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The media industry is rapidly approaching a tipping point. The agility and cost/performance benefits of IT technologies are becoming too compelling for media companies to continue to invest exclusively in SDI-based infrastructure equipment. The evidence in favor of media professionals transitioning more and more of their operations to IP is mounting.

In addition to the efficiency and performance advantages of IP over SDI, transitioning to IP delivers multiple business-improving benefits, including built-in redundancy, improved security and the ability to dramatically accelerate the introduction of new services. Most importantly, converting operations to IP is a pre-requisite to shedding agility-robbing dependencies on specialized hardware by moving workflows to virtualized environments, including private and public clouds.

No Overnight Transition

But as everyone knows, technology transitions take time. The first High-Definition (HD) broadcasts signals were transmitted sometime in the first half of the 1990s. More than 20 years later, SD workflows are still widely supported. It’s not exactly news that the SDI-to-IP transition is no exception to the “technology transformations take time” rule. While some media companies have already started moving operations to IP and will likely move to an all-IP infrastructure at an accelerated pace, SDI-based workflows will be part of the video production experience for at least the next decade.

SDI-to-IP is a journey. And like all journeys, the first steps are the most important. That’s why it’s imperative for media companies to start off strongly by following an open, standards-based path from the start. A proprietary route, which eschews the cost and performance benefits of utilizing commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment, is laden with roadblocks, detours and dead ends.

Whether you’re starting you IP journey today, tomorrow or sometime in the future, it’s imperative to keep the following disadvantages of using customized, proprietary IT technology top of mind:

Vendor Lock-in

Dozens of competitors participate in today’s massive Ethernet market place, with at least five companies controlling sizeable shares of the overall market. This hypercompetitive environment keeps costs low. Common protocols and standards enable media companies to support multiple vendors in their networks and to swap out one supplier’s equipment for another. Interchangeability provides additional protection against cost inflation and gives buyers a mechanism for jettisoning equipment that no longer meets their technology or performance standards.

All of these favorable free market forces disappear when proprietary equipment is brought into the plant. Media companies no longer can control costs through competitive bidding. The ability to change technology directions by displacing underperforming equipment is also compromised. Ripping out custom-built equipment almost always means starting from scratch, rebuilding or reconfiguring adjacent equipment and operations to work with replacement kit. And worst of a all, a proprietary path to IP requires media companies to surrender the technological direction of their operations to a single equipment supplier.

Added Complexity

The addition of non-standard equipment introduces an added layer of complexity for engineering, support and operator training. Routing or switching equipment that veers from industry standards brings with it unique protocols and unique implementations of existing protocols. In addition to compatibly issues, these rogue protocols and procedures could expose the network to security breaches or negatively impact performance.

Custom-built equipment also disrupts existing maintenance and operational schedules. New equipment requires new troubleshooting and diagnostic tools. A simple feature upgrades, for example, often requires painstaking integration and testing against adjacent equipment.


The adoption of proprietary IP equipment prevents media companies from taking advantage of the cost and performance benefits of COTS hardware. A specialty switch is unable to tap into the economies of scale advantages that greatly reduce the cost of standard IT equipment. The lack of a large ecosystem also severely limits the leverage that media companies can use to negotiate favorable purchase agreements and service contracts.

On the operational side, specialized equipment often means asset duplication. The introduction of new IP equipment requires businesses that already operate multivendor networks to add a new supplier. That means expending additional resources to manage and maintain the specialized gear.

No Clear Path to Virtualization

One of the more severe limitations of a proprietary IP transition strategy is the lack of a clear path toward software-defined networking. Eliminating hardware dependencies and abstracting functionality into a pure software environment introduces unprecedented gains in flexibility and agility.

By tying signal routing and other processes to specialized IP equipment, media companies will miss out on the portability and elasticity benefits of virtualized environments, including public and private clouds. Media companies that are dependent on specialized hardware will eventually lose ground to competitors that have evolved to fully virtualized environments.

Blocks Network Unification

Most media companies currently maintain multiple networks, one for SDI workflows and another for traditional enterprise IT operations, such as email and other business processes. As more and more video production and distribution processes transition to IP, it only makes sense for media companies to converge all processes into a single network, governed by a single management system.

By building out a proprietary IP switching and routing infrastructure, media companies eliminate almost all possibilities of converging operations into a single network. Instead, these media companies will continue to suffer the cost and flexibility penalties that come with supporting multiple networks.

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portatif of Steve Reynolds


Steve Reynolds

Steve Reynolds is President of Imagine Communications, a global leader in multiscreen video and ad management solutions that broadcasters, networks, video service providers and enterprises around the world rely on to support their mission-critical operations.

Steve brings 25 years of technology leadership in the video industry to Imagine Communications. He has served as the CTO at Imagine Communications and Harris Broadcast, Senior Vice President of Premises Technology at Comcast, Senior Vice President of Technology at OpenTV, and CTO at Intellocity USA.

Steve earned a MS in Computer Engineering from Widener University and BS in Computer Science from West Chester University. As the Chairman of the AIMS Alliance and a member of SMPTE and SCTE, he has participated in numerous standards-making bodies in the cable and digital video industries. Steve also holds over 40 patents relating to digital video, content security, interactive television and digital devices.