Media Functions Virtualization: A New Landscape for Broadcasters
Technology is changing everything, and the broadcast industry no different. The sector is on the cusp of a ‘perfect storm’ as a variety of factors – from customer demands through to evolving business models and services – combine to create a radical transformation.
Firstly, the way we consume content has changed dramatically: video on-demand and mobile services are now part of our daily life. While the traditional linear TV is not and will not be phased out, nevertheless audiences are definitely fragmenting across numerous platforms – from social media to over-the-top (OTT) content providers such as NowTV or Netflix.
Resulting from the disruption to the traditional media value chain, content is now expected to be delivered anytime, anywhere and across any device. This has produced three main effects:
- Content producers can now sell and deliver their products and services directly to the final consumer, bypassing the traditional broadcasters and overcoming geographies with content that targets global audiences.
- It has opened the door to new OTT TV service providers, an industry that has quickly become crowded and has made the competitive landscape far tougher for the established, traditional media companies.
- Finally, it has created an open environment where high quality, user generated content can be produced at low cost and distributed via multiple platforms (such as YouTube, Dailymotion, Vimeo, Facebook, etc.) to capitalise on a potentially huge global audience. Younger generations are already engaging in their droves.
From a technology standpoint, we are evolving towards a full convergence of IT and IP based infrastructures and networks. This step is critical and has implications for the entire supply chain, from production to final consumption.
Of course, it’s important to know that these trends are not completely new, nor have they arrived unheralded. On some scale, these transformations have been occurring for several years, however it is only now that they have reached a maturity that has allowed them to hit the mainstream. Today, this acceleration has increased. To keep up with consumer demands and market threats, broadcast organizations are scrambling to reshape their traditional business models and processes, consolidate operational procedures and make themselves as agile and customer-centric as possible.
Focusing on the technological aspects of this transformation, we have moved on significantly from the industry’s historical use of bespoke, dedicated and high-cost technology. With its long lifecycle and large CAPEX requirements, the rapid market changes meant that it quickly became unsustainable.
Instead, there is a move towards greater use of virtualized infrastructure using commodity IT that traditionally has been restricted to non-broadcast critical applications (e.g. monitoring and management). In fact, IP networks and IT systems are progressively playing a role within the core broadcast chain – for example in the IP routing of asynchronous serial interface (ASI) or video; or in software applications that allow TV to be streamed from virtualized IT infrastructure.
However, even though there is a general desire to use enterprise IT expertise, best practices in broadcast areas and make use of commodity IT infrastructure, the standard IT processes and architectures must be properly adapted and deployed to meet the specific requirements of broadcast applications and operations in terms of service levels, reliability, business continuity and security.
Interestingly, this switch of broadcast technology to IT and IP is both an effect and a driver of the transformation mentioned above. In fact, TV service providers need to open their supply chain to the IP and mobile platforms because they must streamline and smooth their processes. Broadcasters are under pressure to be flexible and agile in adopting new formats, creating new products, and supporting new delivery platforms. They must have the capability to create new channels and enable new business models that will allow them to thrive in a severely disrupted market. Finally, they will need to reduce their operational costs to regain a competitive edge – re-routing that resource into more creative and consumer-centric investments.
Ultimately, the transition to IT and IP is introducing new levels of complexity, shorter lifecycle and continuous evolution of technologies. Over the next few years, broadcasters will be contending with the necessity of interoperability and integration of different systems; facing new risks and protecting against costly service failures. To not only survive, but thrive, they will require new tools, skills, best practices and operational procedures.
In my next piece, I’ll be looking at some of the key ways the broadcast industry is embracing media function virtualization…