EBU and IABM members experienced the successful Sandbox LiveIP Production project
Facilitated by a collaboration between EBU and IABM, more than 50 members of the combined broadcaster and supplier community participated to learn about and experience the first fully IP studio built in Europe by VRT in Brussels.
John Ive, Director of Technology and Strategic Insight who hosted the event, wasted no time getting into the nitty gritty of the issues, chairing two key sessions throughout day, one focusing on the strategic and management viewpoint.
First to be discussed was the background of change in our industry right now, covering the three big drivers of change:
· Changing from linear production to cross-media content production
· Competition from non-traditional broadcast companies
· The need to control costs
And the four main themes behind technology driving the business:
· Greater focus on the user experience
· The need for more flexible production workflows
· Media cyber security
· Broadcast Services and distribution services
Echoing throughout the first day were the sentiments of the IABM’s Annual Conference in December, that the industry needs greater collaboration between suppliers and broadcasters to roadmap a technology and business plan for the future of the business.
At the forefront of this was the need for assistance from suppliers when broadcasters are investing large sums of money in new or refurbished facilities. Most broadcasters are facing a dilemma when it comes to re-equipping new buildings to take their businesses forward for the next five to ten years. What technology investments need to be made, what workflow dynamics need to be accounted for and what cost-savings can be forecasted to fit within a decreasing budget?
Put simply how much do you commit to future unproven IT/IP based technology compared to known legacy systems based upon like SDI? Will SDI continue to suffice despite a huge growth in media consumption across mobile and internet and the increasing need for broadcasters to be more efficient?
The appeal of IP with its alluring hope of increased flexibility, more agile network and workflow possibilities and potential cost savings is an intoxicating mix for hard-pressed broadcasters. VRT also stated that they were responding to the “Digital Shift” in production, organizational responsiveness, in consumers and the need to “Do more with Less”.
The devil is always in the detail and VRT should be hugely congratulated in taking a bold and gallant step to put in to practice one of the first multi-camera studio systems based entirely upon IP. The system is still experimental but has already provided valuable experience and insight.
In summary the technology works, is robust and could deliver savings compared to traditional broadcasting methodologies. Key lessons were learned and imparted:
· The need to use open standards
· The importance of an easy user and operator experience
· The need for reliability and quality
· The essential requirement of data security
However, it became very clear that more collaboration was essential in driving the business case for full IP broadcasting forward. There are still some key hurdles to cross that just cannot be done without collaboration, for example –
· More work on standards is required
· System design, workflows and business models all need to be revisited because reproducing and SDI environment in IP, will in the long term, not deliver the full benefits
· There is a huge issue with regards to the ‘softer’ issues of change management – changing work practices, skills, expectations and the more human elements associated with moving over to IP
The end of day one ended with two thoughts on everyone’s minds – that the live debate on day two was going to be extremely interesting indeed and that the IABM and EBU had a clear mandate from those present to continue to lead this crucial initiative into the future of broadcasting as we know it.
Hans Hoffmann, EBU Senior Manager of Media Fundamentals & Production explored the drivers for the change and what lessons could be learnt from the VRT Sandbox use case. He identified the following key requirements:
· Flexible change to adapt to new workflows
· Effective in terms of workflow, cost and change
· Fast content production and distribution, anytime and anywhere
· Scalable with growing Content demands in terms of technical quality
He summarized the longer term view as follows:
· The innovation cycles of ICT are much shorter than we used to have with broadcast systems, we need to speed up and adapt!
· Parallel tracks for development and innovations; Technology, Standards, Creatives
· Cloud first – business driven approach
· IP Networked Media – technology drives innovation
· Virtualization and automation – changes the workspace drastically
Mick de Valck, VRT Director of Technology and Innovation, then spelled out ‘The strategic & management viewpoint’, discussing the real-world challenges for broadcasters in moving to live IP. He also outlined the “mission” of the Live IP project:
To build and operate a live TV production studio using IP-based & IT-centric hardware & software
· Enabling the digital shift & new workflows
· Proving agility andscalability of IP
· Proving “do more with less”
Innovative collaboration of industry leaders
· Based on open standards
· Next level of interoperability
Many IABM members who participated in the project and were present at the event.
Karel de Bondt, Project Manager and technology architect Wouter de Cuyper, together with Michel de Wolf of Dwesam, then gave a start to finish overview of the Live IP Sandbox project and looked forward to what’s next. He explained how the system concept has three distinct components; the Studio, the Datacenter and the Control Room. The Datacenter is a shared resource enabling efficient use of processing and storage among multiple studios and control rooms.
A studio tour followed in to the Control Room, the Data Centre, in which Michel de Wolf explained that one network cable had replaced several SDI interconnects on some of the equipment, and finally the studio. Karl de Bondt took visitors through the details of the Control Room.
Day one was rounded out with presentations from Carsten Higler of SWR on remote production; BBC R&D Principal Engineer, Phil Tudor, on object-based production; and finally, Felix Poulin, the EBU’s Senior Project Manager laid out the EBU’s standards roadmap.
With a professionally produced program using the Live IP studio and broadcast live to the Internet day two was opened. The entire event delegates became the studio audience and were invited to put questions to the panel.
In the live debate, Hans Hoffmann set out the case for change and highlighted the key strategic challenges of the move to Live IP for broadcasters, the decisions they need to make and the new skillsets professionals will need to operate in this new production environment. “The fundamental paradigm shift is that we move away from the very traditional broadcasting industries to technologies that have been ‘not invented here’, which is ICT.
“We need to identify ways to slightly modify these technologies for the user requirements that we have as broadcast media companies,” Hoffmann continued. “And there are very strong requirements in terms of the quality of service we expect. For that reason, we use off-the-shelf technologies on the one hand, but on the other we need to slightly modify and add standards on top of these technologies to enable us to reliably use them in our environment.
“The most important thing is that we do not start from a theoretical approach,” Hoffmann added. “We are looking in the EBU with our members for practical use cases. It was wonderful that VRT came along to provide this space, this platform, to do it in a real environment. It is also important we have broad support from the industry, based on standards. The new scenario is we all come together, we test the technology on the one hand, but at the same time we also bring the creatives on board and we pilot test. That in my opinion is the secret to success of this wonderful project. This is innovation, and it is to the merit of public service broadcasters.”
Mick de Valck explained the Sandbox project. “We are working with 13 different parties. There’s the VRT team, the EBU, iMinds and ten different vendors¹. They’ve all worked very closely together and it’s really been a very interesting, open innovation experience.”
The live program included video inserts which provided further insight in to the project and a detailed explanation by Michel de Wolf of Dwesam Creative Engineering describing the system concept.
The second day concluded with a panel discussion between broadcasters, the EBU and vendors, once again facilitated by the IABM’s John Ive. A wide ranging discussion looked at how to develop a common understanding and collaboration between end-users and vendors, interoperability issues, skills required, whether a single standard is possible or a multiplicity is inevitable, and finally, what are the timescales we are looking at to turn theory into a practical, industry-wide roll-out of Live IP production.
“Many people talk about Live IP production as if it were already a done deal,” said John Ive. “In reality, however, there are many issues to be solved and hurdles to be overcome. VRT’s work in the Sandbox has been invaluable in shining a light on both the enormous potential - and the challenges - of moving wholesale to IP in the live environment. The live video of the panel session was recorded and will be available on the on the VRT Sandbox website (http://sandbox.vrt.be/liveip/) enabling members to see the fruits of this excellent project,” Ive concluded.
The delegates and organisers experienced a stimulating and thought-provoking two days where end-users and IABM members came together for a frank discussion about the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead with IP-based production. Such was the success of the event that the EBU and the IABM will be looking to identify additional opportunities to re-create this type of joint collaboration.