Transition to IP: Evertz reaching milestones with 400 implementations

IP-based live production is certainly here to stay, even if it is experiencing different levels of take-up across countries, continents and applications.

According to Evertz’ Mo Goyal, senior director for international business development, live media production, the US and Canada have driven implementations for the company with fierce competition over sports content viewers, while in Europe the story is moving a little slower. We take a deeper look into the growth of IP with Goyal.

Mo Goyal, senior director for international business development, live media production, Evertz

Evertz has had over 400 IP installs in live production facilities since it launched its SDVN IP technology four years ago. Why is this significant for the industry?

The number of deployments of our software-defined video network (SDVN) solutions – at over 400 – is significant for the industry in a number of ways. It clearly shows that the industry has embarked on the transition to IP. We deployed our first large system in 2014 and to see the number grow to over 400 is pretty astonishing. We are definitely moving from the early adopters to the general industry acceptance which has been aided with the release of SMPTE ST2110 and work from AWMA (with IS-04 and IS-05).

The milestone is also significant for Evertz as it includes over 75 deployments of our EXE high capacity switch fabrics. That’s a pretty big endorsement for our investment into switch fabrics for the broadcast industry. The EXE and its architecture has really resonated with the industry as we move to IP. The EXE combined with our IP enabled hardware (ie, gateways, multi-viewers, etc,) combined with our Magnum orchestration technology, has proven to be a successful model of an integrated solution.

The greatest significance of the milestone is how the move to IP has started to really change how media companies are producing and distributing content. A number of companies have used IP to change their approaches to facility design and create more dynamic and efficient workflows. An example of this is the growth in REMI production. With IP and greater access to bandwidth while on location, sports broadcasters are using REMI to create more content while minimising costs.

Why is your SDVN technology being chosen?

One of the main reasons is the proven install base of major media companies. With over 400 deployments, it demonstrates to our customers the level of experience we have in delivering IP systems of any size to any type of application. As with any transition, the experience we have gained with each SDVN deployment cannot be underestimated. The majority of our deployments have been large scale systems which presented unique challenges that you wouldn’t have seen with smaller proof of concepts.

To understand the scale of IP facilities, we recently deployed the world’ largest ST 2110 facility in the US. The number of independent ST 2110 essence flows is over 150,000. That number of flows is exponentially larger than any in today’s SDI based facilities and has introduced new challenges to the management and maintenance of the system.

Building systems of this scale has allowed us to invest and develop software tools that simplify and manage deployments.  Magnum (SDVN orchestration and control), VistaLINK Pro (network management), and inSITE (analytics) are tools have all evolved from these large deployments. In the case of inSITE, it was developed out of necessity to help analyse issues in the system.

Evertz SDVN solutions were deployed for the 5th Asian Indoor Games in Ashgabat

Where and for what sports is IP rolling out first?  Why?

The move to IP is independent of specific sports. Our first install of SDVN was for ESPN (Digital Center 2) which produces thousands of hours of content for various sports. This was quickly followed by Game Creek Video (for Fox Sports), NBC Sports, and others. Thus, the ranges of sports that have used IP include: US football (NFL and college), World Cup soccer, the Olympics, Major League Baseball and NBA basketball.

A number of key elements have driven the need for IP. First, the increasing numbers of cameras and the bandwidth for new production formats (3G/UHD) have required larger sized routing cores. Simply put, productions aren’t getting smaller. More cameras (UHD, higher speeds, remote, drones, etc,) are being added to the production to give the viewer new experiences and perspectives.

Secondly, the shift to remote/at-home production utilising IP networking has enabled media companies to create more sports content. As mentioned previously, IP has created a growth in REMI type productions. The ability to create more content while becoming more efficient is always an objective for content creators.

Lastly, the shift to IP allows media companies to distribute live sports content on emerging media platforms. The past few years has seen a dramatic increase for alternative platforms being used for live events. The shift in how sports content is being consumed by viewers in the different demographics will see this trend continue to grow.

Another motivation is to futureproof facilities. We have a number of projects that were Greenfield sites. So, they chose to go with IP to ensure support for current and future formats. We’ve also seen a number of venues, stadiums and colleges move to IP for the same reasons. Mercedes-Benz Stadium (in Atlanta) and University of Notre Dame are great examples of this.

What’s the difference in your experience between the rollout of IP in the US and Canada versus Europe, then Asia? You said you have been successful in the US first, and now you’re making headway in Europe and the US. Why that order?

With any technology shift, it’s mainly driven by business decisions and needs. In North America (US and Canada), the competition for viewership is fierce between media companies. Creating compelling content is important for winning this battle. For live sports production this involves having more camera feeds, more audio channels, and advanced technologies like high dynamic range (HDR), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR).

With the increased production demands and new delivery platforms for content, the traditional SDI routing core couldn’t scale efficiently. The facility would have needed a 2000×2000 SDI routing core (at least) to meet the demands. Thus, a move to IP was a necessity. It allows facilities to scale efficiently, be more agile to support new delivery platforms, and flexible for new formats and workflows (for example remote/at-home production).

At the start of the transition to IP, it was evident that IP was more economical for the large systems that would have had very large SDI routing cores (over 1000+ SDI inputs). When we started our deployments in 2014, only a handful of facilities needed this size of core for their production workflows. A significant number of these were in North America (US and Canada). As the technology and standards have matured, other markets (like Europe and Asia) are starting to deploy IP.

What are the different continents looking for – and not looking for – in IP? Are there any differences?

Every sports media company is looking to produce more content, more efficiently, for more platforms to engage more viewers and thus generating more revenues. That model is pretty much the same across all continents in general. A move to IP helps sports media companies achieve that at some level.

In North America, sports draws a large number of viewers across multiple platforms. Those viewers are span across multiple sports programming types. Stadiums and venues are also competing for the sports fan’s attention and money. They have to overcome the challenges of choices the fan has at home versus attending the game in person. They have to make the in-game experience attractive enough.

So, the North American market is fiercely competitive for sports viewership, so investment in updating existing or building new facilities around IP is very active now.

In the international markets, we don’t we see the level of competitiveness between sports leagues and stadiums. In Europe and Asia, football (or soccer) is by and far the biggest attraction. Thus, a majority of the recent IP projects are focused around producing that content more efficiently and at higher resolutions. But not in the large numbers we see in North America.  The improvement of the stadium experience (ie, larger UHD screen and full production control rooms) is almost non-existent.

In some Asian markets, like China, they are making the move to UHD completely. Thus, we’ll see investments in producing UHD content over IP. This technology update is tied to the fact the next three Olympic Games are in that region.

Where is this all going?

The adaptation of IP is the first step towards where broadcast facilities become software-defined data centres. The JT-NM roadmap essentially points to that direction. A lot of media companies have that on their roadmap.

However, that reality is still in the far distance. We’ve just embarked in the direction of IP. With SMPTE ST 2110 a reality, more facilities are looking at the cost benefits for deploying IP. Some will see immediate benefits (large scale system, consolidation of resources, etc). Others will find the cost of migration prohibitive at this point (due to their scale).

The other challenge is for the industry to leverage the flexibility of IP to create more agile workflows that allow more content to be created efficiently for more platforms.  REMI productions are the first step, but it’s not the last. IP will shift facilities from being centralised and islands to a more distributed architecture.

In parallel, the industry has begun to use on- and off-prem cloud services for channel playout and distribution. The growing maturity of cloud services will have media companies looking at other services they could move to that model (ie, production).

That’s what excites us as a company. Our SDVN solution has always been architected around leveraging the scalability, flexibility, and agility of IP to meet the industry’s new challenges.

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