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BFV's Big Interview: Media Links

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Media Links is a leading developer and manufacturer of broadcast network infrastructure and media transport solutions. John Smith, Managing Director, Media Links EMEA, takes the BFV hotseat and reveals how the company is at the forefront of IP-based technology and revolutionising the way media content is being transported...

What challenges do you see in the industry?
Prime time ratings are declining. Broadcasters are being squeezed by the increased competition from a rapidly growing variety of distribution platforms. Viewers can now watch their favourite shows plus new programming where and how they want and customer loyalty is fast becoming a trait of the past.

However, the good news is that live sporting events continue to attract significant audience figures. For example: it was estimated that 90% of the UK population watched the London Olympics coverage. Other live sporting events like tennis, football, rugby and even niche live coverage present opportunities for broadcasters in terms of new viewers and advertisers.

But live sports production is expensive?
Yes, producing a live sports event is an expensive, logistical exercise. Cameras, cables, multiple points of audio, power, air con, staff, plus OB trucks need to be shipped in order to create the huge temporary infrastructure required at any live event in order to mix the live feeds and capture the exciting real-life atmosphere. However, this is where live production over IP comes in.

One of our US Broadcast clients used our technology for remote production over IP for the London Olympics, plus other events such as the Sochi Winter games. This meant having less resources and kit on-site and production based back in the US.

For other broadcasters this could mean announcers are based back at the facility and live camera feeds brought back into the studio for production. This kind of workflow can enable significant costs to be saved on shipping technology and staff to numerous venues in different countries and continents.

So how does it work?
Our MD8000 solution enables high quality video, audio and data to be transported either compressed or uncompressed using JPEG2000 into an MPEG-2 Transport stream. Based on the customer's available bandwidth we are able to use a variety of bit rates on each of the required streams – with an end-to-end latency under 100ms to move content from the venue to the production studios and back to the venue. The encoding process enables lower bit rates while also maintaining image quality and reducing the amount of bandwidth consumed across the network.

Hitless switching is ensured through two identical output streams routed over separate paths to a single destination, where any errors on one stream are avoided by immediately switching to the other, preventing packet loss during event and production.

Why aren't more broadcasters taking advantage of these developments?
Remote production over IP has, until recently, been prevented by the lack of last mile bandwidth to venues. However, in recent years, carriers have made significant in-roads to improving connectivity and fibre now links most of our towns and cities, including our stadiums. In addition, many broadcast systems have now been developed to work in an IP domain, suddenly making the prospect of remote production over IP a reality.

However, the one challenge broadcasters will still face is the need to re-engineer current workflows. Content producers and technical staff will need to decide on the most efficient way to manage resources which are located remote from the venue. Yet, with the infrastructure in place, a telecoms network can be used to deliver multiple live camera and audio feeds to a central location for mixing and editing, enabling one crew to cover several subsequent live events from different locations in one day, further maximising expensive resources.

What about latency?
When it comes to IP for both remote and studio production, a key issue has always been and still is: latency, how to get all the signals to arrive on time and in the right order with no packet loss. Basically, it's got to work first time, every time, as you can't film a live event twice!

Up until now, broadcasters distribute and exchange content mainly as SDI signals. With the move toward SMPTE 2022 video over IP standards and file-based broadcasting workflows, broadcasters are now able to look for ways to handle streams and files in a unified manner. The solution lies in taking advantage of the falling prices of bandwidth plus the increased quality in video codecs and ultra-low latency delivery across WAN network infrastructure. By leveraging an Ethernet to act as the unified core switching fabric, broadcasters and service providers are able to maximize footprint, power and future proof IP switching technology.

How can Media Links help?
While some organisations are still struggling to demonstrate 'proof of concept', Media Links has been supplying a range of standards-based products that allow telecoms networks to transport live and pre-recorded signals efficiently and reliably for any type of broadcast application for 20 years. In fact our staff participate and lead the teams responsible for the various standards required by carriers to move content successfully over wide area networks with 100% QoS using our true IP based products and hitless switching technology. In 2014, Media Links was honored with a Technical & Engineering Emmy Award for Standardization and Productization of JPEG2000 (J2K) Interoperability.

Moving content over an IP network is complicated in a local area network however, it becomes more complex in a wider area network because of the various carriers, standards and certification required. We are used to dealing with these processes and can help bring together the world of telecoms and broadcast for the benefit of our clients looking at implementing remote production over IP.

What are you showing at IBC?
Media Links has been IP based from day one. So for information about how our MD8000, true IP based interoperable technology enables remote production over IP and for real-life examples, come and see us at IBC on booth 1.C31.


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