The post-pandemic media workflows could change forever

June 8, 2020 by Rick Young, SVP, Head of Global Products

Haruki Murakami wrote that “when you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.” When observing how the media industry has responded to COVID-19, one thing becomes clear. A number of major video productions have managed to continue successfully despite having their workflows hampered by COVID-19, while others have had to come to a grinding halt. One of the reasons some managed to endure is because their production teams have been able to adapt to working in the new normal by arming themselves with an arsenal of smart IP technologies.

There are a number of factors at play as to why this is happening and these factors extend beyond the physical restrictions we’re seeing companies having to deal with right now. Major satellite distribution industry macro trends happening all at once are creating the perfect storm for content owners. The push for 5G is opening up opportunities in production, but at the same time causing severe C-Band capacity shortages in some markets. Additionally, one of the largest satellite provider's bankruptcy serves as a second massive blow that must be absorbed.

An obvious question for operators is whether they are seeing examples of band aid solutions that will become irrelevant post-lockdown? Or, are these are indeed examples of an evolution towards more optimized workflows that only IP can provide? The answer is complicated, yet it leans towards the latter.

Limited spectrum and ATSC 3.0 are leading to an ecosystem makeover

In the US, right now there is a major push towards IP-enabled workflows. One of the biggest drivers of this is the FCC’s decision to auction off satellite distribution of the C-band wireless spectrum to help expand the reach of 5G.

As a result, television broadcasters and cable networks are facing the enormous challenge of reducing the risk associated with maintaining a portfolio of channels heavily reliant on the C-band satellite.

An elegant way for media operators to send their content to thousands of cable headends and broadcast transmitters is by developing IP multicast networks. These IP based video distribution systems take the traditional benefits of the satellite, such as quality, reliability, and reach, and amplify these to reach higher performance levels.

Broadcast over IP is a cost-effective distribution model that gives broadcasters and cable networks a new level of flexibility in reaching a wide array of distribution partners and affiliates while offering end-to-end control, manageability, and visibility.

By enabling broadcast over IP, programmers are no longer limited by the bandwidth allocated by satellite. It allows all receivers to only receive the services they are choosing to decode. So adding one more service to the list of distributed services becomes extremely cost-effective compared to satellite distribution.

With ATSC 3.0 being rolled out, the move to IP distribution also opens the door to new monetization opportunities through greater regionalization of content and with greater customization and targeting capabilities. This means that producing regional or local variation of services starts making financial sense giving that regionalized advertising and more specifically targeted markets command higher ROI with advertisers.

Capturing the rise of user-generated content

If at an operational level, we can playout highly regionalized content, that begs the question of how content owners can create market-specific programming more cost-effectively in the first place? A big part of the answer lies in the rise of user-generated content (UGC).

Self video recording

This year it was no longer possible for the NFL to have its hyper-engaged fans physically present at the show. So the NFL did this year’s Draft virtually, bringing in nearly 500 fan feeds, by combining smart cloud technology for footage acquisition with advanced remote productions.

While the NFL needed to capture UGC during the lockdown, we believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg in the use of UGC in video production. We anticipate that heavy remote fan and viewer involvement will become more prominent throughout future productions and will ultimately drive more broadcasters towards IP setups.

Part of that evolutionary process includes the rise of 5G. We are entering the most transformative phase in telecom history and its impact on the broadcasting industry is yet to be realized. Ericsson predicts that by the end of 2025, 5G will cover up to 65 percent of the global population and handle 45 percent of global mobile data traffic.

Meanwhile, 2022 live video is expected to make up 17% of all video traffic on the internet, according to research from Cisco. When 5G compatible phones are coupled with cloud-based infrastructures that enable media operators to acquire content from unlimited concurrent feeds, news, sports, esports, and entertainment broadcasters will truly harness the power of user-generated content.

Reliable video over IP leads to more agile production

The pandemic has shown that one of the disadvantages of satellites is not being able to set up live remote productions more quickly. And fiber circuits are too inflexible. Smart IP technology is changing this forever by enabling live production, with decentralized, agile teams.

For the first time ever, Fremantle North America produced American Idol with a remote setup. American Idol Productions sent the top 20 Idol contestants home production packages that used iPhones to shoot the performances, packages, and interviews and then transported that video to a remote production facility over the internet. Yet, while this was a creative solution to work around the imposed COVID restrictions, it does paint a blueprint for the future of production.

Currently, many media workflows are dominated by hardware-based solutions that are expensive, inflexible, and closed systems. Configuring the hardware for live production is often a time consuming and labor-intensive process.

While it can be problematic to transmit video over the public Internet, broadcasters can achieve this with intelligent network architectures. These systems combine fully managed IP network transport services and critical technology to work around inevitable and frequent internet choke points. The systems make it possible for live video to be transmitted over an IP network to any location in the world with the same reliability and broadcast-quality of satellite service.

If one thing is for certain, it is that the post-pandemic media world will not look the same. There are a number of benefits of video over IP, especially when it comes to acquiring, producing, and transporting content. COVID-19 is not driving this change - it may have accelerated the transition but there are other factors that are influencing the shift to IP.