The Dynamic IP Blueprint
Sydney Lovely, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and General Manager, Networking
I frequently engage with other CTOs from across the media industry and often our conversations focus on the engineering challenges we need to overcome — particularly ways that we can improve workflow efficiency to aid production and distribution. We are all well aware that our collective task is to provide the perfect canvas on which producers and other content creators can flesh out absorbing dramas, exhilarating sports coverage and illuminating news shows. In fact, we all have a shared goal: to lay a foundation that enables our creative customers to enchant audiences, while ensuring the business model remains robust — not exactly a simple task!
Of course, in all these conversations we talk about the challenges industry players of all types are facing and how IP-based technologies can play a central role in addressing them. We are living through a time when media production costs are spiraling, as just about every broadcaster faces a pressing need to produce more content at a higher quality and distribute across a wider variety of platforms. And it's not just the volume and range of content that's an issue; the expectations from audiences around production quality in premium content are at an all-time high. For instance, today, coverage of Formula 1 racing now features over 100 camera angles — including trackside cams, roaming cams, helicopter cams, drone cams, and at least two cameras in each vehicle. The fact is today's audiences are demanding more visceral and immersive viewing experiences, and failure to deliver means fewer viewers and revenue decline.
So the puzzle for engineering teams is how to do more with less. How do we provide the best canvas for the content creators while juggling headcount, operating costs and facility capacity? For some, the move to IP is viewed as a potential savior, yet if this transition just focuses on migrating traditional SDI workflows onto a new transport layer, we miss out on the true transformational nature of IP.
What's clear, as we continue the complete rethink of production processes that began with the shift to IP a few years ago, is that broadcasters and other content producers need to not just make IP work but to put the technology to work for them. We all know that, as we head into the era of 400 Gigabit Ethernet, IP transport offers far more bandwidth than 12 Gigabit SDI — and the corresponding IP based switching fabric can handle more signaling and provide better flexibility at better unit economics. Yet the "speeds and feeds" discussions we too often see misses the fundamental vision that IP offers.
What we need is a new blueprint for production workflow that leverages IP to gain the agility, dynamism, and flexibility that internet pioneers have long taken for granted — advantages that will enable the media and entertainment sector to operate at scale. We need to see IP as a foundational layer that not only drives down production costs but frees creativity for production teams fashioning content across a whole spectrum of categories and formats — from sports to entertainment to breaking news; whether live on linear TV, streamed on demand, or clipped for social media.
Within Grass Valley, we describe this as the Dynamic IP Blueprint, which rests on three key pillars: Dynamic Infrastructure Management, Device Management and Software Processing. These pillars, which are powerful yet quite complex, are managed by Dynamic System Orchestration to allow all the parts to work together in a simplified fashion, and to open the door to enormous improvements in resource utilization and creative opportunities.
The pillars may sound familiar to those working in the IT world, looking at the application stack and data center operations of Amazon, Google or Microsoft. This concept certainly builds upon these IT practices, but there are big differences too.
IP for Creativity in Media
The way Media businesses operate is quite unlike a traditional data center model. In many ways, media production is more akin to an artist's studio than a data center. No matter how much technology we have, at heart, we are still a creative industry that is crafting a product that captivates consumers — the technology is a tool and the process it enables is not an end in itself.
Media is a lot more about the human-controlled elements and what people do with the technology directly — whether it is the cameras, mixing desks, lighting rigs, master control rooms, or other equipment — than most of the IT world. It is a creative pursuit and a lot of this equipment is not designed to be controlled over IP or by software tucked away in a remote data center.
Liberating the potential of the creative human is the essence of the Dynamic IP Blueprint. We need to use IP in a way that works for the realities of modern media production, and we need to build software and systems for a world where IP, SDI and a host of weird and wonderful proprietary interfaces can work together in an orchestrated way — and coexist with the human factor. It is critical that innovators in our sector start to see things in this way sooner rather than later, as the transition to IP and a more software-driven TV industry is clearly not an overnight project.
When I speak with my CTO colleagues, many tell me that the business drivers in the transition to IP have been centered on either building larger scale production capabilities or the need for higher end content such as UHD. For Grass Valley, the move to IP isn't just about being bigger and faster — it's about being better. It is a concept that creatives can fall in love with! IP will make it easier to create great looking content and tell truly compelling stories, while taking more control over production resources — both now and into the future.
As we look into the crystal ball, we see a whole host of new possibilities that will lead to more engrossing content: object-based broadcasting, 360-degree immersive video along with new forms of virtual and augmented reality. Whether any of this becomes commonplace remains open to debate but what is clear is that, to be ready for whatever the future holds, we need to start building the right foundation. But as I said from the top, I'm always talking to people and I would be really interested in hearing from others in the industry — what new advanced technologies and approaches are you hoping to get out of your IP systems? Let me know your thoughts.
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