IP-Centric Systems Unite Broadcasters With New Media

By Carolyn Braff

At SVG’s second-annual Sports Transmission Forum, held May 19 at the HBO Theater in New York City, one of the major themes of the day was the importance of uniting broadcasters and new media. During the afternoon’s first panel, it became clear that IP-centric and telepresence services are doing just that: making content more accessible to both broadcast and online partners and thereby turning an “us vs. them” mindset into a cohesive “we.”

“We now do things more as one unit as opposed to the broadcasters’ saying, ‘And by the way, do you want to take our feeds?’” explained Glenn Adamo, VP of media operations and broadcasting for the NFL. “As we go forward as a media company — and you can’t even say as a broadcaster anymore — everything is shared.”

Companies like Omneon, Aspera, and Glowpoint, which were all represented on the panel along with Origin Digital and MLB.com, have transformed transmission services with IP-centric and telepresence systems that make it easier than ever for networks to conduct on-the-spot interviews and make players available to the public and media partners. Adamo discussed moving the NFL’s system from “a little less than a T1,” where the video quality was not very good, to a bonded T1 network powered by Glowpoint. Using that network, the NFL can not only get video content regularly but can share it across the NFL Network and NFL.com.

“Standards create the opportunity for these production tools,” explained Dan Boland, VP of broadcast and digital media for Glowpoint. “The Internet has a very specific set of rules in how it’s going to transport data, so some standards evolved along the way. Not until you got to a standard where the video compression could run at a very low bitrate could it be viable as a medium, and H.264 has been a boon to that market.”

The panel took several stabs at distinguishing between IP and the public Internet, which MLB.com SVP of Multimedia and Distribution Joe Inzerillo said is essential for broadcast engineers on the new-media side to understand.

“There are so many misconceptions, and the biggest misconception is, if you say IP, you think Internet,” he said. “Our broadcast engineers are not the same as everybody else’s broadcast engineers. Network IT folks are very good, but video IP requires a totally different skill set. We need to end up with broadcast folks who understand packetized traffic at the same time they understand stream-based as well.”

Despite the difference between transmitting to television and transmitting to the Internet, Inzerillo emphasized that the difference between MLB.com’s IP broadcast backhauling and traditional broadcast is increasingly fractional.

“We both bring back television-quality feeds, and we’ve wired our facilities together so we can share those feeds for redundancy,” he said. “We come centered on the IP technology, and they come centered on the broadcast side. In another five years, it’s going to be pretty much indistinguishable.”

Origin Digital CEO Darcy Lorincz explained, “IP is everywhere. It’s not great everywhere, but at least you can get an experience out to people. With adaptive streaming, now we can make an experience of 500k or lower that you would never have believed a year ago. IP makes everything available.”

Under-the-radar Olympic sports will be available from Vancouver next winter, thanks to IP. For the 2010 Olympic Games, NBC will use a single LC12 data pipe, which Omneon VP of Broadcast Solutions Matt Adams recognizes is a risk but an exciting one.

“I’m excited to see that, for Vancouver, the content creation is going to be a single process,” he said. “They will capture the source material, store it on a very large Omneon media grid, and enter job orders to distinguish if it’s on primetime, going out to cable VOD, or Web streaming. There is a consolidation happening in this business because there are so many similarities.”

Inerzillo pointed out, “We’re getting into a point of convergence, but the convergence is a lot faster than anybody thinks. People are putting our MLB.com product live on their TVs — and it’s an HD feed.”

IP distribution allows quality to go up while bandwidth goes down, but sports fans are increasingly looking for interactive features to complement their video. Fortunately, both of those features, as Lorincz pointed out, can be delivered over IP.

As fans’ appetite for content continues to grow, the size of the data shrinks, and the quality of video explodes, all of the panelists expect a proliferation of sports content, so the question is, what size pipe is the best to help move the business forward.

“You sell bits and bytes, New Jersey Turnpike-size lines when we really just need a pencil,” Adamo said. “How is that going to affect the business model going forward? Can we squeeze everything into a flexible-bandwidth T1 or T3, so that, when we go full-time HD, we can set our bandwidth to what we need?”

Said Boland, “The files and pipes are only going to get smaller. The quality is going to be spectacular, and content will reign.”

So how best to map out a long-term strategy, knowing that what is in use now will soon be obsolete?

“A lot of it is coming to grips with the fact that everything is going to change,” Inzerillo said. “As soon as you’ve given up all hope that it’s going to be predictable, it’s actually very freeing. We’re chasing the consumer curve, so that’s the pace that we’re forced into.

“Don’t bet the farm on any one technology,” he continued. “Do the cheapest thing that you possibly can, because it’s going to be replaced in a year or two.”

The Sports Transmission Forum was sponsored by title sponsor Intelsat, gold sponsors Harris and SES Americom, and silver sponsors Linear Acoustic and Origin Digital.

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