is a Swiss Army Knife for you to grab the tool you need.”

Zero friction business model
Another step is needed for this concept to be truly zero friction.  Vendors, including TAG, would previously charge one price for licences that worked with compressed media and a premium for licences that worked uncompressed.

“If we really want to enable our clients to work in a zero friction world we felt we needed to allow them to use our product for the same price in either capex or opex models, regardless of the application,” says Joyce. 

Imagine an opex model where the broadcaster only pays for the time its products are in use. As a production facility in London comes offline, for example, its product licences can be switched off or reassigned to its OTT or playout division anywhere around the world without incurring any penalty for doing so.

“Asset utilisation is notoriously low in the broadcast industry,” Briscoe says. “It’s astonishing when you think about it that 60-70 per cent of the time an asset is sitting in a rack unused.” The industry talks about sweating its assets, to make the most of the hefty capital outlay and an eventual return on investment. It’s an extremely expensive and highly inefficient model, especially when there is an alternative at hand.

TAG says that a zero friction business model allows for product deployment wherever and whenever it is required, in turn rocketing asset utilisation up to 80 and 90 per cent.

“This prepares media organisations for flexibility of production at scale,” Briscoe says. “Rather than a news studio being used for two hours a day before going dark, or dedicating another facility solely to production of the network’s soap, it is far more efficient to be able to combine resources. For example, having one control room serve many studios, or multiple control rooms serving a suite of studios and a remote production. The idea is to use resources when they are otherwise dark and you get the mileage out of them.”

Attaining production agility is also driving changes in playout. Here, the decades old model dictated by dedicated infrastructure severely limited the ability of a broadcaster to launch new channels. Channel launches were expensive undertakings that took months if not years to create. 

Today, broadcasters can launch new channels to accommodate spikes in viewing - and open monetisation opportunities - around one-off events (a national election, an Olympics), literally at the press of a few buttons. Pop-up channels are not economically viable if you have to engineer one from racks of hardware. An all-IP system, however, allows you to configure software and services for a new channel within hours if not minutes with keyboard commands.

That is the model zero friction fits into.

Laying the groundwork
TAG isn’t slow to the IP party. It read the runes fifteen years ago and began to transition its product line, research and development into IP. 

“This experience has given us some insight into how to deploy not just multifunctional technology and to overlay an operational agility model and then overlay a zero friction business model,” says Joyce. “We believe that this will be the only way the media industry will acquire and use technology in the future. You must have this capability in order to yield a far greater return on asset utilization.”

There’s one last important message. TAG say they are not going to stand still. ‘Zero friction’ is not a one-off marketing exercise but a philosophy that informs its whole business.

“With IP accelerating our plan is to introduce more product categories for the M&E business,” says Joyce. “Regardless of the technology you buy from us we will keep track of it and manage it for you so that you can use your zero friction TAG assets for any application we develop in the future. Our hope too is that this will push the industry to think about new business models for the industry.”