In the last few years, the broadcasting industry has undergone a fundamental shift caused by the explosive growth in the over the top (OTT) delivery method. OTT transmits entertainment media via the Internet without using direct broadcast or satellite services. By deploying OTT, popular content providers like Netflix and Hulu have led the charge away from traditional multi-system operators like AT&T and Comcast. Television networks like CBS and HBO then followed suit with OTT offerings of their own.
The demand for OTT content delivery has expanded so rapidly that the content pipeline has barely been able to keep up. Production companies and individuals working in television postproduction must continually recalibrate their workflows to increase efficiency and contain costs. Here are five ways you can streamline your broadcast workflows to maximize simplify the process and increase productivity.
1. Seek Modularity
Modularity enables the recombining of hardware and software components within existing systems into new workflows for different applications. One of the best ways to achieve modularity is by breaking down technical silos. These are restrictions caused by fixed infrastructures that define work in a certain way, without any flexibility. An example of this is having a large-format console installed in a control room, limiting the use of the space.
When applied to broadcast hardware and software, modularity can increase agility and efficiency, both operationally and economically. From a media company’s perspective, modularity means only paying for what is actually used.
In terms of software, cloud services can provide an ideal way to achieve modularity with applications. However, it’s important to look for software that presents as microservices as opposed to monolithic, all-or-nothing architectures. Monolithic models, with applications that reside entirely in the cloud, offer no clear advantage to residing on a server in a facility. The only potential benefit to a monolithic approach is moving from buying to renting. This pushes the cost of the service from a capital expenditure (CapEx) to an operating expense (OpEx) and transfers any maintenance and upgrade responsibility to the cloud host, but has no bearing on workflows.
However, cloud-based microservices work quite differently. They take a modularized approach by using “containers.” Instead of one monolithic application with multiple services within it, microservices are designed to be broken into standalone mini-applications. Microservices in container cloud architectures offer significant flexibility, improved use of assets and the ability to manage spikes and dips in usage. Services like video encoding on an as-needed basis ensure that production companies only pay for what they actually require.
Hardware also presents modular opportunities. Multi-function, multi-purpose interchangeable units increase flexibility and allow users to maximize their hardware investments, as they do more with less. For example, the Studer Glacier Series of broadcast consoles is made up of two interchangeable control surfaces that can connect to a suite of DSP cores, a suite of I/O and are IP based. The ability to quickly rearrange units enables broadcasters to adapt to a variety of spaces and effectively use the Lego brick-like components to create road systems for outside broadcasts and remote productions. Using modular hardware assets, you can increase your CapEx ROI and, again, only pay for what you’re actually using.
2. Integrate Your Networks
Many people are intimidated by the thought of switching their standard baseband network to Internet Protocol (IP). They hear about IP and know it might help them, but they are unsure of how to implement it.
Serial Digital Interface (SDI) baseband technology works point-to-point and is far less agile and flexible than IP. You can only go from one determined point to another, via physical, unidirectional connections.
One major misconception is that many people believe IP and baseband are mutually exclusive and can’t be combined. Taking baby steps into an IP network is doable and often much easier to cope with than a complete switch. In many situations, a phased or hybrid approach can save money and allow for planned growth. It’s important to carefully explore how IP can improve your workflow before beginning to integrate it.
Like most things, IP brings new problems and hurdles with it. While it may be more cost effective to sustain in the long run, deployment isn’t necessarily cheaper. The challenge, for some people, is bringing IP and baseband technologies together. But IP gateways and hybrid routers tackle many of those issues. Initially, as it makes financial and logistical sense, you should address the elements of your work that will most benefit from flexibility of IP.
Here’s a simple illustration of effectively merging IP and baseband technologies. Instead of a complete infrastructure, imagine your operation as islands—IP islands hanging off of an established SDI baseband network.
For example, a late night TV show wanted to produce remote segments from a variety of locations in the studio complex. Instead of laying miles of multi-strand copper baseband cables around the facility, they laid a single optical fiber thread to each location. For remote shoots, an SDI-IP stagebox was connected to the fiber end point. Multiple baseband mic inputs and camera video signals were then routed to the SDI-IP stagebox with an IP-based output sent over fiber to the central control.
A successful hybrid network is a diverse one where baseband and IP come together with the use of IP gateways that can bi-directionally convert baseband and IP.
3. Deploy Memory Management
Automated technology, as a general function, is a huge advantage for broadcast workflows in video, audio and control, and has impacted nearly every part of the industry. The ability to save and recall settings and parameters, and have automation operate in the background, simplifies and speeds up an ever-increasing array of tasks.
This kind of automation relies on memory management—subset hierarchies within various interfaces. These hierarchies support the multitude of parameters and settings within all the hardware and software that contribute to a workflow that users need to access for a given production. Managing such complexity in real-time is impossible without a control system that is central to an operation.
An excellent example of automation is Studer’s new DIOS software application, the first I/O routing automation software designed specifically for broadcasters and media companies. DIOS automates signal pathfinding and routing in and out of broadcast facilities, resulting in decreased expenses and workload, especially when managing routing for hybrid IP and baseband networks.
Determining which segments of your workflow can benefit from automation can vastly improve productivity.
4. Aim for Remote Integration
With a broadcast industry focused on streamlining production systems, an emerging trend is remote integration (REMI). Around 2009, ESPN pioneered this approach with the goal of keeping as much production work as possible “at home” in the studio.
In these situations, a broadcast network covering live events deploys only the minimum “capture” assets in the field—mostly cameras and microphones—with the bulk of the infrastructure remaining at the studio. Even some of the operators are able to work remotely on events. While some cameras require onsite operators, others can connect to systems over local area networks or local Wi-Fi and be remotely controlled. Managing production over the web and IP can be a tremendous advantage for broadcasters streamlining remote productions.
The technical streamlining of REMI can have a substantial positive effect on production budgets. In one case cited by USA Today, ESPN reported that by using remote integration between a stadium and its main operations center in Bristol, Connecticut, the company could cut coverage costs for Major League Soccer (MLS) by 30 percent and eliminate 17–25 onsite crewmembers.
Like web conferencing, REMI by itself doesn’t mean broadcasters use fewer staff on productions. Instead, staff members are simply in different locations than they were before, reducing costs and travel time for directors, producers, commentators and other on-air talent, and facilitating more uptime and availability for operators. Also, by avoiding constant packing, unpacking and moving, production equipment experiences much less wear and tear, resulting in considerable maintenance and service savings.
5. Consolidate Your Resources
Streamlining your broadcast workflow is ultimately about consolidation, figuring out where you can double down on resources, condensing what is needed on a physical level and determining technologies and solutions that support them.
As you examine your facility’s overall infrastructure, there are probably plenty of opportunities to refine workflow by consolidating and centralizing. Each time you package a resource, folding it into another, you save money. In the last few years, combining technologies and systems has become so much easier through modularization and virtualization. One important consideration is determining if can you use the same thing in different ways. How can you multipurpose an item or an element of your workflow?
For example, with Studer, we took Infinity Core—the DSP engine for a line of our audio consoles that is about six rack units deep—and reduced it onto a single PCIe card that can go inside a third-party server in a broadcast facility. This allows the user to lower costs, save rack space, avoid the maintenance of a mechanical engine and reduce installation and training time. When space and weight are at a premium, like on a broadcast truck, freeing up space is often the number-one consideration. Getting back six rack spaces and repurposing an existing server are great ways to consolidate.
Ultimately, IP-based products, solutions and workflows present more and more opportunities for content providers to be dynamic. As you move away from needing to be point-to-point, you can be much more agile, unrestricted and efficient. Look for products and systems that centralize, consolidate and virtualize your workflow while maximizing ROI. You’ll discover that so much is achievable now that was previously inconceivable.