What needs to be done to extend the reach of broadcast content?

By: Mark Webb - 09/09/2011

Mark Webb, Business Development Manager, Media. Mark has been responsible for expanding Colt's value added media capabilities to broadcasters, publishers, and other media organisations in Europe since 2011.

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There can be no denying that broadcasters face a complex challenge in terms of identifying and deploying futureproof infrastructures that offer consumers choice, mobility and participation in their media experiences. Consumer demand for interactive, HD and 3D TV has intensified this process. In a world of fragmented audiences, customer control of media and changing distribution models, broadcasters are increasingly relying on technology to play a transforming role in service delivery and operations. This means that broadcasters need a thorough understanding of the benefits of technology partnerships and the associated business implications to successfully deliver their content to multiple destinations.

To do that there are three key challenges that need to be overcome:

  • Transmitting high quality data faster
  • Higher bandwidth availability (to distribute resource heavy content)
  • Storage/archiving

Transmitting high quality data faster

Firstly there is the question of transmitting the data from the broadcast venue without transmission delays or degradation due to adverse weather conditions. Historically choosing permanent video links over satellite would have a considerable budget implication. However, the advent of fibre and IP-based file delivery has had a significant impact on the cost of permanent video links. When laying fibre optic cables, the majority of the cost is in digging up the ground so once that is done it makes sense to install large amounts of fibre making plenty available for future use. This means that it can usually be provided at a cost that is competitive with other technologies such as satellite whilst offering higher bandwidth availability and a better quality experience for the viewer.

Higher bandwidth availability

Then there is the issue of bandwidth availability, or lack of it. If broadcasters are going to meet growing customer demand for HD, then around 1.5Gbps of bandwidth is essential. Historically, contribution circuits using satellite have tended to be sub-100Mbps, in part due to the availability of suitable transponders but also because of cost constraints. The advent of fibre networks has enabled higher bandwidth to be provided more easily, and at little or no premium over lower capacity satellite circuits. This in turn has allowed the use of compression solutions which not only provide images that are much closer to the uncompressed source but also have a very low coding delay. This means that broadcasters are able to support video transmission without interruption.

Storage and archiving

Finally comes the archiving and storage debate. There has been a great deal of discussion surrounding the need to digitise video archives. However, the sheer amount of material held by the leading content owners means it is a process that will take many years to complete. The BBC alone has almost 100km of video tape. The good news is that digital storage systems are now able to provide enhanced functionality over their video counterparts, providing a stronger argument to make that move. For example, it is possible to preview content at lower resolution over an Internet connection before requesting the delivery of a larger, broadcast quality file. Previously this would have required the master video tape to be retrieved from the archive to create a viewing copy, and then retrieved again if a broadcast quality file was actually required.

It is worth noting that while storing video on servers for post-production and play-out has become increasingly commonplace, broadcasters can be mistrustful of digital data storage as a means of long-term archiving because of the high commercial value of such material. Whether the digital components used during the post-production process are retained at the point the programme is completed is largely a balance between the budget, and how likely it is that the elements will be needed again in the future. Online digital archiving can offer the most benefit to the television industry through the provision of access to historic news, sports footage and other clips from specialist libraries.

If broadcasters do address these issues, reducing latency and improving quality of content delivery, then they’ll pave the way for a bright future.

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