NAB: Tech Leaders Say IP Transition Is 'A Big Deal'

Related: NAB Show 2015 Complete Coverage

A number of top technologists highlighted the potential of IP technologies to revolutionize the TV industry during the “Television’s Transition to an All-IP Future—Why It’s a Big Deal” Super Session on Tuesday.

Moderator Debra McAdams, the executive editor of TV Technology, set the stage by noting that for the first time in nearly two decades of covering the industry “tech issues were the biggest story of the convention” and that “the transition to IP is turning into one of the fastest moving tech stories in the industry.”

The panel of top technologists from Disney/ABC, Fox, Imagine Communications and TVU Networks agreed. “The business is evolving more rapidly than we’ve ever seen it but there is not enough flexibility with traditional infrastructures to address the rapidly changing business or to scale up new services at will,” said Clyde Smith, consultant, Fox Network Engineering and Operations when asked why the IP transition is such a big deal. “IP means you can scale and that all these process can be automated. It is a win all the way around, with the best part is that you can future proof your operations” for 4K or other newer technologies.

Those advantages convinced Disney/ABC Television Group to announce at the market that it be embracing these new IP technologies in a major deal with Imagine Communications to deploy a cloud-based master control for ABC, a first.

Vince Roberts, executive VP, global operations and CTO at the Disney/ABC Television Group explained that they had already adopted cloud based technologies to handle the delivery of content to digital platforms like the Watch ABC app. “The only ways to automate those process and the only way to scale and be device agnostic was cloud-based,” said Roberts.

Roberts expects that the adoption of cloud-based, IP technologies relying on software defined networks will produce even greater benefits for their linear networks like ABC by allowing them to rapidly launch new services without having to build large, extremely expensive broadcast facilities.

“When you see one of the most iconic brands in the world that is moving to a virtualized cloud so they can take advantages of much great opportunities in the future, you see why this is such a big thing,” said Charlie Vogt, CEO of Imagine Communications, who has been a vocal proponent of these technologies in the last two years.

Vogt and Roberts both stressed however that the transition will take time. “It’s not like a light switch,” Roberts said, who noted that will continue to use a lot of legacy equipment and that developing new workflows for cloud-based infrastructures “is very hard work.”

“In two years the theme at NAB will be bridge world” between IP and the traditional baseband video, said Al Kovalick, founder, Media Systems Consulting.

A number of members in the audience, as well as panelists, raised questions about how smooth that transition might be. Issues of security, standards, the readiness of current IP technologies, training, redefining workflows and what areas might be the slowest to make the transition were all discussed. 

Roberts particularly stressed the need to change workflows and cultures as particularly difficult challenges. “You can’t just take existing workflows and put them in the cloud,” if you want to get the full benefits, he said.

Some of these challenges, like finding ways to attach more metadata to content, can also have a big payoff, explained Paul Shen, CEO, TVU Networks.

“We have to burn the ship,” he said. “We have to move forward” to survive.