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By Tony Jones, Principal Technologist, MediaKind

If there was one primary lesson that the media industry can take from 2020, it’s the need for flexibility and scalability. Demand for content escalated at an astronomical rate last year and the trend continues into 2021, shining a spotlight on broadcasters and programmers’ need to evolve their workflows in response. To date, legacy infrastructures such as satellites have offered reliable and robust frameworks for delivering and distributing such content. However, with satellite capacity increasingly under pressure and the need for agility becoming ever more obvious, we must ask ourselves whether more efficient and future-ready options and strategies exist?

The case is building for broadcasters and programmers to eliminate, or at least minimize the use of satellite and adopt alternative video distribution solutions, that can offer vastly improved flexibility at a compelling price point. A combination of innovations in more advanced compression efficiencies and the transition to cloud and IP-based technologies lead the way here, providing a clear pathway towards more agile and efficient distribution networks.

Paving the way for broadcasters and programmers

The ready availability of dynamic cloud-based solutions in the market enables broadcasters and programmers to break away from legacy hardware and realise the significant cost efficiencies and rapidly advancing functionalities that these more modern software architectures deliver. Remote production and hybrid cloud environments, for example, minimize the need for dedicated equipment and production crews at event venues, reducing the costs associated with live production and opening up access to new remote production capacity, taking advantage of increasingly extensive networks to provide the wide area network media connectivity.

Several actions can be taken by broadcasters and programmers looking to refresh their workflows and increase the resilience of their infrastructures. Moving to IP-network based distribution (for example, using cloud-providers’ networks), or indeed a combination of IP distribution and satellite, poses one credible alternative that has already been tried and tested with major regional networks. This can provide multiple benefits, well beyond just being a replacement for satellite.

MediaKind demonstrated the value of such migrations last year, working alongside The Switch to support the 4K UHD HDR delivery of NESN’s live sports content as it transitioned from satellite to IP. The project combined the latest video processing and content protection technology from MediaKind with The Switch’s high-performance hybrid fiber network, delivering cost savings and increased flexibility for NESN.

MediaKind also collaborated with AWS Media Services to enable FOX Corporation to migrate its existing distribution network to a next-generation, satellite-based network, future-proofed for cloud-based IP distribution.

Using IP as the primary path for highly valuable and demanding live feeds, such as live sports, is tried and tested – and maintains the quality that is expected with traditional broadcast architectures. It is still very possible that satellite might remain as a backup or to enable the feeds to reach particularly inaccessible locations. However, broadcasters can eliminate – or at least significantly reduce – the use of satellite as a video distribution strategy.

Mitigating Spectrum Re-Allocation

The shift to the cloud and IP is also being catalyzed by C-band spectrum reclamation. While both consumers and businesses eagerly anticipate the new capabilities brought by the accelerating rollout of 5G, it is dependent on the availability of the C-band spectrum, which offers a desirable balance of reach and bandwidth. Progressively, more C-band spectrum is being allocated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for mobile use, and the success of government auctions around the world shows the intensity of demand.

As my colleague Raul Aldrey outlined in an earlier MediaKind blog, there is a pressing need for current broadcast users of C-band spectrum to migrate away from this spectrum and seek alternative distribution methods. These users are mainly broadcasters and programmers. Broadcasters use C-band network distribution to provide national feeds to local or regional stations, while programmers generally use it to provide feeds to cable or telco headends.

While satellite has been the most popular approach to video program distribution to date, several options are available to make the transition away from C-band and towards more reliable and future-proofed systems. Moving to IP-network based distribution, or indeed a combination of IP distribution and satellite, poses one credible alternative, but by leveraging modern encoding standards such as HEVC and, in the future, VVC, broadcasters can enable significant spectrum efficiencies by reducing the bitrate needed for the same video service quality where satellite remains in use.

Finding the best solution

There are several approaches broadcasters and programmers can take to modernize these systems. However, the needs of an effective and robust solution require understanding the existing architectures used for these systems.

Evolving a video distribution system is a large-scale exercise, and it involves complex, careful and multi-faceted considerations of both the end-state and transitional needs: maintaining a fully functional system through all of the migration steps is business-critical. Media formats and workflows will continue to evolve, and broadcasters and programmers must find solutions that, once deployed, will enable them to navigate each step of the journey with confidence. Having an experienced video distribution partner who understands the exacting needs of video distribution as well as world-class video, cloud, and IP expertise to help with this process is paramount.

In MediaKind’s latest application paper, we examine the architectures currently being used for video program distribution by programmers and broadcasters and evaluate the various solutions available for their transformation and modernization. The prospects for broadcasters and programmers are immense, and the opportunity to evolve and grow technology infrastructures to more flexible and operationally efficient ones is ripe.

Read the application paper below, and reach out if you’re interested in learning more.

Click here!