Four challenges driving Tier 1 media companies from satellite video distribution to IP technology

May 23, 2024 by Roger Franklin, Chief Strategy Officer

Today, major media companies are delivering an unprecedented volume of high value video content to multi-platform, global audiences. Faced with growing pressures to do more with less while consistently expanding and diversifying their offering of live events and full-time channels, business and technology leaders are realizing that legacy satellite video distribution methodologies and siloed workflows just don’t cut it anymore.

Complex, costly and inflexible satellite workflows are becoming unfeasible for modern media companies that want to grow while freeing themselves from heavy operational burdens and engineering requirements. Meanwhile, the need for rapid experimentation, iteration, and business model innovation means content providers require agile distribution technologies that accelerate time-to-market for new digital channels or live event feeds. Wider industry shifts and evolving consumer habits are driving the media industry away from its age-old, satellite-centric foundation toward a digital-native, IP technology future.

With media companies around the world experiencing another phase of necessary evolution in the media industry, let’s spotlight four key challenges influencing their next key business decisions:

1. Complex satellite workflows drive business headaches

Satellite video distribution involves the integration and management of inherently complex workflows. Existing limitations on bandwidth availability are being exacerbated by the growing C-Band shift to make way for high-speed 5G networks, squeezing capacity for broadcasters using satellite to receive and distribute live video. Pressures on encoding, multiplexing, radio frequency (RF), and conditional access systems are rising as content providers try to transport a greater volume of high quality signals via decreasing bandwidth availability — becoming even more challenging as players look to transport more higher-resolution 4K UHD video. The range of fragmented systems associated with satellite video distribution are costly and complex to maintain, involving multiple points of failure and specialized engineering requirements.

Alongside hardware and infrastructure complexities, a number of potential interference challenges ranging from atmospheric issues to intentional interference mean broadcasters often spend far too long troubleshooting, planning for the unexpected, or periodically upgrading and replacing legacy workflows in line with traditional tech investment cycles. These challenges increase complexity for content providers and mean they have to allocate time, resources, and energy into managing and maintaining inflexible, outdated systems — instead of focusing on core business differentiators like content and audience growth.

2. High costs limit growth and multi-platform creativity

The mission-critical push for profitability has skyrocketed to the top of the agenda for many media businesses around the globe. Folks are laser-focused on attaining maximum ROI from costly content investments while lowering their total cost of ownership (TCO) and streamlining operational expenditure. The eye-watering costs of procuring, managing, staffing and maintaining disparate satellite technology systems are unsustainable for media companies that want to grow and achieve success in a multi-platform, digital world.

Alongside the financial implications and operational complexities of pursuing a satellite video distribution model, high power usage for RF amplification, facility maintenance and cooling requirements at ground stations can cause energy costs to spiral. At the same time, deeply technical facilities with this level of continuous power usage and intricate engineering requirements can present safety risks due to overheating or hardware malfunctions. Ultimately, growing costs and constant maintenance concerns are causing many media players to question whether satellite video distribution makes business sense anymore. We speak to Tier 1 companies every day that have firmly reached the conclusion: pivoting to an IP technology roadmap to reduce operational costs, while driving greater scale and flexibility, is absolutely necessary.

3. Satellite fails to deliver the channel customization, scale, or flexibility required

The fixed facilities, real estate and infrastructure investments required to operate a satellite distribution model lock businesses into long contracts that hinder growth — and limit reach. Today, media companies need the flexibility to launch new services and business models on the fly, spinning up and experimenting with new digital channels and live event feeds without heavy costs or long go-to-market times. That could mean launching a new digital linear channel for FAST platforms tomorrow and replacing it with multiple different iterations next month, experimenting with a range of tailored content offerings that resonate best with swiftly changing audience preferences.

Keeping up with a complex and rapidly growing digital distribution landscape requires an IP technology backbone. New platforms emerge and evolve continuously and the flexibility to bring tailored, custom feeds to all destinations — including FAST platforms, MVPDs, vMVPDS, and broadcast stations — is critical. Satellite distribution is too rigid, inflexible and inefficient to support this level of multi-platform reach, let alone support the advanced advertising and customization capabilities that viewers expect and that media businesses need. Content providers need to be able to tailor live feeds with custom ad profiles, graphics or local language audio to generate all-important ROI on high value content while delivering nuanced viewer experiences. It’s table stakes for major players today — and it’s best achieved through a managed, multicast-enabled IP video distribution roadmap.

4. Industry shifts drive an IP video distribution future

Satellite technology has delivered some of the most significant impacts for our world over the past seventy years, powering the rapid evolution of media and telecommunications industries. But as the dawn of 5G, digital services and high-speed connectivity open a wide array of new innovation opportunities for telecom businesses, spectrum availability for broadcasting is in decline — much like the shallow available talent pool of RF engineers and satellite video distribution specialists required to deliver highly complex satellite broadcast workflows.

I’ve worked with some of the most talented and dedicated professionals who represented the beating heart of live television distribution for as long as I can remember, many of whom are beginning to step away from professional life and live video. Today, the highly specialized art of satellite video engineering is becoming a niche skill set. The widespread adoption of IP-first technologies and the new cohort of digital-native production, and media professionals means that from a talent perspective, it no longer makes sense to carve a long-term future for satellite. With skills shortages across all media technology sectors, businesses need to invest in a realistic future with a sustainable talent pathway for young professionals that are born and raised in the digital world.

Moving into the future with IP video distribution

The plethora of business and technology challenges that come with satellite video distribution lead Tier 1 media businesses to a more flexible, cost-efficient, and reliable alternative every day. It’s what drives a large part of our most important conversations across trade show exhibition halls and customer meetings. We know it matters. Fortunately, fully managed, multicast-enabled IP video distribution is mature and proven in the highest value scenarios — and kickstarting a transition is much easier and faster than you might think.

Fully managed IP technology can propel your media business into the future, today. Learn more about a proven alternative to satellite video distribution here.