Head of Product Marketing, SAM
Regional Manager, Middle East, Vizrt
CEO, Media Digital Space
Regional Director, MENA, IABM
DS: What are the main benefits of migrating to IP (whether a partial or full migration)?
Felstead: In contrast to SDI, IP offers greater flexibility for broadcasters, no matter what scale they are operating at. Making the transition also enables the broadcaster to undertake futureproofing. Even a partial migration will enable them to expand and evolve the technology as business needs change, which will offer cost savings in the long-term.
Ghoul: There are several clear benefits for broadcasters to move to IP technology. Once their facilities have migrated to IP, broadcasters will have increased flexibility and speed to adapt their operations and respond to market demands in a timely and cost effective manner.
As the requirement for on-demand non-linear content continues to increase, the broadcaster will be able to offer these services quickly on a multitude of platforms without the need to allocate large budgets.
Davies: In the long run, IP infrastructure can yield significant cost savings, as network lines are cheaper than installing and maintaining an SDI infrastructure. However, until a dominant format emerges and there are a few contenders out there now, media companies will still be dealing with converters to get to the format they need.
Flexibility, on both a technical and commercial level, is another benefit. Having the ability to produce content from anywhere and distribute it easily is a major advantage for media companies and it also allows them to embrace new business opportunities.
This flexibility is very important today, where the need to adapt quickly to changing business models is more important than ever. A change to a more dynamic IP based infrastructure makes it possible to adopt new workflows and business models much faster than a more physical SDI infrastructure.
Chahine: IP is today the worldwide language of communication and exchange of information, whether it’s text, image or media. Therefore the migration will create a better collaborative effort in between worldwide specialists and creative entities and facilitate the exchange and delivery of any media in the conventional and digital domains. This without ignoring the low cost of hardware investment and support response time.
DS: How are broadcasters in the MENA region moving towards IP? How do they stand compared to peers in Europe, the US and Asia?
Ghoul: The move to IP technology is not an easy endeavour. In the MENA region, broadcasters’ operations are at different stages of development. The various technology moves from analog to digital, from SD to HD and finally from 1.5G to 3G, have not progressed equally for all broadcasters in the region. These varying development stages have been dictated to a large extent by the allocated budgets. This has encouraged some MENA broadcasters to adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach. This approach was supported by the lack of clear standards in applying IP technology to the broadcast environment.
Davies: There is a high degree of interest in IP in the region. I think that MENA is similar to other regions in that broadcasters are actively investigating this technology, with some conducting Proof of Concept exercises, but it is still largely in the investigation phase for most broadcasters at the moment.
Chahine: During the last 10 years, the region went through a major migration from SDI base to IP base systems, especially in post production, news, archive and playout. But we can notice with many broadcasters, the SDI bridges in between certain systems while in Asia and the US, we can notice a number of projects and migrations where SDI end in the production studio then media flow over IP networks till uplink or digital distribution
DS: What are the main challenges for broadcasters in the region in terms of shifting to IP? Are there still major parts of systems based on SDI?
Davies: Almost all broadcasters in the region are purely SDI-based at the moment, and even the new channels launching in the region are typically following a conventional SDI-based approach. I think the reason for this is that IP requires a totally new infrastructure, as well as new skills and knowledge, and that takes time to acquire. There is not just a learning curve for broadcasters, but also for system integrators, too, as both need to become comfortable with handling this new technology before it will reach the mainstream in this region. The rapid pace at which the technology is developing and the lack of a clear dominant standard are both major factors limiting the widespread adoption of IP.
Chahine: When software communicates, you still have many gaps in protocols and standards, which often cause unknown signals and streaming errors. That is why many still rely on the SDI as a common communication language in between the systems.
DS: How can broadcasters work around legacy systems to reap some of the benefits of IP?
Felstead: Broadcasters should be opting for equipment that allows them to make a steady and controlled transition. Not only does this mean they can experience how IP can benefit them, but any risks that might occur from making a complete transition immediately can be mitigated. SAM’s routers, switchers and modular processing allow for a gradual replacement of the systems so they can enjoy greater flexibility that comes with IP, without disrupting the end user experience.
Davies: A lot of SDI systems today are also able to work in parallel with IP systems. An example being our Viz Engine. Taking advantage of the latest Matrox cards, we are able to have a standard SDI workflow while at the same time being able to process and generate IP inputs and outputs from the same box. This gives the media company the flexibility to migrate some or all of their existing systems to IP without having to replace every piece of equipment, and also has the benefit of having no impact on the operational workflow of the systems.
Chahine: All new migrations should take into consideration a full IP solution, in cooperation with manufacture to ensure a stable signal flow. All IP solutions will use hardware from the shelf (lower in cost, high availability and easy in maintenance). It is a medium and long term winning situation for all broadcasters even with any available risk.
DS: Do some broadcasters remain suspicious of IP? If so, why?
Davies: I do not believe that they are suspicious, but it may be that they are simply cautious due to the lack of a clear dominant standard at present. There is, however, a lot of work being done to make this choice easier, and for some broadcasters the benefits of adopting IP are so clear that the specific choice of format is less important, especially given that many vendors, including Vizrt, support multiple standards anyway.
In addition, all broadcasters have invested a lot in existing infrastructure and equipment. Unless a brand new facility is built (e.g. a new studio or whole building) very few will be able to justify the replacement of all equipment.
Chahine: Yes, the reason is lack of knowledge; most of the broadcasters’ technical experience and education was based on the conventional systems. They also follow only few manufacturers who try to maintain their hardware and software together.
Felstead: There is still a justifiable element of caution that surrounds IP because there are mixed messages from suppliers around standards. Broadcasters are hesitant due to the financial implications of purchasing technology that then becomes proprietary, as well as not necessarily having a clear view of the financial benefits at this point. Working with suppliers that support the IP standards advocated by AIMS is the first step and understanding that this is a journey; so working with a supplier that will support them through the migration to IP is critical.
DS: Last year, experts said it would likely take about 10 years for the entire broadcast industry to make the transition to IP. Does this still stand in your opinion, or will it take more or less time?
Chahine: Migration to IP will have an exponential growth, faster than expectation, especially with the increase of broadband bandwidth and availability of high speed networks as well as the new engagement of IT and telecommunication companies in the media domain.
Davies: This is likely to differ from one market to the next. We are seeing some markets that are primarily still broadcasting in SD, while others have already made the jump to IP. It will also take some time for the technology to mature and lower in cost as the volume increases. Many broadcasters will not want to, or cannot afford to be early movers, and instead will prefer to wait and see how the technology develops before jumping in. Looking at the diversity in the media industry in the market, 10 years is a conservative estimate, but it is very hard to predict with any degree of accuracy.
Felstead: The timescale around the industry making a complete migration to IP is still relatively unknown. The decision to make the transition comes down to individual broadcasters recognising what is going to best serve their business needs. A hybrid market, made up of both SDI and IP, is certainly looking more likely for some time as businesses evaluate the options available. For each broadcaster, maintaining the quality of the end user experience will be the priority.