Going tapeless

The broadcast industry is going tapeless, but where is the Middle East in this transition?
Broadcast, Industry, Middle East, Tapeless, Transition, Analysis, Broadcast Business

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Dennis Gabor the Nobel Prize winning Hungarian-British electrical engineer and physicist, most notable for inventing holography, remarked that “the most important and urgent problems of the technology of today are no longer the satisfactions of the primary needs or of archetypal wishes, but the reparation of the evils and damages by the technology of yesterday.”

Indeed most modern inventions serve to right the major annoyances and failings of current technology. The monumental project for the broadcast industry of shifting from tape-based workflow systems to tapeless broadcasting is a perfect example.

Tape-based systems in today’s industry are horribly outdated and limited in terms of functionality. In 2015, it is inconceivable that just a few years ago, a tape would have to be physically flown from Los Angeles to Dubai in order for OSN to broadcast the latest Hollywood content.

Yet this was the case in the previous decade according to chief technology officer at the pay-TV network, Mark Billinge. The UAE telecoms giant du is also in the midst of a transition from tape-based to tapeless broadcast workflows. While OSN is entirely tapeless, Ahmed Al Muhaideb, vice president of broadcasting and IPTV, points out that du, working with many different broadcasters, has more legacy issues.

“We commissioned tapeless workflow in 2012. Since then we have been continuously aiding our customers in the transition to tapeless, which is an ongoing process as we have a considerable amount of archive material for each client,” says Al Muhaideb.

The telco then is trying to mitigate the challenges of transitioning to a tapeless workflow system for smaller operators, which use du’s playout systems. Al Muhaideb also says that new technologies in cloud computing, which is a backbone of the modern tapeless broadcast systems, makes it easier for broadcaster and studios to make the transition.

“Today it’s easier to have a fully-fledged tapeless workflow than ever before. Previously, storage of media was very costly, and limited bandwidth availability on networks was always an issue. However, these issues are no longer as pressing as they were before, which makes it easy for even a small customer to own a fully tapeless workflow,” says Al Muhaideb.

According to Michael Shore, a co-founder of broadcast solutions provider Pronology, the world-wide transition to HD broadcast standards, and the accompanying investment in hardware and infrastructure, has had the additional effect of accelerating the transition to file-based acquisition schemes.

“However, the creation of control and management software capable of orchestrating all of the pieces required for such a workflow, were sorely lacking,” says Shore. “Making sure the results were as consistent and reliable as they were in the “old days” is a challenge in an environment of shrinking staff and expanded responsibilities.”

Pronology’s Media Asset Management (MAM) system gives users an organized, highly efficient and complete solution for every stage of production, including: acquisition, media management, delivery and archiving. Pronology is hardware agnostic, so that production staff members can easily integrate it into their existing workflows.

There is also the option to work in the cloud, via an internal intranet (a private cloud) or a secure Pronology-hosted network. With Pronology, clients can access media from anywhere in the world using a standard web browser, allowing a limitless number of users, including remote staff, to acquire, manage, approve, log, distribute, transcode and archive their media simultaneously.

“The complete Pronology MAM solution is unique because it offers an all-encompassing solution in one unified package. It gives users the speed, accuracy and reliability necessary to manage any type and size of production, from breaking-news and sporting events to reality and episodic television,” says Shore, whose clients include the 2014 Oscars, America’s Got Talent, Big Brother Canada, season 12 of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? andDr. Phil.
Pronology is actively targeting the Middle East broadcast industry with its MAM software solution, while du is already well established in providing the infrastructure required for its use.

“There are numerous benefits to cloud, not least of which is its elasticity,” Al Muhaideb tells Digital Broadcast Middle East.

“This allows our customers practically unlimited space and capacity that can be tailored specifically to their needs, without the constraints of physical infrastructure and so on, as I mentioned earlier. Cloud also therefore removes the need to heavy initial investment in infrastructure and storage, while also providing a more accessible way of working that contributes to reducing costs.

As providers of cloud services for our customers, we can create customised solutions that are designed to specifically enhance their experience and make their workflow seamless.”

The new tapeless workflow trend is based in the cloud, and while this makes tapeless systems far more flexible for broadcasters, it is also technology that is in its early stages in the Middle East. According to Al Muhaideb, there are many more stages to be implemented in the region before it’s rolled out fully.

“Since our customers are the ones who own the service, the choice is theirs as to whether they should transition to cloud-based tapeless playout as opposed to tape-based systems. So, ultimately, the decision to transition fully to cloud playout is theirs, while we will continue to support their requirements whatever they choose.” Asked for a forecast on how much longer the transition will take, Al Muhaideb gives it another three to four years before tape-based broadcasting is a thing of the past in the Middle East.

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