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Top Takeaways from IBC 2014

September 20, 2014
4-Minute Read

1) Targeted Advertising is now getting the attention it deserves, no doubt prompted by the success of the Web. Even for those who don’t have the necessary broadcast triggers, a broad range of solutions exist, many with the vital links to back office scheduling and playout. Cloud-based services were a consistent theme throughout the show with many established players recognizing the need to team up with those who have the necessary enterprise experience.

2) Confusion was abound concerning 4K and UHD, with many citing what a problem the protracted rollout of features has been on unsuspecting early adopters. Screen manufacturers came in for particular criticism. Even though there is a limited number of genuinely 4K streaming services, support is not universal across the established brands. The picture looks even murkier when you dive into the subjects of high dynamic range and color space, where the tendency of the industry is to dive into the technical detail, which doesn’t rest easily with a sector eager to purchase complete solutions. I'd rather wait and see a complete solution emerge to the benefit of both TV and Cinematic applications, than a half-baked solution, which will inhibit the long term success of 4K and UHD. During the show many attendees wanted to discuss the relative merits of the main proposals and whether they will scale for live TV from streaming. The picture is a lot brighter for production, where good products are emerging because producers have faith that the format is strong enough to withstand the initial turbulence and deliver a significant improvement over current HD services.

3) Virtualization was center stage, with many visitors keen to access whether software can really replace bespoke hardware, and the likely transition paths. I had many interesting discussions on the booth prompted by presenting Harmonic’s approach to virtualization – VOS. Discussions ranged from broadcasters keen to see justification of the assertion that software based encoding has now surpassed hardware, to those within the enterprise and network domains evaluating how applicable virtualization will be to CPU and storage intensive video applications. These have been pretty contentious discussions in the past, but not this year. Many broadcasters and operators were discussing whether it will be hardware, appliance or software solutions forming the basis of future installations.

4) While UHD live services are challenging broadcasters, supporters of streaming APPs are becoming the main beneficiary. Amongst the aisles at the show were pragmatic entrepreneurs eager to enter a market focusing on content rather than having to become bogged down in technical details. The world of streaming Apps is being rationalized with many providers acting as a portal for common platforms, thereby removing a significant hurdle and cost to setting up a service.

5) It was not just the innovators who are riding the enthusiasm for Apps. Broadcasters face a significant challenge if spectrum reallocation progresses and chunks of TV bandwidth are relinquished for the ever growing demands of mobile. What is being trialed for minority long tail content online could become a very realistic prospect soon for sizable audiences. While the merits of such a reallocation are being heatedly debated, this is a gift for those of us involved in new media distribution. The implications of this industry revamp to DTH, preoccupied many visitors wishing to map out their technical vision for such a transition while attending IBC.

6) Being a regularIBC attendee, I was at university when the show was held in Brighton and got my first job with Sony there, so I’m old enough to have been involved in the birth of digital video. Spin forward an embarrassing number of years and we see many exhibitors confidently predicting the death of SDI. While in the short-term this might be premature, no doubt they are right for the medium to long term. All but the most specialized aspects of workflow will be reworked for a brave new network centric world. My time spent recertifying my network qualifications will be useful eventually.

7) So what is holding the industry back from totally adopting an IT perspective and displacing the ever-dwindling islands of broadcast kit forever? The answer lies with standards for the carriage of video over IP. During a rare earlyish night at the show, I wasn’t the last in the bar, and avoiding a Dutch kebab, I went to bed scanning the details of SMPTE 2022 – top technical porn for those technically minded visiting Amsterdam. This goes a long way to meet the needs of video carriage in the studio, but there is still some way to go if the frustration of those attending the show is anything to go by. Interoperability is still a big issue where proprietary approaches are still hindering video running on standard platforms.

8) While most broadcasters have been through a first iteration of kit to achieve brand recognition on the Web, most now require a refresh that restores profitability to multiscreen. Commonality through the use of mezzanine compression formats, automated Quality Control, enhanced graphics and branding along with dynamic advertising were key to broadcasters and operators alike. A variety of approaches were discussed at IBC2014, with many fully embracing cloud-based services for functions previously under lock and key at the heart of a facility and, yes, the merits of web based security, content protection and where fault lies should there be a breach were widely discussed, more on this in a future blog, after I’ve attended the Copyright and Technology London 2014 conference where I’ll be on a panel discussing 4K.

9) To those with an interest in data centers, virtualization summed up the IBC show. It was different for those from a production environment where orchestration dominated. Harmonic announced the Polaris playout management suite, offered in partnership with Pebble Beach Systems. In an increasingly complex workflow, it is vital to harness all the elements under a single umbrella management system application.

10) With extensive building construction well underway at the RAI, it struck me as ironic that as the industry adapts to extensive change with a distinct shift of emphasis from broadcast specific hardware to common software platforms, will IBC fully utilize the new space available? I suspect it will, as there was no shortage of new startups keen to enter a market which, although changing, still offers tremendous opportunities for those prepared to think about video laterally.  – Ian Trow, Sr. Director, Emerging Technology & Strategy, Harmonic

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