Column: Migration from satellite to IP has already begun, and it’s time to get on board

By Robert Poletiek, Zixi

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Over the past five years audiences have begun a mass migration towards consumption of IP-based content streaming services at an accelerated pace. Viewers globally are spending many more hours at home with the choice of an infinite amount of personally curated content on-demand, whenever and wherever they want. In turn, the necessity to recalibrate the broadcast experience for content, services and entertainment by a workforce that is also increasingly remote is vital for the modern broadcaster.

Our connected world has evolved dramatically from best efforts internet capabilities to high speed, highly reliable fiber-based internet in major metro areas now including the launching of high speed, low latency satellite, 5G sub-6Ghz and mm Wave services. 

As this trend perpetuates, broadcasters using traditional methods such as fiber, cable, or satellite face a litany of issues and changes to consider. With the reallocation of the C-Band to accommodate for 5G development, broadcasters must consider exploring alternative transport solutions for content delivery as the amount of bandwidth available diminishes, and prices undoubtedly will rise for broadcasters who continue leveraging legacy methods.

In addition to distribution challenges, broadcasters that rely on satellite face operational challenges as well. Risks include potential interference at downlinks, lack of visibility into data transmission and a decline in consumer spending as customers move to OTT streaming. Solutions programmers and service providers need to cut costs and adopt more efficient ways of acquiring and delivering content.

For many content providers transitioning away from satellite delivery cost is a significant motivation. Satellite and transponder time is very expensive, with long-term commitments depending on where the signal is being sent, and the total cost of the infrastructure to run such a system incredibly expensive. Purchasing, positioning (geographically orienting), fixing/replacing and manipulating/operating satellites are costly endeavors. Simply, start-up costs are for satellites are high and ad-hoc management is just as capital intensive.

Why is IP the future, and what are the benefits?

Program and content owners are realizing a need to achieve efficiency and flexibility in their workflows and revenue streams to maximize return. Transport of content via IP has emerged as an efficient, scalable and reliable alternative to satellite distribution, with more content providers leveraging IP-based or hybrid IP distribution models for delivery of live video. By adopting IP pathways for transport, they are also preparing themselves for the next generation of content distribution. Protocols sending content over the Internet have improved greatly to provide the high availability of delivery that most of the entertainment industry had come to associate with satellite services. This is due to not only the improvement of the protocols themselves, but also the improvement and maturity of network backbone that supports the worldwide internet and the first/last mile connection to that infrastructure. 

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Not only do IP-based infrastructures display increased uptime over traditional fiber, broadcast and satellite models, but by utilizing integrated software platforms media organizations can easily manage, monitor and troubleshoot highly complex delivery workflows quickly rather than necessitating hundreds or thousands of man-hours a year to troubleshoot issues. Because issues can be detected and mitigated in real-time, that equates to less downtime and higher customer satisfaction while reducing the need for troubleshooters and expensive, scarce engineering resources.

When it comes to cost, IP Broadcast technology enables providers to save as much as 50% over traditional satellite delivery when distributing content over long distances with low latency. Realization of cost-saving benefits from moving to an IP-based solution can also be seen with the shift from investing in capital-intensive to more operational expense-driven business models. IP broadcasting puts a greater focus on OpEx, allowing for not only reduced expenditures but also more freedom to both scale and grow without worrying about the burden of outdated, physical infrastructure. As customers and content creators continue their migration to the cloud, being positioned to easily navigate an IP deployment with software-defined infrastructure provides advantages over traditional hardware-based broadcast solutions and better prepares for any structural changes, optimizations, or upgrades required for an organization’s workflows.

IP-based equipment also lays the groundwork for new innovations with telemetry and data never seen in traditional satellite broadcast. This atomic level of data visible across IP backbones can be ported into new models for machine learning and AI that allow content owners a greater depth of feature-rich applications to improve reliability and methods to monetize their content inventory.

Common questions about moving from satellite to IP

Will I have to buy all new equipment?

For each individual program content distributor, the answer will be different. Historically, with a next-generation architecture budgets are created for the Capex spend with an average shelf life of 7 years. This is no longer the case as many concepts for distribution are taking advantage of hardware that is more likely to be built on a platform that is more software-defined and in the cloud. So, the software-defined distribution platform will define the mode and workflow for distribution with features and capabilities that can flex with the needs of the market and match the needs of the programmer. Many traditional satellite equipment manufacturers have also embraced the ability to support programmers with both traditional satellite interfaces along with alternative modes of transport that include ethernet private line, internet, CDN and the future of 5G. Making use of existing hardware can provide an initial avenue to take advantage of the next generation of content distribution over the alternate path.

How does this affect new workflows in the cloud or SaaS?

The right software-defined video platform will significantly reduce not only workflow challenges, but time and input costs – especially those associated with analyzing data and troubleshooting issues – by consolidating the entire infrastructure into an interface that is easy to access, use and understand. Even for non-engineers.

How does this affect endpoints for distribution?

A more modernized, adaptable and dynamic infrastructure can benefit your endpoints immensely. More and more niche content, and the necessary variants, are being made available to increase the audience worldwide. The ease of workflows in the cloud to create the variants that comply with program rights to deliver to markets, along with unique advertising to support program channels, improves the visibility of these program channels. As program distributors fully know that to maintain their clients base and stay relevant, they need to be able to provide content that their consumers want and increase their capacity to do so.

What use cases can I take advantage of with an IP based software-defined video transport platform?

There are several current and future use cases that are all within the possibilities based on the scale and flexibility of a reliable IP video protocol and network, including live program content distribution to affiliate operators, access to international markets, the virtualization of workflow for production and editing, remote monitoring and management and streaming of live sports, events, and entertainment.

Do I do this on my own, buy a platform or outsource completely?

As a broadcast manager you are constantly juggling budget, time, roadmap planning and existing commitments made by you or others. The reality is we all need a little help. To this end our recommendation would be to start by engaging with vendors that provide a complete package solution. Typically they provide a breakdown of all components and workflow details that you are going to need to build out restructure infrastructure, giving you a good idea of the time and cost involved in going one direction or another.

How soon do I need to decide?

A decision to migrate will always be unique to the individual, however, it is always the right time to educate yourself on the availability of software services that can help solve many of the day-to-day workflow challenges you face.

Without a doubt, reliance on satellite-based primary contribution is waning and the shift towards IP-based models for delivery has begun. With the right software-defined infrastructure at hand, moving to IP can be easy to implement, provide broadcast-quality, reliable delivery at ultra-low latency and position your organization for success when it comes to being ready to face the future of media distribution.

About Robert Poletiek, Zixi

Robert Poletiek has been a part of the broadcast industry since the mid 1980’s. Positions include small market television station chief engineer, satellite truck operator, earth station general manager, operations technical manager for a satellite operator, VP of Infrastructure for a major content aggregator and now Senior Solutions Engineer for Zixi. In his time, he’s been involved both technically and the business cases in many new concepts for content delivery including the transition of satellite and fiber going from analog to digital and now with the next generation of content delivery via the internet.

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