By now it’s clear that IP-based technologies are threading into the media supply chain with alacrity, whether we’re talking about content ingest, signal processing, or distribution. That’s good, because of the flexibility and collaborative power IP brings to just about everything – from how content providers accelerate ideas to audiences, to the reimagination of content workflows, to the nuts-and-bolts workflows of moving an asset, through the broadcast data center “plumbing,” to the screens that will display it. It’s a transition that started over a decade ago, and has already impacted adjacent (and non-adjacent) industries – the music, cable, and satellite sectors come to mind. In our world, it started with SDI, and is now rolling like thunder into remote capture, remote production, and overall optimization. The straight-talk of the IP transition in media is perhaps best expressed in three ways: The “what,” the “why,” and the “how.” Here we go.
The “What” of Adopting IP in the Media Supply Chain
To characterize what’s going on, as IP-based technologies blend into traditional video environments, it helps to start with the work of it. The workflows: How content is created, acquired/ingested, processed, augmented with graphics, edited. Then, the distribution: Linear, on-demand, OTT, all the stuff of digital. Let’s pick a hypothetical live event, as a visual: An episode of Saturday Night Live. Behind the scenes of all the actors, talent, host, and crew, are the workflows. Multiple cameras, shooting live, captured in a control room at 30Rock. Maybe some of those cameras are somewhere else, capturing live video that correlates with a sketch. Before IP, those feeds moved through legacy SDI cables; now, that flow is shifting to IP-based delivery, often using a COTS (shorthand for “commercial off-the-shelf”) switches. Over in master control, the feeds are amalgamated and edited to produce the outbound, live-to-air signal, to screens. Traditionally, TV screens; increasingly, the vast landscape of smaller screens, like laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Each screen tends to have different “care and feeding” requirements, and that’s where IP thrives. Then there’s distribution: How the live feed moves, over multiple network types. The playout. Before digital and IP, it was over-the-air, then over terrestrial fiber. These days, it’s that, plus online, to over-the-top aggregators and purveyors. If there’s one thing that’s clear, here in the middle of the IP transition, it’s that IP-based technologies are vital as a means to reach viewers where and when they want to watch. “Vital” as in you can’t get there without them.
The Why: Because It’s About the Experience
These days, viewers aren’t waiting around to see a great piece of content. They’re proactively seeking great content experiences — where “experience” means getting to what they want to see, whenever and wherever and on whatever screen they choose. That’s a big part of the “why” of the IP transition in the media supply chain: To go where viewers are going, and to serve them well. Another part of the “why” is the impact IP has on creative collaboration. Consider a blockbuster movie, for instance, which can involve thousands of people. From capture to graphics to asset management to storage, once you’re “digitally native,” you can do things in hours that used to take weeks, and you can do more with less. Your shared resources are linked, between studios and remote locations; across technology partnerships that push pixels to screens. From a creative perspective, IP enables directors and writers to connect in new ways. With advancements like volumetric capture, for instance, studios are equipped to re-use a set however and whenever they want. Sets become virtual, and capable of being creatively manipulated into whatever a director imagines, even (and especially) if that means adding augmented (AR) or virtual reality (VR) elements. We’re already seeing this happen in our partnership with Disney’s StudioLabs, in Burbank, where it’s all about harnessing new technologies dedicated to storytelling.
The How: Seasoned Partners, Industrialized Apps
It’s perhaps no great surprise that the company I work for, Cisco, is deeply committed to IP. It’s where we live, and always have. We also have a deep commitment to media and entertainment, with the resources to back it. So, one part of the “how” of expanding IP into the media supply chain necessarily involves picking strong partners, who are into collaboration, even (and perhaps especially) if those partners fall into the category of “co-opetition.” The “how” of it is happening right now, in broadcast data centers, where content capture, manipulation and distribution happens. Before IP, all of those workflows happened on purpose-built devices. Then, content innovators like Disney and NBC, to name just two, pushed back, wondering why they needed special pieces of hardware – why not virtualize it? So we did. What’s happening, and what’s going to happen, is the industrial “appification” of media workflows. Think about this in your day-to-day life, and how many people you know who use their company-issue smart phones to do enhance their day-to-day work. The same is true in broadcast data centers: The breaking down of workflows into apps. Which brings me, not coincidentally, to our booth this week at NAB, where you can see all of this in action. We’re showing the IP transition as a series of journeys – six, to be specific. Six stations that illustrate how IP is transcending workflows related to ingest, processing and distribution. We’ll show our media switching fabric, an editing app, and how object-based storage works. As well, demos decided to collaboration, analytics, and case studies. That’s the straight talk of the IP transition in the media supply chain. It matters because it’s inevitable, unstoppable, and ultimately the force that will satisfy viewers, and position the media and entertainment sector to not just survive, but thrive. Stop by and see us for a walkthrough!
We’ll be in the Connected Media-IP Pavilion (SU8510) in the upper South Hall. I’ll be watching for you.