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Demanding New Facilities from CIAB (Pt 1)

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Since our last look at channel-in-a-box systems and integrated play out, Douglas I. Sheer, CEO and chief analyst of D.I.S. Consulting Corporation has published Channel in a Box WorldTM 2014, the third edition of his firm's global CIAB end-user study, writes George Jarrett.

So before talking to PlayBox, Grass Valley, Quantel/Snell and Pebble Beach Systems about what users want and get, it was important to establish a summary of where we stand now the sector has soared in value, and has pushed on to far great sophistication thanks to brilliant software development.

"The CIAB market is undergoing what can only be seen as a second wave of interest over the past few years," said Sheer. "The original wave of CIAB growth was more than a dozen years ago and that was dominated by a small handful of European brands who helped build the market. Those early brands, however, have been supplanted by brands coming from either the automation space or the general server and storage arena in this latest surge.

"The data from the third report edition shows that over $213 million worldwide will be spent in 2015 on one form or another of the technology, as more and more broadcasters and cable MSO groups add channels or streaming services to their operations," he added. "A major influence on planned purchases remains the desire to automate operations, a central offering of most systems."

Expanding or adding channels is the big driver, with upgrading a long way second.

Karl Mehring, Quantel/Snell head of product architecture, TV Everywhere, said: "The market has shifted dramatically in recent times with more channel-in-a-box systems being implemented for large scale premium channels than with traditional play out devices.

"With new lower cost devices being available such as Snell's ICE LE, the argument for using CIAB for low revenue channels and/or backup channels is more compelling than ever – really a no-brainer," he added. "In order to satisfy the needs of premium channels, premium features such as rich 2D and 3D graphics, Dolby E, ancillary data insertion and things such as Nielsen ratings have become essential offerings for a CIAB product."

Most companies in the sector need at least some partner technology to flesh out what they offer. Where does the Quantel acquisition of Snell leave things?

"Choosing the right partners who provide key software technology plug-ins is a great way to accelerate product development," said Mehring. "By using technology partners with proven track records in their field we can ensure the highest level of functionality, over and above what you would see in non CIAB products. Greater flexibility can be gained from keeping the overall solution in a single platform. We work collaboratively with our partners to ensure that they have all of the market and technical inputs required to help us build a better product together."

When BFV last looked at integrated IT based play out technology the attractions included reduced integration costs, reduced CAPEX, and reduced OPEX, but what now?

"It is all the more true today that the most complete CIAB solutions offer greater cost reduction in both CAPEX and OPEX. With such a low initial cost it is also possible to introduce full backup to a CIAB channel at very little cost, further securing revenues and avoiding service penalties," said Mehring. "Building on the success of partnering with other technology providers all of the features including Dolby, loudness, Nielsen and 2D/3D graphics have benefited from the combined development efforts of all parties. We are constantly adding new modules and enhancements to functionality to satisfy the ever expanding needs of users."

Back last year Snell had just produced a pure software solution to originate a broadcast channel, using On Demand technology to allow the ICE software to be hosted on a virtual platform, with live inputs and output handled as IP streams. How has this developed onwards?

"We have beta trials in progress with our ICE On Demand product with a number of key customers, with the first product scheduled for release in the middle of 2015," said Mehring. "With ICE OD being fully software based and 'virtualisable' we are able to offer cost models of OPEX only, which allow deployment of new services by simply contacting us to enable a new software licence then spawning a new instance of ICE OD. Added to this as a software product with IP inputs and outputs, ICE OD offers significant reductions in infrastructure costs and integration times. There is no need to put in SDI cabling, you just utilise existing network fabric to the distribution platform.

"We are at point of transition where CIAB products are feature rich but the desire to move to software based solutions is high. But to go software-based with the same level of functionality requires a lot of processing so the most feature rich channels are currently still deployed on CIAB products, whilst low cost and DR systems can readily be deployed using a software only solution.

"Added to this is the fact that IP adoption from end to end lacks full standardisation so as soon as you need an input or output to connect with other equipment there can be problems. To counter this we have adopted a number of standards and are working with the appropriate other parties to drive standardisation. The Snell strategy to migrate broadcast technologies to a software and IP domain has continued across the board."

Grass Valley's director of product management Scott Rose said: "We see the key trends continuing to be live broadcast driving high viewing figures and greater audience engagement; the need for business agility to take advantage of advertising, sponsorship and locally targeted revenue streams; and the need to help our customers lower the total cost of operation of a channel.

"Clearly integrated play out saves costs in terms of equipment space, power and cooling. A complete end-to-end solution from Grass Valley also includes monitoring and control," he added. "This combination with integrated playout enables the channel-to-operator ratio to be increased, which is the biggest step in lowering the total cost."

Advances such as playlist aware monitoring, which are increasingly being adopted, give what to users? "It enables operators to concentrate on real alarms instead of chasing false positives for errors like incorrect or missing captions, missing audio, or missing media," said Rose. "This is only possible due to the deep integration between three Grass Valley products: iTX integrated play out + Kaleido multi-viewers + iControl monitoring. Users are seeing 20% annual savings in operational costs after moving channel, ranging from national brands to local stations, from traditional solutions to an integrated approach."

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