SVG TranSPORT: Industry Sees Strong Move to Fiber; Public Internet Gains Favor

A recent survey conducted with the major sports broadcasters in the U.S. reflected a generally accepted trend in the rise in fiber transmission across live sports production.

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From left: Level 3’s Derek Anderson, Aldea’s Lionel Bentolila, Fox Networks Group’s Keith Goldberg, Encompass Digital Media’s Greg Jennings, and ESPN’s Emory Strilkauskas

With more than 16,000 live events accounted for, broadcasters determined that 70% of all primary backhaul feeds were handled via fiber in 2015. With more than 17,000 events expected in 2016, those numbers are expected to rise to as high as 76% next year. That 6% rise is accounted for by a 6% drop (to 24%) in primary feeds handled by satellite.

A panel of experts at SVG’s TranSPORT event last week expressed happy surprise at those numbers, echoing the benefits of using fiber infrastructures when available.

“I think [those numbers] validate the technology,” said Emory Strilkauskas, ‎principal engineer, transport technologies and special projects, ESPN, who serves as chairman of SVG’s TranSPORT committee. “Fiber, if designed properly, is reliable.”

Keith Goldberg, VP, global operations and transmission services, Fox Networks Group, agreed: “Typically, we first seek out a fiber solution to go with the stability and the confidence that we enjoy. What is driving the [satellite] numbers now are venues or locations where fiber isn’t necessarily available.”

For some, the benefit of fiber is about more than simply its reliability; it’s about the flexibility to do more with the pipe.

“We’re seeing more content having to come out of the venue, and it’s too much content to put up to satellite,” says Greg Jennings, VP, transportables and production services, Encompass Digital Media. “So we’re still aggregating all of this, but there’s not enough bandwidth. Than we get into high-modulation issues. So it’s pushing us back to fiber more and more.”

Derek Anderson, senior product director, Level 3 Communications, elaborated: “From a production standpoint, it’s a lot more than just video transmission now. File-based workflows are becoming more key, and some of those workflows where you are standing up literally multiple 10-gigabit connections, it’s simply not possible from satellite. So, where available, fiber is obviously the trend at the moment.”

The survey also revealed that broadcasters are becoming ever so slightly more accepting of using the public Internet for transmission. This year, 4% of events were transmitted via the Internet, and survey respondents expect that number to rise to 7% next year.

“We are using it more,” said Strilkauskas. “We’re also starting to use it in more backup scenarios, and, looking at some of the products that are available today, I think it goes beyond that. It may make its way to C and even B events at some point. The technology is very interesting.”

Many on the panel agreed that the public Internet still has a way to go before it can be trusted as a primary feed.

“Not quite the primary feed yet,” said Goldberg. “I’m not ready to share my video with a Starbucks user. However, for confidence, for monitoring, for non-critical applications, the public Internet is a useful tool. I think it will continue to expand. Backup scenario is not quite there yet, but I know that there’s conversations around how we could possibly integrate it.”

Aldea CEO Lionel Bentolila isn’t convinced, though, that the public Internet will be cutting into the satellite business anytime soon.

“The interesting thing to [ask],” he said, “is [the rise in transmission via the public Internet] a result of people moving away from satellite to fiber and the Internet because it’s cheaper? Or is it that, with the Internet, you can do more events?”

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