SVG Sit-Down: TAG V.S.’s Abe Zerbib on the Power of IP, Software-Only Systems for Sports Broadcasters

The company focuses on multiviewing/monitoring with off-the-shelf hardware

Since launching more than a decade ago, TAG Video Systems (TAG V.S.) has helped dramatically change the way media companies think about multivewing and monitoring operations. With a focus on IP, software-only solutions that work with off-the-shelf hardware, TAG V.S. developed a comprehensive “IP software-only monitoring multiviewer” platform, the company’s flagship MCM-9000, to serve both multiviewing and monitoring/alarm needs. 

At NAB 2019, TAG V.S. (Booth SU6521) will demonstrate the MCM-9000 multiviewer and monitoring platform with new live functionality that increases resolution with support for advanced formats. Other developments include availability of HD and UHD outputs as SMPTE 2022-6/2110 uncompressed, as well as MPEG-TS and HLS for mobile applications; the addition of rich, colorful Tally/UMD with TSL and/or TAG protocols; and MPEG-DASH monitoring in addition to HLS. The company will also provide the U.S. debut of its TAG IP Monitoring and Multiviewer Builder for easily customizable configurations; highlight the TAG Decryptor for real-time decryption; and show the MCL-9200 all-IP software-based solution for a wide array of production and postproduction applications.

TAG V.S.’s Abe Zerbib: “If I had one message to tell media organizations right now, it is to embrace IP, software-only, and the cloud and leave your fears behind.”

SVG sat down with TAG V.S. CEO Abe Zerbib to discuss how the company has evolved since it was founded by Tomer Schechter and Gal Waldman in Tel Aviv, how he sees the move to IP and software-only solutions revolutionizing the industry, the potential impact of the SMPTE ST-2110 suite of standards for media over IP networks, the accelerating rate of migration from SDI to IP, how the explosion of OTT streaming services will impact the multiviewer/monitoring market, and more.

Briefly, can you provide a bit of background on TAG and its product portfolio?
TAG was founded because one specific customer wanted to address an industry-wide problem, and there was no answer. The customer was building a large NOC [network-operations center] with thousands of channels. When they looked at the monitoring function and multiviewing capabilities, they thought it was strange that multiviewer vendors were not really providing real-time deep analytics and alerts and, from the other side, the vendors providing real-time deep analytics and alerts were not capable of seeing the video. So they approached the founders of TAG, Gal and Tomer, and asked them to build a fully IP, software-only product running on off-the-shelf hardware and capable of combining real-time deep analytics and alerts and multiformat-video multiviewing simultaneously.

This is what makes TAG so different from all the others. Our flagship MCM-9000 platform resulted from a direct customer request, and TAG was able to solve the issue in a very revolutionary way that has impacted the way media is viewed. Our MCM-9000 isn’t just another multiviewer or just another monitoring system; it’s a solution that TAG brought to the market with a vision for serving the customer in the best, most efficient way.

How is the shift to IP, software-only, and COTS hardware dramatically changing the multiviewer/monitoring market? And why do you believe TAG is in an ideal position to serve these evolving needs?
Over 10 years ago, TAG’s founders set out to design and build a product that they insisted had to be fully IP. That decision was not at all for marketing purposes; it was truly a philosophical decision. We paid a very high price in those early days because many customers were focused solely on SDI, but we believed, we knew, that was going to change in the future. We didn’t bow to any pressure from the market, and, as a result, we gained the experience necessary to solve problems that arose in the area of IP.

In our customer ecosystem, 80% of our customers may have bought our solution to solve a specific problem, but what they received at the same time is the benefit of our extensive knowledge and experience regarding IP and the network world. And that is priceless. It’s kind of a free consultancy service because they need to know, and we need to explain to them, where the world is going in terms of IP so they can leverage the benefits of the TAG system.

What kind of opportunities and flexibility do IP and software-only workflows offer broadcasters and content producers that SDI/hardware do not?
First of all, let’s talk about software-only and off-the-shelf hardware. The fact that it’s on a network infrastructure changes all the rules of the game. The most important point is that a media group gains unlimited mobility and accessibility to handle its current workflow.

Traditionally, in the world of media, you’re dealing with individual environments. The NOC, the studio, and the postproduction areas are all very separate. Today, the technology we provide can take this very localized mindset and provide mobility and accessibility from anywhere. With IP and software-only technology, constraints are lifted. It is no longer true that media can be shown only in the NOC or only in the studio or only in postproduction. This is a huge advantage.

A good example is a project we did with Fox Networks at their Woodlands, TX, facility, where TAG is orchestrating thousands of channels. It’s a robust multiviewer with both monitoring and multiviewer functionalities. We also solved a huge problem for them, however, by allowing Fox’s L.A. operation to see the multiviewers with just a standard network connection. It’s just another connection in the network switch.

How do you see development of the SMPTE ST-2110 suite of standards impacting the market today and in the years to come?
The industry is going full speed ahead toward the SMPTE ST 2110 suite of standards, which allows significant flexibility and numerous advantages. However, it’s taking a long time for the vendors to provide all the components that [are] the building blocks of the 2110 ecosystem. The integration of all this is not easy and will take time, especially when systems are trying to adapt 2110 into an existing workflow.

Generally speaking, I think it’s easier for brand-new systems — like CBC and Fox — to adopt 2110 with UHD output. However, for those with legacy systems that they cannot change, it will be more difficult, and those organizations will need to build and work in islands while transitioning to IP.

Speaking of IP islands, for many facilities beginning to shift from baseband to IP, the monitoring/multiviewer piece has often been the first step in this IP migration. Do you agree with this philosophy?
Today, if you are a media group, you do not have the luxury of saying, “I’m staying with my equipment.” We understand that most media organizations lack the budget or logistical ability to go full IP right now. They must, however, start creating those IP islands now. Otherwise, they will have big problems in the very near future because everything is connecting together. Technologies need to speak to each other and work together. If you are staying SDI, you are putting painting yourself into a corner.

How fast is the transition from hardware and SDI to software and IP? Is it still mostly hardware and SDI? Is the rate of adoption speeding up?
I think it will take a few years to fully transition, especially from the budgetary side and in terms of the maturity of the IP-equipment ecosystem. If I’m a senior technical person at a big media group that understands the benefits of going full IP, I’m going to have to present my case to the business people, and they are going to say, “Are you crazy?”

Of course, you can buy SDI equipment that exists on the market today, and it will serve its purpose in the near term. However, in the long term, when this media group would like to have mobility and flexibility and distinguish themselves from their competitors, they will have problems.

So it’s important to understand that, from the media-group side, we are not only talking about a technology issue but are talking about vision and leadership in the industry. You must have that commitment from your leadership in order to transition to IP. For those who do not have that foresight, they risk finding themselves out of the game very soon because they did not plan properly for what’s required today and what’s required going forward, especially when you deal with the cloud.

What would you tell broadcasters that want to stay with hardware/SDI rather than move to software/IP to convince them of the advantages of the latter?
They’re literally sacrificing flexibility, connectivity, and speed in the future. Don’t forget that, when you work with software-only, updates are implemented very fast and you have full connectivity from the studio to the cloud. In the long term, the costs are less because off-the-shelf equipment is getting stronger, faster, and cheaper.

It’s also very important to make the customer understand that it’s not IP alone that’s critical for success; it’s the combination of IP and software-only. If the customer wants to transition to IP but still has a hardware-based infrastructure, the end result will not be a revolutionary solution. But, if they go to a vendor that is providing a package that is a combination of software-only and IP, then the future is guaranteed.

Also, the evolution and speed of change today as a result of software is unparalleled. I like to use this analogy. If you buy a top-of-the-line car — for example, a Mercedes or a BMW — it will start to age and depreciate as soon as you drive it out of the showroom, and it will eventually die. However, when you speak about software solutions, it’s completely the opposite. You might not be buying something perfect today, but, as the technology matures, it improves, adapts to changes, and gets better than it was when it left the factory. Your initial investment is better-protected with software!

How has the explosion in OTT services and streaming feeds impacted the monitoring/multiviewer market and needs of your customers? How have you adapted your products to serve these needs?

In 2012-13, TAG had already recognized the tendency of media organizations to embrace OTT platforms, taking the media out of the NOC. Because we have extensive software experience and have substantial streaming knowledge, it was easy for us. We clearly identified the need for mobility, which is why we added the HLS output. We also did not forget the fact that our system absolutely had to support multiple formats.

We definitely see OTT as a major factor and game-changer in the industry. Those who didn’t believe in OTT made a mistake because OTT is here to stay. And, by the way, in addition to our classic broadcast and media customers, we are seeing a lot more business originate from OTT and telco applications. So it’s definitely a good thing for us.

In general, how do you expect the monitoring needs of sports broadcasters/producers to evolve, especially as codecs/formats and streaming feeds are increasingly incorporated?
The main trend we are seeing is the request to get to the market faster. When you look at the media groups today, everything is moving so rapidly. Here at TAG, one of our top priorities is shortening the time to market as much as possible. But we are in a good position because we’re software-only and have so much IP experience.

If I had one message to tell media organizations right now, it is to embrace IP, software-only, and the cloud and leave your fears behind. The most prominent obstacle that I hear about making this transition is the fear of being burned by vendors who promise things that they will never be able to deliver. I understand that fear, however, and believe that, if the customer’s leadership has the vision and desire to move the organization towards the future and they recognize who the vendors are that can get them there, then the sky is the limit.

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