IBC, one of the most influential events for the broadcast industry, has come and gone again. Hosted in Amsterdam, IBC is created “by the industry, for the industry,” focused on key opportunities, challenges, and innovations shaping the broadcast industry. We showed up to explore the exhibition floor and warm seats on the stage—most notably with a panel session alongside Amazon Web Services (AWS) and NVIDIA, “Tuned Into Tomorrow: Software-Defined Broadcast Infrastructure.” Watch the session here, or read below for a recap on what software-defined production is and its benefits to broadcasters.
Sepi Motamedi, the Global Broadcast Industry Marketing Lead at NVIDIA, moderated the panel. Our SVP of Innovation, Lewis Smithingham, participated in the panel discussion alongside Nina Walsh, the Head of M&E Business Development for APJ & Americas at AWS, and Richard Hastie, the Senior Director of Professional Visualization at NVIDIA. By combining their unique perspectives, the panelists discussed how software-defined production addresses common challenges in traditional broadcasting, such as cost reduction, increased flexibility, and decreased carbon footprints.
What is software-defined production?
The panel kicked off with a breakdown of software-defined production. Hastie put it simply: “It’s about having a piece of software that is completely abstracted from the hardware and effectively can run anywhere—whether that’s in the cloud, whether that’s on standardized hardware in the data center, or whether that’s even on power-optimized or location optimized devices at the edge.” It’s that neutrality and versatility, said Hastie, that makes software-defined production a game-changer.
Essentially, software-defined production frees the industry from limitations that have held it back. Smithingham shared an anecdote about how he set up a space with an 8K projector to immerse himself in the season’s NHL games, “but I realized the show is only broadcast at 720p. Why is that? We’re not innovating because we’re so tied to financial models built around physical infrastructure.”
This is an important point, as software-defined production effectively eliminates the costlier aspects of production. There’s no need for a large physical plant made up of control rooms or OB trucks that cost tens of thousands of dollars to rent each day—or millions to buy. The technology also reduces the number of boots on the ground, meaning significant savings in transporting people as well as equipment. We’ve estimated our software-defined offering can slash costs by an estimated 50% or more compared to traditional broadcasting.
Financial models notwithstanding, cautiousness is another barrier that has historically stood before innovation. It’s easy to see why. Broadcast professionals must avoid various risks in the traditional setup: generators can break down, a wire can be tripped, the list goes on. Why add more risk by completely changing the setup (and the skillset) required to produce a broadcast?
While there is a necessary learning curve, Hastie said, other industries have shown that you can migrate to the cloud and ultimately reduce risk. "Let me dispel some risks: broadcast, real-time media absolutely can be done using standardized hardware. It can be done in the cloud, it can be done on-prem,” he said. “It's irrelevant where the actual hardware now exists. And actually, you only have to look at other industries to validate that." He notes how the stock exchange and medical services both function on the cloud today, with billions of dollars (and human life) at stake in confidence that the technology will always remain stable.
So, how does software-defined production elevate creative potential? Smithingham revealed a sizzle reel featuring some of our most notable broadcast events.
Enable flexible, versatile production workstreams.
Smithingham noted how among the projects showcased above, most of the team weren’t on-site—and often weren’t on the same continent, with talent spread across several US states, Brazil, Argentina, Germany and more. This point touched on another clear benefit of software-defined production: flexibility in assembling your dream team for the creative process.
There are people I always wanted to work with, who I couldn’t have hired before. But we work in the cloud now, so location doesn’t matter.
In addition to how you build your team, a software-defined approach opens opportunities to quickly adapt to the demands of individual productions or locations. Hastie shared an anecdote about a sports broadcaster who would fly in three flight cases of equipment to every game because it was impossible to tell what equipment would be needed until they got there.
“If they show up at the venue and they need one extra encoder, they might not have had that in the hardware flight case that they were shipping around. At that point they were completely inhibited from changing or deviating from the planned program they were trying to make,” he said. “But now in the software-defined world they can just download one more application and deploy it, or they can push it to the cloud and connect to it, job done. It's empowering when you think about the capability that software-defined production actually brings to creativity and production creation."
Unlock personalization and relevance at scale.
The flexibility unlocked by software-defined production enables greater personalization required to adapt to today’s viewing habits. Walsh shared that a key benefit to the technology is “Being able to respond to the wants, the asks of the audiences in almost real time—being able to ensure we're creating the content when they want it, where they want it. We have that flexibility to use the artists, the directors that we want to at the same time without borders and time zones being a restriction to that.”
Being able to pivot in real time to audience demand is crucial, because there’s a strong hunger for personalization, particularly among sports fandoms. 73% of sports viewers perceive rights owners’ use of fan data as “disappointing” (23.4%) or “below expectations but catching up” (49.7%).
We have to realize the way our audiences want to consume media has irrevocably changed. They want stuff that appeals to them as an identity or an individual, not a monolith.
One example of how software-defined workstreams can help deliver relevant content is our Fan-Focused AI Highlights offering, announced at IBC in collaboration with AWS and NVIDIA. The offering uses AI and machine learning to instantly clip highlights in live broadcasts. The AI model is capable of segmenting individual people and objects in live broadcasts and effectively eliminates the need for manual selection and editing, a typically time-intensive process.
Regionalizing content is one major whitespace that Walsh touched on, drawing on her focus on the Asia Pacific and Japan. “The region is so diverse; you have different languages where you have to localize that content,” she said. “There's also bringing the feeds internationally from the US and Europe to deliver to those audiences because they don't want just local content, and vice-versa.”
Walsh named the PGA Tour’s Every Shot Live technology as a great example of enabling regional adaptation at speed. With it, broadcasters can follow the players who are important to their local audiences, rather than rely on a single global broadcast that focuses on the top-performing few. “Not having to fly in a crew, film it yourself, follow that crew around—it gives you that flexibility to be able to take those feeds, bring them back locally to audiences and cater to that maximum entertainment value,” says Walsh.
Sustainability is finally within the broadcaster’s grasp.
Flexibility and personalized content are great, but sustainability is a crucial benefit that software-enabled production allows. “It’s always been a foregone conclusion that production cannot be sustainable. ‘It’s never going to change, we need eight generators,’” Smithingham said.
But after adopting software-defined production and making it the norm for our broadcasts, an audit from PWC discovered eye-opening results: “We found that in seven shows, we produced 0.1 metric tons of carbon, which is effectively a rounding error. A flight one way from San Francisco to New York is six times that,” Smithingham said. “We found an 88% reduction in carbon footprint compared to previous shows.” Some of the ways that software-defined production cuts down on carbon include eliminating the need to fly out whole teams and reducing reliance on energy-intensive appliances and broadcast trucks.
The sustainability opportunity showcases why the industry must change. “Broadcasters genuinely have got to show their green credentials nowadays. Greenwashing is not acceptable—it isn't today and certainly won't be in the future,” said Hastie.
Software-enabled production is increasingly accessible for all.
Though software-defined production might currently have a learning curve (broadcast engineers who understand cloud technology and IT), NVIDIA, AWS and Media.Monks are each working to make software-enabled pipelines more accessible for broadcasters and brands. Fan-Focused AI Highlights, and our software-defined production offering in general, are two examples of that.
On this need, Walsh shared her approach to helping customers strategize and plan their adoption of AWS. “How do they move from these on-prem, in-house-built solutions to leveraging these software solutions? Training, enablement, redefining what those roles look like and the structure of teams… there needs to be a clear strategy in place.”
Through these moves, broadcasters can better equip themselves to build and deliver content that today’s audiences truly want to watch. “We’re facing a multidimensionality of content delivery,” said Smithingham. “As media shifts from broadcasting to TikTok and Fortnite, having that flexibility as creators and broadcasters will really change how we deliver and personalize our content.”
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