The broadcast industry has changed dramatically over the last decade, even just over the last few years. While the viewer has certainly had a lot to do with it — demanding more choice, better content, and more ways to consume it — for the most part technology has played the leading role. From dedicated panel-per-device hardware and video tape machines, to today’s software solutions that control largely file-based workflows. Each successive generation was more cost-efficient, more IT-centric and easier to use than past technologies.
One of the best examples is the channel-in-a-box — a revolutionary concept (that met with some resistance) just a few years ago, channel in a box is adding value to thousands of global broadcasters. Brought about largely to help multi-channel video operators be more competitive and cost-effective, the benefits of channel in a box include high reliability, ease of use, scalability and cost-effectiveness.
Channel-in-a-box enables broadcasters to automate playout, including video ingest, inserting adverts or graphics, and playing out content on a set schedule. Broadcasters can effectively operate one or more channels from their own premises, easily and without a massive amount of investment in infrastructure.
As the broadcast industry has converged with the IT sector, the changes have become more pronounced. No discussion in IT would be complete without touching on cloud, and now the broadcast industry is experiencing this same appetite for the technology.
Since 2010 the concept of cloud has persisted in broadcast, but as with any new technology or trend, there are barriers — both actual and perceived — that need to be overcome before the benefits of a virtualised environment can be enjoyed. Cloud-based playout, for example, enables a broadcaster to control its entire operation in partnership with an established broadcast centre. This is accomplished via an IP network or public internet. The cloud solution can be customised to address the specific needs of each installation. And, while there are many areas where cloud is being used, cloud-only solutions are still a rarity in the industry. Again, when it comes to cloud playout, a completely software-centric playout solution with no auxiliary hardware required would be a boon to broadcasters everywhere.
True cloud playout, with graphics and branding, allows broadcasters to introduce new channels on an opex basis rather than investing in dedicated hardware. Established broadcasters who have already bought their own playout systems will naturally want to get the maximum possible life from that investment before considering any change to a new mode of working.
Ideally suited to multi-channel broadcasters who want to schedule channels with local content — both programming and advertising — for single or multiple regions rather than using multiple satellite feeds with ad insertion, cloud playout brings added efficiency, redundancy, flexibility and cost-effectiveness to operations. It completely rewrites the financial model for broadcasters, allowing new channels for tightly specified subjects or regions to be introduced with speed and at minimal cost.
In addition, cloud-based operation enables new entrants to the broadcast market to set up quickly and easily, with no significant capital investment. It allows newer operations to be activated without the need to configure existing hardware, let alone order new equipment. Cloud gives broadcasters the freedom to conduct their entire operation, from content acquisition, refining and archiving, right through to playout, via a single highly reliable media ecosystem, which can be accessed and managed from practically any location, at any time.
The most significant costs of running any programme channel then become, as arguably they always have been, the overheads of originating, acquiring or refining content and employing whatever administrative and creative people the organisation needs.
As IT continues to impact on the broadcast industry, the benefits to broadcasters and content producers will only increase. While one of the main advantages of this convergence is the expertise and experience that organisations like telcos and IT manufacturers can add, the maturity of technology already used in IT can also help broadcasters overcome the challenges they could face.
Phillip Neighbour is COO of PlayBox Technology.