Media Functions Virtualization: Driving the Broadcast Industry into a Software Future
In my last piece, I looked at the adoption of IT and IP practices in the broadcast sector, noting that it is not necessarily a new phenomenon.
In fact, the digitization of workflows, enabled by the digitization of content from legacy physical supports (tapes, films, etc.) to digital files, has been going on for several years. The same is true for the use of software platforms – running on virtualized IT environments – to deliver media asset management, file movement, quality check and encoding.
Moreover, the introduction of online services like video-on-demand and live streaming has made IP networks a core part of the broadcast distribution infrastructure, often running in conjunction with the usual Serial Digital Interface (SDI) legacy infrastructure for traditional video transmission.
Nevertheless, this transition from tapes to digital files, and the implementation of the IP networks for video transport and delivery was just the first phase in the new era of broadcast infrastructure.
What the industry is experiencing nowadays is the second phase of this transformation; media companies are now fully embracing the adoption of IT and IP.
The flexibility, scalability, upgradability, and interoperability, all provide a compelling argument. Cost effectiveness is, of course, an important driver as well, but not the principle one. Established media companies see now the transition of their infrastructures and operations to IT and IP as the only way to compete in the new dynamic and evolving marketplace.
Critically, the transition to IP and IT is also enabling the increasing adoption of cloud computing services for core broadcast functions, meaning that spending models can move from CAPEX to OPEX. Not only is the latter more flexible and suitable to support the agility that the media companies require nowadays, but it is also enabling a more accurate financial accounting of resources allocation and usage across the different productions, channels and programs. This is enabling more efficiency and effectiveness in terms of capacity and business planning.
In these evolving technical and operational scenarios, more and more broadcast engineering departments are managing their own IT – from data centres through to networks – sometime in cooperation with the IT departments, sometimes independently. This determines the need to inject into the organizations new resources that should be able to combine the skills and competencies of the two converging worlds: broadcast and IT.
From a supplier perspective, main broadcast vendors that traditionally would have built dedicated devices and appliances, by embedding software (both at firmware and application level) with bespoke hardware, are transforming themselves into specialized software houses. They are adopting best practice IT processes and standard architectures to implement and run the broadcast function applications that they produce.
Industry associations like AIMS have also started promoting and facilitating the transition to IT/IP of broadcast. Others, like AMWA, started implementing Proof-of-Concepts, best practices, guidelines and eventually reference architectures and interoperability specifications with the support of key vendors and service providers.
Nobody wants to reinvent the wheel, and as such there is an increasing willingness of cooperation in the broadcast industry, never seen before, that involves vendors, standardization entities, industry associations, and, of course, the end users. The industry is looking for standards, reference architectures and best practices to reduce the risk and to properly direct the future investments around technology.
Ultimately, this transformation may be the biggest in the history of broadcast industry. Such a strong convergence of all the players in this industry into a single shared view may be unprecedented, but it is, without a doubt, happening.
For a full introduction to Media Function Virtualization in the broadcast industry, look at my first article here.