Internet giants dominate IBC with virtual presence

IBC2018 might not go down as a classic in terms of ground-breaking point product release but it marked a definitive shift away from legacy broadcasting and engineering to new models based on software as a service.

IBC2018 in Amsterdam
IBC2018 in Amsterdam

A year ago, investment in virtualized systems and IP chains was held up pending the settlement of standards and cloud technology maturation. Now practical implementation of heavy lifting infrastructure such as playout from datacentres is being treated with greater confidence.

Vendors have had to adapt by emphasising their ability to manage software defined systems migration as a service, allowing broadcasters to concentrate on their core content generation and audience marketing activities.

Digital players dominated the IBC Conference, where representatives from YouTube, Netflix, Eurosport and Viacom Digital Studios emphasized the symbiotic relationship between old and new media. YouTube and Netflix for example spy growth in partnership with payTV platforms and the main TV set; VDS and BBC Worldwide are among those emphasizing shortform premium produced content for social media distribution.

Across the show, Google, Amazon and Microsoft were everywhere, the new back end into which content production and distribution systems are being plugged. Much of this will be automated as machine learning and AI-derived tools prove their value in delivering more content for less cost.

There are words of warning though, given the sheer scale of these organizations. Broadcaster Channel 4, for example, was concerned that if voice assistants becomes the new TV interface then it risks losing control over the way its content is presented. All content owners want more data about audience interaction with their content too and are urging greater sharing by digital gatekeepers like Amazon and Google.

There remain significant challenges with OTT too, not least the latency of live streaming although the BBC’s renowned R&D team claimed to have cracked this in an IBC paper. UHD HDR adds further complexity and will be one reason why satellite remains a core component of distribution for many broadcasters beyond 2030.

8K UHD viewed as a distraction by some with the serious business of 4K HDR to cement. NHK may be beginning Japanese domestic transmissions of Super HiVision in less than three months and is starting to look out of place in IBC’s ‘Future’ zone but no-one seriously expects it to be exported any time soon.

A key application for 8K could be 360-degree video streamed over 5G for which a more efficient video compression is a key enabler. To tackle this, development has begun on a major new family of video compression standards from MPEG and VCEG (Visual Coding Experts Group). The Joint Video Experts Team (JVET), a collaborative team formed by ISO/IEC MPEG and ITU-T Study Group 16's VCEG are working on Versatile Video Coding (VVC), with the target to complete by 2020. It is promised, like MPEG 2, MPEG4 before it, to be 50% more efficient than its predecessor - HEVC.

The picture is decidedly fuzzy. HEVC has almost achieved critical mass of support but concerns about its total licensing cost continue to make it difficult for potential adopters, particularly video streamers, to determine an accurate business model. When the VVC standard is completed in 2020 it will face a market that that is more complex, confused and cautious than that experienced by the three previous generations of standards: MPEG-2, H.264/AVC and HEVC.

The situation with codecs appears to be symptomatic of a general reduction in commitment to international standards, which will probably accelerate as more and more aspects of the system become software-based. This will tend to allow more rapid and frequent enhancements, but it is also likely to increase the risk of compatibility problems.

Posted by Adrian Pennington, technology journalist. October 3, 2018.

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