Wednesday, August 22, 2012

IP and TV - Two Worlds That May Never Integrate

I spend much of my time now designing the integration of traditional broadcast and TV production systems with online video delivery platforms. It's amazing, after all these years, how little these systems have in common.

For a start, they use totally different tautologies, so you're forever comparing apples with pears. Time online is measured in thousands of seconds, in broadcast it's measured in frames or scans. And take 'HD' - in TV it's a standard, online it's in the eye of the beholder.

The storage of materials in traditional broadcast environments was often a highly manual affair, systems are highly proprietary, even taxonomies are very specific to the workflow within a particular broadcaster or producer and often systems are stand alone or linked by 'swivel chairs'. These systems tend to require high levels of in house engineering expertise and therefore are expensive to use and maintain.

Compare this with online systems, where everything is automated, largely standardised and can be remotely managed or outsourced to 'the cloud'.

This is by no means to say that online is better. The discipline of traditional broadcast is that the minimum bar is everything works seamlessly all the time: this is tough to achieve online where factors such as DDoS attacks and the general weaknesses of the internet's infrastructure can come into play.

But as the old school gives way to the new one the real pain is in the management of this process internally within TV companies. Most have coped well by calling in outside expertise and throwing money at what is now widely called 'tv everywhere' (you heard it hear first). But as the IPTV world moves more deeply into the production and broadcast environments and threatens to reduce costs and headcount and replace hard earned skills that are no longer necessary with totally different skills (those of hardware engineer to software programmer, for example), I'm beginning to see real pain and hesitancy.

The reality is that IP technologies aren't up to the task, but TV technologies are redundant. A kind of IPTV purgatory..