Tomorrow’s viewer and the promise of live IP production
By Norbert Paquet, head of live production solutions, Sony Professional Solutions Europe.
‘Agile’ is a word you’ll hear in practically every industry—and broadcasting is no exception. The hunt for ‘agility’ sits at the meeting point of budget pressures, technical innovation and growing consumer demands. And this sets the scene for the rise of IP technology.
If someone’s talking about technology and agility in the same breath, you might expect to hear about software. Or hiring rather than buying kit. Or something specific to a particular team or department, and their set of challenges. With IP, it’s different. This is something that can transform an entire business.
We’re talking about workflow efficiency and wholesale change to the fabric of media operations. Really, IP is part of a full shift in how a company operates. It sets the stage for more agile productions and business models in the future. And those models are necessary for those of us who want to keep up with hungry viewers.
In 2019, UK consumers spent a record £3bn on streaming music, films and TV. And that colossal figure comes the year before the launch of Disney+. In the US, the new mega-service has already found itself with 28.6 million subscribers, and there’s no reason to suspect its European launches won’t net a healthy crop of fans too.
Meanwhile, YouTube and Netflix are going from strength to strength, as is Amazon. Jeff Bezos’ retail behemoth is even venturing towards live sports coverage, testing the waters with Premier League football matches back in December.
With these services — and ‘traditional’ broadcast — there are more options than ever for how consumers watch their favourite content. But while audiences fragment across different screens and distribution channels, their expectations of production quality aren’t any lower. If anything, they’re increasing. So, can IP meet this demand for more content, available whenever and wherever the consumer chooses, without any drop in quality?
The promise of IP
The benefits of IP-based production and distribution are clear: live production can be less resource-intensive, your team can be more productive, and you’ll have more bandwidth for delivery.
At the simplest level, the ability to use IT components—rather than broadcast-specific SDI connectors—marks a significant improvement. Fibre optic cables are far lighter and take up roughly a quarter of the space, while being able to carry multiple signals. Plus they can carry audio or video, and control information, all through the same interface. Good news already.
But going beyond that, we open up new practices in shared production workflows. This could allow for smaller and more flexible OB units, with more space for production teams. We could even use multiple smaller units, working together, to create or support a larger facility. Lighter, more manoeuvrable and (clearly) far cheaper to build and run. Broadcasters and production companies can deploy production resources faster and more easily, in more places—and more business opportunities open up as a result.
Coverage for more sporting events suddenly becomes viable, allowing us to provide greater choice for consumers. The rise of services like DAZN shows there’s demand for this, as the market-leading service built its early success on combat sport coverage. Now it’s the world’s top revenue-generating sports app, while the total sports app market is predicted to exceed £100m in net revenue for Q3 2019.
And the ability to cover less high-profile sports can build a virtuous cycle for both the sport and media companies: lower production costs allow for more coverage, which feeds viewers’ appetite for that sport, which drives demand for coverage and more revenue to develop the sport, and so on.
Of course, the advantages of IP extend far beyond broader sports coverage, with the potential to benefit any multi-location production, like news.
Savings, strategies and standards
Shared Production Resources reveals the real, operational advantages that IP brings. With switching, editing, graphics and overall production resources handled back at a broadcaster’s HQ — rather than the location — you can have less equipment on-site, operated by a smaller team.
What’s more, you can share your resources across numerous productions, instead of having dedicated set-ups for each. And this means wherever your teams are, they can more easily work across more productions, making the entire operation more efficient.
Multi-platform content delivery is vital, but IP is the technology that could make it viable and more profitable, for more companies
Yes, this is good for those organisations looking to cut costs and operate agile crews. But these aren’t the real benefits that the next generation of content companies see when they look at IP.
Instead of slashing team sizes, our industry’s pioneers are thinking of how many different locations they could be in at once. They’re wondering what new experiences they can add to their coverage, not what they can take away from it. They’re building strategies to attract and retain viewers, using the advantages of IP as their foundation. And while this technology forms their business foundation, our entire industry is working to make sure that foundation is rock solid.
It should go without saying that common standards are a powerful force when it comes to driving progress in any technology. This is why, at Sony, we believe SMPTE ST 2110 and the AMWA’s NMOS are so important. Truly open standards provide interoperability that gives us all far more choice in the technologies and solutions we use for our own production set-ups. And that choice ensures we have the kind of competition that raises us all up, with better technologies for higher quality productions.
In particular, we need a refined and reliable blend of networks, connectivity and architecture. The networks we use for IP production have to be set up specifically for media and constantly available.
That’s where expertise from leaders like Nevion comes in to play. We’re working with Nevion to leverage their expertise and proven delivery of Real Time IP Networks, either LAN, WAN or both and as such speed up the delivery of end-to-end IP solutions.
The combined expertise and tools using virtual and software-defined networking, enable to create more advanced, integrated and secured live production solutions. At the same time, we support open standards for IP workflows, and we actively contribute to standards committees like the SMPTE and AMWA.
Pioneering IP-based productions are already emerging. In January 2019, our work with Portugal’s SIC saw Europe’s first large-scale, IP-based studio facility go live. And last Autumn, Sony announced the delivery of the first mobile IP live production studio and control room based on SMPTE 2110: Belgium’s DPG committed to new technology and training as part of its move to IP, and now boasts a studio that can be deployed anywhere to create content for its TV channels, radio stations, newspapers and magazines.
The beauty of IP is that it’s already able to deal with the future, with capacity to deal with increasing resolution and image quality for years to come
We think this is what the future looks like. While consumers clamour for more content, everywhere, forward-looking producers are working out how to meet this demand now and long into the future. And the beauty of IP is that it’s already able to deal with the future, with capacity to deal with increasing resolution and image quality standards for years to come.
In 2019, IP took the top spot in Devoncroft’s list of commercial broadcast trends, with multi-platform content delivery in second place. And I wasn’t surprised to see this. Multi-platform content delivery is vital, but IP is the technology that could make it viable and more profitable, for more companies.
If consumers want more content, all the time, then we’ll need to produce more content, more frequently — without breaking the bank. The only way I can see this happening in a sustainable way is by moving to IP.