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Observations from the Forefront of ST 2110 IP Media Implementation

November 7, 2022

In the October issue of the SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal Gordon Castle, @Discovery’s senior VP of technology and operations for the EMEA region, considers the opportunities and challenges presented by the transition from serial digital interface (SDI) to IP media infrastructures. With more than 30 years of experience in the media industry, he was responsible for developing, defining, and implementing the long-term technology strategy of Eurosport, Discovery’s leading sports brand, leading to what is likely the largest all 2110 IP-based platforms in the world. 

Eurosport’s existing SDI infrastructure was very purpose-built and working well, but not meeting the needs of the business as it looked to deliver exponentially more digital content while providing increased localization, flexibility, and efficiency. It became very clear that they needed a new infrastructure to support all parts of their production, including ten remote local market production centers and the London operational center. So, Castle’s team gained approval for an investment that created a unified digital and linear production ecosystem and a common content hub driven by fundamental business and technology goals:

Business Goals:

  • Support the evolution of live production with a flexible remote production approach
  • Enable digital and linear growth by providing unlimited access to content for all parts of the business
  • Deliver efficiency and improve the bottom line

Technology Goals:

  • Support dramatically more local language commentary for growing digital audiences
  • Provide locational flexibility for operational teams with the data center in a remote location
  • Utilize an infrastructure and technology approach that would allow a graceful transition of live production to the cloud

The result is a private cloud for live production that centralizes uncompressed video flow, workloads, content storage, and technology expertise while providing greater flexibility to the production and operational teams. Virtual facilities are created on the fly, “right-sized” for the task at hand and made available to skilled staff when and where they are needed.

From a business aspect, Castle needed to align with the direction of the industry. Technically, he needed the flexibility to handle audio and video separately to support a number of languages in various markets. An IP facility based on the SMPTE ST-2110 standard was an obvious choice, though implementation today is still very difficult and, depending on the scale, possibly too expensive. 

Castle found that equipment manufacturers leveraging ST 2110 provided audio and video flowing from device to device but had in many cases made a large number of independent decisions about parameters and defined operational patterns. Each vendor had to make software and, in some cases, firmware changes before they could meet Eurosport’s requirements which were completely aligned with SMPTE standards. This lack of common practice or common operational patterns made implementation much more challenging. Castle notes that leveraging the knowledge gained from media companies who have successfully implemented 21210 and industry groups can create a common model that will help increase adoption and lower build costs.

An additional challenge is how to leverage IT tools to manage broadcast equipment in a media industry where use of Excel is still often the best practice. While Excel makes it easy to get things going, it makes system management and change very complex in an industry where networks are in a state of constant change. That’s why both Eurosport and the Canadian Broadcasting System are leveraging work done by earlier implementers, designing and managing media systems using IT system tools such as Ansible and Maven.

To meet the challenges of higher purchase and support costs, Castle believes that operational patterns, more proven implementation, and more industry expertise will help bring costs down and lower the entry points for smaller facilities. Media companies also need to take a longer-term view on their investment, with IP infrastructure that allows a smooth, ongoing evolution with less dramatic replacement cycles so it can evolve with the business.

Eurosport’s private cloud is constructed from a mix of virtualizable applications (such as edit, graphics control, and facility control) and nonvirtualizable applications (such as vision mixing, ingest, audio mixing, etc.) For resilience, services are deployed within two loosely coupled data centers called Tech Hubs. This very scalable, real-time infrastructure is coupled with a cloud stack approach providing centralized content and technology, but distributed operations. A defined technology stack with media applications sits on top of a platform layer that provides access and provisioning, which is on top of the infrastructure layer based on standard IT approaches with network management and orchestration. As you work your way up the stack, you get to the more media-centric applications and in some cases hardware such as video and audio mixers.

Gordon Castle encourages the media industry to leverage IT tools and adapt as needed going forward. Just because broadcasting and media differs from IT, that doesn’t mean we need to develop new tools for everything. In fact, he believes we should only use media-specific tools that are tied to creative aspects such as editing. The more the industry leverages the IT market, the more it can focus on true agility and microservice development.

For a deeper dive into Castle’s observations on the opportunities and challenges of leveraging IT tools in cloud production, read the complete article in this month’s SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal.

Keywords:

#IP Media #SMPTE #Media Infrastructure #ST 2110 #Tech Hub #Gordon Castle #Ansible #Maven

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