Broadcast tech firms upbeat on workflow solutions


Roger Field , June 26th, 2017

With the broadcast industry in a state of flux, it is often difficult for broadcasters to make investment decisions in areas such as workflow. Digital Studio caught up with three professionals to find out the latest workflow trends in the Middle East.

The Experts:

Andrew Dix, head of workflow and media management, SAM

Pooyan Farnam, senior product manager, Advanced Media

Oscar Juste, director of sales, EMEA, Ross Video

DS: How are you finding the market for workflow solutions at the moment?

Juste: Buoyant! There is definitely a growing appetite in the Middle East for integrated workflow solutions and the manufacturers that can provide them. We’ve recently seen broadcasters and content creators in the Middle East starting to grapple with the same issues that have affected the industry in other countries: the need to maintain and grow audience share and revenues through more creative and engaging content, while juggling budgets that are static or declining. In this environment, companies like Ross Video are very well positioned because of our emphasis on partnership and value and the growing trend towards single vendor procurement. It’s not hard to find a vendor that will sell you a product; it’s not even hard to find a vendor that will claim to sell you a solution. The difficulty is in finding a partner with a comprehensive product range who will walk side-by-side with you along the road and offer the kind of expertise, consultancy and support that helps you succeed.

Dix: Workflows are getting ever more complex, whether that’s in terms of more and more multi-format signals coming in to a workflow, or the need for content to be delivered to an ever-growing number of different platforms at the other end. Workflows are only going to get more complex as the media landscape continues to fragment. Having visibility of and managing all of these various elements in a unified way is critical. SAM has a range of innovative tools and technology to help our customers deal with the growing complexities within the live production workflow.

Farnam: Cameras and equipment for content production as well as post production and playouts are mostly HD enabled. It is safe to say more than half of the Middle East are watching HD channels on their HD set top boxes (the GCC has the highest adoption of HDTV). Producers are investing to deliver high quality content, and broadcasters are investing in playout and delivery technologies. In the near future, there will be more focus on digitisation of workflows for multiscreen playout and delivery with improved compression technologies for a better transition to HD for all users in the region. Moreover, more investments in the network infrastructure will help the adaptation of IP based workflows with more users shifting to streaming services and multi-screen viewing rather than cable based television.

DS: How are doubts about IP and 4K affecting workflow investment decisions?

Farnam: Transition to HDTV with new HD file-based and tapeless workflows as well as video-on-demand and multi-platform delivery is being well adapted in the GCC region; whereas, this transition is happening relatively slower in other countries. More viewers will show an interest in subscribing to streaming services for a wider choice of content and entertainment options.

Juste: Globally, I think many working in broadcast have quickly concluded that end-to-end IP solutions are certainly possible, but it is still too easy to ‘do’ IP expensively and badly. That has acted as a bit of a sanity check and has made customers look twice at their upgrade paths. At the recent CABSAT show the IABM shared some statistics about the number of broadcasters and channels in the MENA region that are fully HD. It’s still not a huge number and this indicates that the majority of content creators have other, more pressing concerns. I think our customers are looking for some degree of future-proofing – they want to invest and update their equipment and they want to work with manufacturers that have solid, proven two to five year technology solutions as well as medium-to-longer-term IP strategies. And let’s not forget about 12G! At NAB this year Ross Video launched the Carbonite Black 12G frame, adding to our comprehensive 12G portfolio. I think 12G offers customers an accessible and powerful upgrade path and shows there is still plenty of life in SDI yet.

Dix: IP and UHD are not right for everybody. SAM’s focus is to help our customers migrate to any new technology or workflow that suits their particular operational and business needs at a speed and in a way that works for them. Our role as a vendor is not to tell our customers what they need; rather it’s to work in close collaboration with customers to ascertain the right approach for them - whether this is a hybrid or a full-IP solution.  The additional cost and benefits of IP are not necessarily a clear choice for all businesses. For these customers, SAM is providing an alternative that suits their particular business needs by rolling out 12G-SDI support across a range of products. This is not to say IP and 4K/UHD are not happening, they are and we already have customers that are using our technology – whether IP infrastructure or UHD live production workflows – successfully.

DS: What’s the latest from SAM in terms of workflow solutions?

Dix: SAM has built on the success of its Momentum MAM product by using its powerful workflow engine to bring together versatile solutions. This includes the VIBE fast turnaround news solution which uses the workflow engine to automate processing of mixed format content for delivery to the web, social media and TV. In addition SAM’s Live Touch sports replay system uses collaborative workflows for integrated post production to allow highlights packages to get to air faster. Momentum customers have also capitalised on the recently introduced performance enhancements in the workflow engine. This allows them to automate intelligent on-demand content distribution from a central repository to regional centres in line with local schedule requirements.

DS: How does the Middle East compare to the rest of the world in terms of workflow solutions?

Juste: As mentioned above, the Middle East has been relatively immune to the kind of budgetary pressures that have afflicted the rest of the broadcast industry until recently. It’s still a dynamic and vibrant market, but we now see content creators talking to us about things like production automation and robotics, whereas there was perhaps less interest in these products three-to-five years ago. In addition, I think customers in the region are now warming to the idea of single vendor procurement because they see the commercial, technical and creative benefits of this approach, and they want to talk about roadmaps and future product developments as the landscape matures. More generally, we’re seeing even smaller production companies and corporate organisations looking to create complex workflows and that confirms that there is great ambition and creativity in the region.

DS: What are the biggest workflow challenges for broadcasters at present?

Dix: Broadcasters are facing great pressure to diversify their operations and to deliver to new and exciting platforms. To facilitate this a MAM system has to be flexible to grow quickly and dynamically to adopt new technology and allow timely rollout to new social media and on demand platforms.  Where a single asset is repurposed many times for different target end-consumers the MAM must provide automated, reliable and repeatable processes to increase the capacity of any operation. The MAM must also provide a detailed analytical insight into the capabilities of existing workflows and operations so that broadcasters can proactively plan for the future.

DS: What growth potential do you see in the region?

Dix: The Middle East as a key market in SAM’s growth plans and one that we have invested heavily in. We have also made a concerted effort to deliver a range of products for small and mid-sized broadcasters, addressing the market as a whole. Quantel and Snell were active in the high-end market, primarily addressing the Tier 1 broadcasters; SAM is about giving broadcasters access to the best technology for their needs while managing costs. As a result, we have opened up access to the latest technologies that would have been out of many customers’ reach until recently. We see real potential in the Middle East for these products with new smaller broadcasters emerging across the region.

Juste: The MENA market is fast evolving toward full maturity and the potential therefore remains enormous. In terms of broadcast, I’d expect the next couple of years to see a very steady migration to HD and broadcasters to take increasing advantage of fragmentation with more platform-specific content. I’m also expecting further growth in the corporate market, as companies take advantage of the latest generation of all-in-one products that enable the production of high-quality content for stakeholders and employees. Sports, too, should be a developing vertical as more clubs, stadia and venues in the region seek to engage more fully with fans and visitors and provide a more interactive experience. It’s an interesting time for broadcast technology manufacturers in MENA; I can see that the younger challenger brands are pushing ahead and growing whereas the more established, traditional brands are struggling to retain market share and finding the climate tougher and less fruitful.

Farnam: As more broadcasters in the region have begun their work towards converting their workflow to IP file based, video-on-demand, Pay TV and streaming services, we can expect more growth in this area and end of an era for physical media and cable TV. In the near future, broadband speed will increase, network infrastructure will improve with more 4G LTE subscriptions and more multi device users; therefore, there will a bigger growth for multi-screen delivery and more demand towards HD and UHD in the Middle East. As we speak about the future growth, demands and new technologies, at the same time, we need to keep on investing in products and services which our customers rely on today. The Middle East still depends on a lot of traditional workflows and technologies. The challenge is to find the right balance between today’s and tomorrow’s trends and technologies, and understand consumer preferences across countries.

Juste: We’ve definitely seen a lot of interest in our robotics solutions because of the dynamic shots that you can get and the ease of use/control offered. Automated Production Control (APC) is also a growing area because the best APC systems allow you to automate the most complex of workflows and get really consistent and repeatable results. Again, these two product segments are all about production flexibility, reliability and ROI – increasingly important topics of concern for our customers. One area that I really expect to grow in the next few years is virtual studio/augmented reality. As content creators look for ways to be more creative, developments in graphics technology (e.g. the incorporation of gaming engines into the broadcast world) are making virtual studios look more realistic than ever before. At the same time, our virtual solutions offerings also allow our customers to maximise the use of their studio space and to run different shows at a minimal cost. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities and I’m sure customers in the Middle East can do really exciting things with the technology.


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