NAB 2019 Reflections: Cisco’s Bryan Bedford on why finding engineers with a mixed skillset in broadcast and IP is the industry’s greatest challenge

Visitors of Cisco’s booth at the 2019 NAB Show were treated to a colorful, journey-like experience that helped map out and simplify the end-to-end workflow of the media supply chain covered within the popular products and solutions of the Cisco Media Blueprint. One of the crown jewels of the chain was an overview of the company’s COTS-based switching solution known as IP Fabric for Media (which was also celebrated with a “Best in Show” Award from TV Technology).

While its booth buzzed with activity, we got the chance to talk with Bryan Bedford, Cisco’s Global Industry Lead for Media & Sports about significant challenges and opportunities facing the sports video production industry (and the larger media ecosystem) as the transition to IP engulfs it.

Bryan Bedford, Global Industry Lead for Media & Sports, Cisco

Bedford believes that perhaps the greatest challenge currently facing the live video operations world (especially sports) is developing below-the-line talent with a mixed knowledge in both broadcast and IP engineering.

“The topic a multiple times over is this idea of enabling the workforce to learn a new skill set,” Bedford said at NAB Show last week. “It’s an issue of investment and return. ‘When do I do it and with who and how?’ It’s investing into personnel and that’s the big thing that needs to happen next to move the industry forward.”

“The standards are there. The technology is there,” he continued. “Most people have moved to an as-a-service business model at the application layer and the supporting infrastructure is there, but what’s happening is our biggest customers are saying ‘I don’t have the people that know IT and broadcast together.’ The up and coming generation knows IT but they don’t know broadcast. The older crowd doesn’t want to learn IT. So we’re in this chicken and the egg situation. We’ve got to figure out how to get over that hump.”

Beginning as recently as last year, Cisco has begun offering training sessions for both beginners and advanced engineers with a broadcasting background to learn more about the differences that come with an IP infrastructure in a live environment. The training team was on-site at NAB Show to help increase awareness of the opportunities available to those in the industry ready to learn something new.

“This is about investing in what our customers need to make this transition to an IP/broadcast skillset, but also all of the system integrators and companies out there that are trying to play a hand in services and delivery,” says Bedford. “They are also trying to do this.”

For those with a broadcast engineering background with an interest in dipping their toes in the water on IP, Cisco’s IP Foundation for Broadcast Engineers (CCIPFM) has a v1.0 course that can be taken (either virtually or at a specific location available in various cities globally) to help those who anticipate using IP technologies to replace SDI-based backbones. The course covers basic principles of IP including Ethernet functions and standards, the TCP/IP stack, and other technologies used throughout a modern network.

Back at the NAB Show booth, the Cisco Media Blueprint was the star with the company making some notable changes to the way they are telling the story of how Cisco can be a leader in the business’s move to IP.

“We need to make sure our blueprint is speaking the language that resonates with this audience,” says Bedford. “[We need to] use less Cisco language (IT language) and be a part of the industry’s language. The idea of the supply chain of media content and how its developed, distributed, and published: that’s the language. Elements around the supply chain of media workflows is what people [in this industry] are used to hearing. The good thing is that we have technologies and solutions that align to that pretty well.”

Bedford outlined Cisco’s NAB Show messaging in four chapters: Collaboration, the Move to IP, When in an IP World What Comes Next?, and Distribution. Within the move from SDI to IP is the much-publicized battleground around COTS-based switching. For Cisco, its one of the main opportunities that they are dedicating the most effort to helping the industry solve.

“It drives the most traffic and drives the most interest because Its real,” says Bedford. “If people are going to make that jump, then they’ve got to understand. Because of our legacy, investment, and research and development around network switching that is important for us. So showcasing new and innovative solutions around that is part of what we’re doing. That’s the next piece of that supply-chain journey. Once you’ve ingested and developed that storyline, you have to capture it and do something with it.”

That monitoring of the flow leads into Bedford third point: you’ve got your media in an IP world…now what? From there, in Bedford’s eyes, it becomes a story of how do you virtualize that and leverage traditional data center technology in a broadcast environment.

“There’s lots of innovation happening around virtualized workflow,” he says. “We’re showing Avid in our booth around virtualized asset management workflows. We’re showing Imagine [Communications] here with virtualized media playout.”

As for the IP Fabric for Media solution, its gaining serious momentum worldwide with notable on-the-record deployments at Arena TV in Australia and Canal+ in France. For Bedford, who estimates that there are “multiple dozens” of uses of the platform around the world, it’s a product that serves as a natural point of entry for broadcast entities looking to take that first step into an IP world without the massive pressure of an all-out transition.

“That is the first spot to change, if they are going to change the workflow,” says Bedford. “Then, the data center model around virtualized workflows, asset management, playout, etc., you’re probably doing elements of that in a data center environment but not fully all in. Very few people are doing full data center playout in media. But they will. It’s coming. The train is not slowing down. It’s more of just a market timing thing.”

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