While the move from SDI to IP continues to pick up speed, more development — and better cooperation among key stakeholders — is still needed to improve advertising technology and deliver better measurement in order to complete with digital competitors like Google and Facebook.
Major broadcasters and programmers are well on their way to transitioning to Internet Protocol (IP)-based technology for their everyday operations, and several are already taking advantage of cloud services to receive and distribute programming. But more development — and better cooperation among key stakeholders — is still needed to improve advertising technology and deliver better measurement in order to complete with digital competitors like Google and Facebook.
Those were the big takeaways Wednesday at TVNewsCheck’s TV2020 conference, where top engineers gathered for the panel discussion “Technology Shaping Business Models” and described where they are focusing their investment dollars.
“We’re all in, and to be honest, I don’t think there’s any other way to be today,” said Discovery CTO John Honeycutt of his company’s move to IP.
As Honeycutt explained, Discovery has “taken the bold step” of moving all content aggregation and linear distribution for its non-sports channels on a worldwide basis to the public cloud, using Amazon Web Services. So far, 300 linear TV channels have been moved, representing its U.S. and European footprints for network such as Discovery, TLC and Animal Planet, and the company is currently in the process of moving the recently acquired Scripps cable networks to the cloud.
“We’ll complete the Scripps integration in the spring, and then move to our Asia and Latin America portfolios in 2019, and essentially our entire footprint will be there,” Honeycutt said.
Using the cloud for Eurosport, the European sports giant that Discovery acquired in 2015, is a “different conversation,” said Honeycut, since latency is still an issue for live sports programming.
“That said, the utilization of IP for remote production, for aggregation of signals, is fully available, fully capable and in progress,” he said. “We’re big believers. It serves not only the linear business but also our OTT business and our direct-to-consumer platforms. It’s really the foundation of the future, and frankly, the transition to me is inevitable.”
Another early adopter of cloud technology is Disney-ABC Television Group, which moved all of its cable networks to a private cloud architecture several years ago using technology from Imagine Communications. Disney-ABC has also connected its stations to the cloud, through an LTN Global Communications IP network, to help them serve content to the bevy of digital MPVDs that have popped up in the last three years.
“The way I look at IP is it’s allowed us to do things that we would have had to say no to a year and a half, two and a half years ago,” said Brad Wall, SVP of broadcast operations for the Disney/ABC Television Group. “We can now say as an industry, and as technology and operations executives, ‘Yes’ to new programming decisions, to new things that come our way.
“Where it would have cost us millions of dollars, it would have cost us a year or a year-and-a-half of engineering and development, we can now spin those up and spin them down very quickly. IP, at a minimum as a distribution mechanism, has allowed us to do that.”
Sinclair Broadcast Group has been distributing its digital subchannels for years via LTN’ s IP terrestrial network. Last year Sinclair went to the cloud, using Imagine software and LTN connectivity in conjunction with the Microsoft Azure cloud, to launch a three-hour block of children’s programming across its stations. After proposing the service in March 2017, it launched “KidsClick” in July 2017.
There were some early technical problems, said Sinclair SVP-CTO Del Parks, such as getting audio normalization software to work properly on a service that spun up from a different server each day. But those were smoothed out by September 2017 and the service has run reliably since then.