The broadcast media and entertainment industry are witnessing a massive and rapid transformation in the move from Serial Digital Interface (SDI) to Internet Protocol (IP). The need for greater agility to support higher resolution video, better connectivity of infrastructure, and growing over-the-top (OTT) demand is driving broadcasters to move away from SDI.

That is where IP infrastructure development comes in. Advancements in Ethernet switches supporting increased speeds and more reliable network throughput is clearing a path for broadcast applications to replace SDI with IP/Ethernet at lower costs, while still providing a stable, robust transport operation. Broadcasters now have the flexibility to handle evolving media formats, which seem to change almost overnight.

This transformation is enabled by the rapid adoption of the SMPTE ST2110 suite of protocols as the foundation for carrying live signals inside and in between production facilities. Active participation in the Media forums like SMPTE, AMWA, VSF, and AIMS is critical to support the industry and Cisco has been a contributing member for several years.

The SMPTE ST2110 suite of protocols defines a path for migration into a true IP fabric based on open standards and full interoperability between multiple vendors. SMPTE ST 2110 flows utilize Real-Time Protocol (RTP) and Multicast encapsulation for transport across an IP network.

Multicast has been utilized for years in the media space for carrying MPEG streams in the distribution and contribution networks. However, SMPTE ST2110 has unique requirements due to the nature of the flows (long-lived flows with very high bandwidth requirements). In addition, there is a need for building a secure fabric and providing insights and visibility into flows and network health is a necessity for modern broadcasting organizations during this transition.

Enabling the Transition to IP

Standards are powerful, but putting them into practice is a multi-year planning and deployment investment. Armed with SDI to IP migration insights gathered from working with major broadcasters around the world, Cisco has developed a list of requirements to guide transition projects:

  • Avoid massive technology training by keeping the workflow consistent
  • Use deterministic network behavior to ensure the broadcast-quality experience
  • Simplify day two operations through real-time visibility and monitoring
  • Use time synchronization and multicast support at scale in the IP Fabric
  • Secure media flows and endpoints in and out of the fabric
  • Ensure the ability to scale out fabric capacity to handle a multitude of broadcast resolutions (SDI, HD-SDI, 3G-SDI, 4K, 8K, etc.)
  • Maintain high availability in a live production environment

Cisco’s IP Fabric for Media (IPFM) addresses these requirements with a scalable and robust fabric to support SMPTE ST2110 workflows. This solution solves broadcasters’ challenges with a set of unique innovations based on real-world practice. These innovations are available on Cisco Nexus 9000 Series Switches which form the basis of the underlying IP Fabric.

Here’s what a broadcaster can expect from the solution:

  • Non-Blocking Multicast (NBM): Due to the nature of flows (high bandwidth multicast ) the network can quickly become oversubscribed. NBM provides dynamic management of multicast bandwidth utilization to prevent oversubscription while maximizing multicast link utilization.
  • Media Controller: Providing visibility and insights into the network becomes very important for broadcast operations. A media controller provides a centralized view for complete fabric visibility, topology, and endpoints.
  • Multicast Flow Visibility: In the legacy SDI architecture, the SDI cable carried one uni-directional signal, so broadcasters knew exactly which signal was being carried by a particular cable. With the flexibility of IP, an Ethernet cable can carry multiple signals (multicast flows) in both directions. A media controller gives an end-to-end view of multicast flows through the fabric.
  • Scalable PTP (Precision Time Protocol): A scalable and accurate PTP implementation is essential for broadcast operations. Cisco’s solution goes beyond this, by providing visibility and insights of PTP’s performance on the switches.
  • Open API (Application Programming Interface): Open APIs are needed to not only program the fabric but also extract telemetry/operational data.
  • Broadcast Controller Integration: An IP solution needs to provide Open APIs for multiple broadcast vendors/partners to integrate with the solution. Cisco provides a rich and extensive set of open APIs so that it can be easily integrated into any solution.
  • Media Flow Analytics: Visibility and insights don’t only need to be at the topology level but also at a per-flow level. Cisco’s solution not only provides per-flow statistics but also detects packet drops in real-time for SMPTE 2110 flows.
  • Multicast NAT (Network Address Translation) at scale: This allows separation of multicast domains for contribution and distribution use cases. Cisco provides native support for Multicast NAT, reducing the need for costly specialized hardware.
  • Multi-tenancy: With Multi-tenancy support, Cisco’s solution provides a way for broadcasters to share their underlying infrastructure.

The Impact of Cloud Infrastructure

Broadcast media applications have unique requirements that a cloud provider must support for broadcast media applications. Discussions in the industry are at a very early stage to support remote production in the cloud. Cisco is actively involved in these early discussions to ensure that broadcasters can seamlessly interconnect on-premise infrastructure to the cloud.

Cisco is leading the way by providing:

  • Open APIs: Flexible APIs to interact with the IP Fabric for Media solutions
  • Flexible control: Cisco’s highly flexible solution enables various ways to program the IP fabric.
  • Multi-vendor support: Cisco works with all major broadcast vendors and partners in the industry.
  • Extensive feature support: Cisco’s solution provides features such as native Network Address Translation (NAT) capabilities to simplify the hand-off between the broadcast network and service providers.

Change is never easy but is always necessary. The migration of broadcast technology to IP infrastructure is well underway and increasing at a rapid clip. The media industry has reached an inflection point with broadcasters starting to adopt IP in their infrastructure.  Cisco is supporting this transition with platforms to provide better performing, highly flexible, and cost-effective broadcast services through the efficiency of an IP network.

Here are a few resources to learn more:

Check back for the next blog in this series that will explore the importance of an ecosystem to solve the complex challenges facing broadcasters.


Robert Covington

Systems Engineering Manager

Global Service Provider