Sometimes the only difference between right and wrong is timing.

Going back nearly two decades, broadcast engineers have been hassled and harangued by various voices advocating IT-based environments as suitable hosts for media operations, including those demanding millisecond timing and frame-accurate precision. With the rise of file-based workflows, the voices calling for the transition of live production operations to IP grew even louder.

But broadcast engineers, for the most part, tuned them out. Deep in their guts, media professionals understood that despite all the advantages of moving to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) compute and networking platforms, IP, as recently as a couple of years ago, just wasn’t up to snuff when it came to producing and delivering flawless live television for millions of viewers.

...the media and entertainment industry has finally reached a tipping point in the maturation of IT environments as viable replacements for traditional production and playout facilities.

Premature Prophets

But a funny thing happened on the way to the IP-based media production facility. It turns out that the false prophets of IP of a decade or so ago weren’t as wrong as we all believed – they were just early. Over the past couple of years, due mostly to the tireless efforts of industry innovators to bring broadcast-quality performance, precision and reliability to IT-based production environments, IP is now ready for primetime.

Through rigorous research and development, aggressive standards activities and intensive collaboration with elite IT and datacenter players, the media and entertainment industry has finally reached a tipping point in the maturation of IT environments as viable replacements for traditional production and playout facilities.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Broadcasters and other content producers are under increasing pressure to evolve current business models to accommodate shifting consumption patterns. They need to produce more content, for more devices, all while cutting costs. That’s just not going to happen until media companies are able to move all of their operations to environments based on standard COTS IT equipment, which deliver significantly more agility and versatility than traditional broadcast facilities.

Lingering Skepticism

But overcoming a decade or more of skepticism doesn’t happen overnight. Concerns about the suitability of common computing and networking resources for meeting the rigorous requirements of live production and other media operations continue to linger. A chasm of skepticism over the move to IP remains to be crossed.

Some broadcast engineers still fear that the production, playout and delivery of high-quality video remain beyond the capabilities of “best-effort” networks and the comparatively modest performance and reliability standards of the IT domain. They fear that nearly eradicated glitches, such as lip sync issues and other timing mismatches between video and audio essences — or even catastrophic failures — will again become commonplace in an IP-based environment.

Many broadcast engineers are also concerned about the nontechnical implications of transitioning operations to IP-based environments. They worry they lack the skills to design, architect and maintain a high-performance and cost-efficient video production facility in an IT-based setting. They contemplate the blurring of boundaries between the job descriptions of media and IT professionals within the organization and envision a scenario in which an unplugged printer or rogue email server knocks the evening news off the air.

Don’t get caught underestimating the importance of timing. The days you have left to delay mapping out a strategy for moving even your most demanding operations to IP without the risk of losing your competitive edge are dwindling.

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