The cable industry is hot on network virtualization, but, according to Cisco, video distributors won't be the first in the media business to take advantage of virtualized systems. That honor will fall to video programmers.
There are a couple of trends influencing the evolution of programming networks, i.e., the portion of the media delivery chain concerned with initial video playout and processing. First, there's a transition underway from specialized signal transmission via serial digital interface (SDI) to IP-based infrastructure. Dave Ward, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s CTO of engineering for the service provider business, sees that trend moving quickly in part because there's no more capacity being built into SDI systems. That means there are a lot of green-field opportunities.
For Cisco, that transition represents an opportunity to sell new equipment and services to media companies.
"IP data centers for media do not equal enterprise data centers," noted Ward at a small Cisco gathering for media in New York on Tuesday. "And I say that because when you have very, very large flows that cannot take any congestion, and you cannot lose any bits before ingestion, you have a serious, serious load engineering problem. And if you want to be able to perform A/B switching from one camera angle to another, you have to have very, very accurate, precise timing, and frame accuracy within that data center as well. And so there are some of these features that are necessary to IP before you can even say hello to a content production company."
At the NAB Show in April, Cisco introduced several media infrastructure solutions for content providers, including IP Fabric for Media, which pairs Cisco switches with SDN controllers, and the NFV Infrastructure for Media Data Center solution, which offers a virtualized data center platform specifically for media applications. (See NAB Day 1: Embracing IP, OTT & 4K .)
The second trend pushing programmers, or broadcasters, toward virtualization and New IP architectures is the need for speed and flexibility. Programmers are starting to look at pop-up channels, for example, which can be created for a period of time and then dismantled to make way for new content. Such a concept would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. But today, software-defined systems make pop-up channels possible, and broadcasters want access to these types of solutions as they beat back against pressure from online video rivals.
The competition from OTT players also has programmers wanting to use their video resources more efficiently. Ideally, says Cisco Senior Business Development Strategist Tom Ohanian, programmers "want to follow the sun," provisioning network capacity and moving licensed access to applications like transcoding to audience regions where prime-time viewing puts resources in demand. In other words, rather than overprovisioning systems everywhere, broadcasters would prefer to shift resources around based on when and where they're needed most.
That's a New IP revolution.
The network infrastructure systems for the media industry as a whole are due for some major changes in the coming years. However, if Cisco's right, the changes should sweep through the programmer ecosystem first.
Cisco's Ward predicts the transformation will be in full swing in the next 18 to 24 months.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading