Our third digital revolution?


Bob Pank# TV-Bay Magazine
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Our third digital revolution?
By Bob Pank
A little history – the first digital revolution for the TV production and post industries started somewhere about 1972 and then involved introducing digital islands into an analogue world. The introduction of much more affordable digital VTRs such as Sony’s DigiBeta in 1993 heralded the beginning of the end of analogue.
Then, as the power of commodity computer hardware continued to grow, aided by the likes of Nvidia with their GPUs (introduced in 2000) as well as many huge global IT manufacturers, much, but not all, of TV recording, playback and processing equipment started migrating into COTS ‘IT-based’ hardware. That was the second digital revolution. Now that a large part of the TV production, post industry through to playout is, more or less, IT-based it can take advantage of new openings in that industry. Enter The Cloud, Cloud Computing, and TV revolution number three... or so some think.
Oracle’s Larry Ellison famously said way back in 2009, All the Cloud is, is computers in a network… Our industry is so bizarre. I mean, they just change a term and they think they’ve invented technology.” Of course he was quite right. Technically like this is nothing new, just a bunch of hardware and software on an internet connection. It’s a bag of bits and bytes. What are missing are the applications. But add in marketing and adjust the scale, speed, processing power, costs and create a control GUI that can be understood and easily used by your target customers, and your cloud can meet the particular requirements and expectations of a specific industry. Then you really can offer something new; a major new tool with the potential to offer some new, more efficient workflows with, hopefully, lower costs, greater efficiency and security – as you want.
The cloud people (Cloud Computing service providers) may offer a complete service to you which you, being a film or video technician / producer / broadcaster, etc, can easily plug into, learn and use. In Cloud nomenclature this is software as a service (SaaS). At the other end of the scale, if you can provide all the software and are an IT expert you can deign your own Cloud operation using ‘Infrastructure as a Service’ (IaaS). Another route that is not quite so bare bones, effectively builds on IaaS by adding operating systems in the package – leaving you to write, or supply, the applications. This is Platform as a Service (PaaS).
Users have a choice of how they buy their cloud. In practise users need a good GUI that does what they want, is easy to use and works efficiently. The thing is do you choose a GUI and service all from the cloud service provider or are you better off with a GUI made by someone who has a full knowledge of what the TV production industry needs? The former will have the best knowledge of the cloud but may not quite fully appreciate what the TV people need and the latter knows about TV but maybe does not have a full knowledge of the cloud.
Last month I talked about the UK-based Aframe offering SaaS. In fact they offer a whole suite of collaborative production services from ingest though to tagging and sending videos, making the production ready for editing. Interestingly its CEO, David Peto, has a background in video production. I’m sure that has helped the company to come up with a whole set of tools that do what their customers need.
Another approach is to use a service provided by an established video equipment provider. In this area there is a rapidly growing number of well-known broadcast industry manufacturers now offering services via the Cloud. Chyron Inc saw just such an opportunity for broadcast television graphics. In one way this is a lot about shared access and of ease of use. Traditionally each TV station has its own graphics team to create new up-to-date images for the station’s news bulletins, promos and the like. Manning each station around the clock is expensive so the choice is to manage without or maintain the graphics staff 24/7. Chyron’s Axis World Graphics aims to offer a secure, hosted, on-demand way of producing graphics. It can help to run a more efficient graphics service is to have designers available on-line – in the cloud. This way the valuable resources of the graphics department can be shared over a number of stations. The cloud opens the door to many ways of changing the economics of production. In the news graphics case it can give ever the smallest TV station access to graphic design 24/7 – and at a low cost. There are also tie-ins with major image libraries for fast access and use of vast resources, any time, anywhere.
At NAB this year Avid announced engagement with the cloud that can now be integrated into its Interplay news system. Interplay Sphere offers real-time universal access that allows users to acquire, access, edit and finish media from any geography or time zone. Given the nature of news programme production, adding the cloud for far wider collaboration has to be a good idea.
But is the use of cloud computing going to power the third digital TV revolution? Having worked in and around broadcast TV since the time that videotape was two inches wide and a VTR cost as much as a row of London houses, I have seen many revolutions. They have sustained my interest over all that time. Mr Ellison was quite right; cloud computing in itself is a reshuffling of existing technology – not something new out of the science lab. For that reason I would describe it as evolutionary, but that is not to put it down for, as Darwin pointed out, that process can be the engine of profound and widespread changes. They are underway now.

Tags: iss066 | digibeta | oracle | cloud | avid | chyron | aframe | saas | Bob Pank#
Contributing Author Bob Pank#

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