Small fish in a big pond

By Fintan Mc Kiernan The broadcast technology business has often been described as a global boutique business. This refers to the fact that there are broadcasters in every country in the world, but because of the specialist nature of the technology required to create content and broadcast channels, the majority of equipment used by broadcasters came from a small group of relatively small equipment suppliers who were focused on the niche global broadcast market. gel lyte 3 Historically, there has been a good match between broadcast engineering departments and broadcast equipment manufacturers. Nike Air Max 1 Dames Both were essentially small specialist teams with a common goal, and we can add broadcast systems integrators in there too. New Balance Pas Cher From an Asian perspective, a disproportionate amount of the successful broadcast manufacturers hailed from the US, Canada, the UK and Europe, which in some way was a reflection of how important the “BBC Effect” or the “CBC Effect” was at spinning off broadcast technology startups. In this way, many of the key broadcast equipment manufacturers were founded by broadcast engineers, who had served their time at a broadcaster and spun out a business solving some problem or other that had no solution in the market at that time. Over time, these startups grew with the broadcast business as it flourished on the back of rapidly growing TV viewer numbers and advertising revenues. Broadcasters and broadcast manufacturers grew in a symbiotic relationship that tracked the great technology shifts over the past 20 years: tape moved to file, assets got managed, SD moved to HD, picture got better, graphics got better, TV looked better, more adverts were sold on more channels — everybody was a winner. All this time, the relationship between manufacturer and broadcaster remained close every step of the way. The annual global calendar of broadcast shows, from NAB Show to IBC and BroadcastAsia, defined the progress of broadcast technology, where manufacturers and broadcasters met to discuss what was working, what was not working and what the new technology developments were going to be. Product roadmaps and timelines that directly impacted broadcasters were discussed. Often heard in our industry was the phrase, “we will launch the new version at the NAB Show and start rolling out by IBC”. In short, these shows were the anchor points of our industry’s technology evolution. The relationship between broadcaster and broadcast equipment manufacturer was so tight and so well established that, in many cases, senior broadcast engineering staff knew the senior product developers and even founders at their suppliers in a relationship that went back years, perhaps, even decades. Key staff from manufacturers would regularly visit their key accounts — the big broadcasters around the world — and their very jet-set team of global broadcast account managers notched up more air miles than the flight crew as they circled the world making television better, more efficient and cheaper. Broadcasters attended key broadcast shows and events, and the manufacturers went to the broadcasters in-between. air max pas cher That symbiotic relationship in a boutique industry also gave great leverage to the larger broadcasters to squeeze better pricing from manufacturers. After all, it is a small market, and there are not many big broadcasters on a global scale. sac fjallraven pas cher Thus, the big broadcasters were the big fish in the small pond of broadcast technology. In many cases, a big broadcaster or multi-channel operator could determine manufacturers’ product roadmap and the next functionality that would be versioned into an existing product, so that a deal could be struck and an expansion planned. This relationship began to change shape about a decade ago when the early innovators started to provide software-based solutions such as channel-in-a-box playout solutions. A big driver of this was broadcasters who wanted to launch multiple HD channels. Channel-in-a-box began in a typically slow, early adoption phase but steadily grew in popularity, reliability and functionality. Looking at where we are today, as we start to move to IP and cloud-based services for broadcast, we can trace the origins back to this point. That move from bespoke specialist broadcast equipment to software-based solutions running commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware was the Trojan horse that brought standard IT servers into the heart of the broadcast facility — the central apparatus room (CAR). A walk through any broadcast CAR room today will likely be a walk past rows of Dell, HP, Cisco and re-badged Supermicro COTS devices. By definition, COTS equipment is not broadcast-specific. It is generic; the same server doing a broadcast function for TV has a thousand and one other uses around the world in other industries and governments. Should this increasing proliferation of generic IT equipment in the CAR rooms of broadcasters be a concern for broadcasters? Historically, when there were technical issues with broadcast equipment, there were support agreements with the manufacturer of the device. But in our new world of software-based solutions from broadcast manufacturers, they will just provide the “app” in the same way as you have installed lots of apps on your smartphone. Broadcast complexity has not gone away. It may be moving to software, but it is still complicated. We still need our video, audio and graphics to work seamlessly together. If anything, it is getting more complicated as we add non-linear, multi-platform and on-demand delivery to our existing linear channels with a host of new subscription and sponsorship models. So what happens when things break down? What causes the problem — is it the app, the hardware or the network? Firstly, we need lots of new monitoring solutions to try to spot problems in an IP world. Then, we need lots of new test and measurement equipment to try and diagnose the problem. Finally, if it is the hardware, the network, for example, which one of Cisco’s 71,000 employees or HP’s 250,000 employees do you call? Broadcasters are accustomed to having a link to their technology providers. This link is important, and this link is getting broken. After all, broadcasters are as much technology companies as they are media companies, so being close to their technology suppliers who provide key infrastructure should be important. It is heartening to see that some of the mega IT manufacturers are embracing our little industry. A glance at the exhibitor list for the forthcoming BroadcastAsia2017 in Singapore in May, at the time of writing, shows Dell EMC, HP, IBM and Oracle are exhibiting, but some key IT manufacturers for broadcasters are noticeably missing. So, as we move our infrastructures towards IP and cloud to obtain flexibility and efficiencies, we should be careful who we choose along the way for our COTS equipment. This is because this COTS equipment is becoming the core infrastructure of broadcasters. While there are many benefits to IP technologies, there are also many risks too. In live broadcast video, our packets need to arrive in the right order and on time, which is not necessarily how many IP networks are designed. Moreover, while broadcast is moving to IP, we we need to have a closer relationship with big IT equipment manufacturers in a way we never did before. Broadcasters have a long history of being close to their technology suppliers, many of whom will continue to provide the apps, but as operators of broadcast systems, our chain is only as strong as the weakest link, so our apps, servers, storage, switches and networks need to be considered in totality, and not in isolation. More thought needs to be given to how we get support for each component, as well their interdependencies.

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