Connect and Produce Anywhere: Discussing the future of live production at IBC 2023
In the first of a four-part series, SVG Europe provides a roundup of the sport-focused IBC Accelerator discussions at IBC 2023. First up, the ‘Connect and Produce Anywhere’ Accelerator project.
Conceived in December last year in a session attended by SVG Europe, the concept behind the Connect and Produce Anywhere Accelerator is for broadcasters to dynamically move live production media processing stages between cloud and edge computing at an event, allowing production crews to deploy software and resources in bandwidth-constrained locations.
After Mark Smith, Innovation Co-Lead, IBC gave a brief introduction, Ian Wagdin, senior technology transfer manager, BBC, kicked off with an informative and frequently amusing overview that encompassed the scope and background to the project.
“How we resource live events, particularly coming out of the pandemic, has really changed dramatically over the past few years,” said Wagdin.
“We wanted to take a step back, and review some of the big challenges that we’ve got in this environment, and how we as an end-user community come together as a shared endeavour rather than coming up with different solutions and then asking people to try and deliver those.”
Wagdin talked about the challenges facing live production, particularly around connectivity, in “fields in the middle of nowhere” and how the production experience can be impacted by bandwidth concerns.
“So we set this challenge, to be able to dynamically move production around across platforms,” he continued. “We wanted to make a choice about whether we work remotely, whether we work on location. And we want to do it in such a way that our operations teams can feel that they can use whatever software they’re familiar with.”
- Mark Smith, Innovation Co-Lead – IBC
- Ian Wagdin, senior technology transfer manager, BBC
- Ben Somerville, senior engineer & squadron leader at Techex
- Scott Davis, broadcast media architect for Microsoft
- Claire Wilkie, founder and managing director of Limitless Broadcast
Accelerator Champions: DAZN, Sky Sports, BT Media & Broadcast, Vodafone Group, BBC, TV2
Accelerator participants: LAMA, VizRT, Open Broadcast Systems, Zixi, InSync, Limitless, Singular.live, Google, Techex, Microsoft, AMD, Grass Valley, Verizon Business
Claire Wilkie, founder and managing director of Limitless Broadcast, focused on the connectivity question – “sometimes it’s simply not there”–, latency and constrained bandwidth, but also “the interesting approach of edge computing”.
“I’m looking at how can we use edge in different sports that we cover – rugby, football, basketball, and netball – to enable some of the nuances that you get across different sports such as TMO match officials or analysts in rugby, they need instant signals. If you’re doing that by remote production, it’s a challenge. So, there are some things that we’d like to have on site and that’s where edge tools are really helpful and useful for us.”
Smith described Limitless as “high quality, lightweight production” and highlighted the sustainability benefits of its remote production approach.
“With cloud production, it’s easier to track what your carbon footprint is,” said Wilkie.
“But with edge we’re also looking to make it quantifiable, so we can be aligned with Albert sustainability goals and reaching net zero for our broadcasters.”
Getting into the nuts and bolts of the project, Ben Somerville, senior engineer and squadron leader at Techex, described the project infrastructure built at the company’s data centre in Bracknell, England.
He said: “We use one of the racks there to deploy several servers, networked to facilitate this test lab, with real production software applications that can speak to each other on that hardware, and local edge compute services provided by Dell and AMD in collaboration with Microsoft and Google. We’re using Azure Stack HCI (hyperconverged infrastructure) and Google Distributed Cloud (GDC) to deploy virtual compute on the virtual network. We wanted to provide access to cloud-based distributions so that we could potentially leverage a hybrid approach, where we have edge compute doing our actual production.”
The infrastructure uses local NDI sources that can speak to all the different applications.
Scott Davis, broadcast media architect for Microsoft, highlighted the need for observability in the software-defined network “at all levels”, including “this hybrid world where we have an edge going on and a cloud going on”.
“What’s going on your switch, what’s going on inside the chassis itself, and inside anything you defined in that world at a much deeper layer,” said Davis. “Are my services that are serving media working? You’ve got to find tools from vendors to be able to dig in and know what’s going on in that network.
“We’ve also got to get to a place where we’re taking actual SDI into these chassis,” he added. “We’re not done yet. We’re going to find more parts that we need to stick in these boxes.”
Liam Hayter, product manager at Vizrt Group/NewTek, said that standardisation was key to rolling out the project as an actual service and pointed out that things can and do go wrong.
“If something goes down at the edge [in this project] and there’s no one there to reboot it, we can work around it,” he said.
“We’ve managed to spin up instances elsewhere and reconnect everything quite quickly. But if you’re doing production remote and on the edge, you definitely need people on the ground there to reboot something once in a while.”
In terms of sustainability, he said the project pointed the way to having several virtual OB vans living in one stack. “We can reduce not just the travel footprint with what we’re doing here, but also the actual overall energy use, make it more quantifiable.”
Wilkie pointed out that there needs to be education for production companies especially the production managers who control the budget. “It’s not necessarily a defined day rate,” she said. “This is a different pricing structure, and if we’re moving into this new space, this new seismic shift in broadcast technology, all of that needs to change as well.”
Hayter called the project “a rare opportunity to get different vendors and users together” to “throw things around and not be afraid for things to go wrong, and learn from it”.
“I think this project’s got a fantastic future ahead of it,” he added.