TBS Official Envisions Major Changes in Content Storage, Delivery Options
Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) is one of the most recognized global broadcasting brands, and like a number of broadcasters, TBS faces huge challenges to improve its efficiency in delivering content in different formats to different devices. The question of how TBS will use satellite technology going forward is up for debate. Clyde Smith, senior vice president of global broadcast technology and standards for TBS, discusses the satellite-versus-fiber question as well as other major projects TBS is involved in, such as the move away from file-based storage as it looks to improve overall efficiency.
VIA SATELLITE: What are the major technical challenges facing TBS?
Smith: In terms of the consumer space, if you think internationally and consider how many consumer devices and how many variations, in terms of compatibility, there are, we have to do massive personalization to address each one of them. So while the media formats are a finite set, you also have to consider the wide variations of the metadata which supports each device and each distribution platform. That is a significant challenge for all of us. We participate in a number of industry forums [intended] to consolidate and converge those in the future, so it hopefully becomes easier. If you think of the size of the audience, it is relatively small for each single device, but taken in aggregate across all devices and platforms, it is considerable, so we have to make it less expensive to use content on each one and some standardization and convergence across that space would enable us to be much more effective in terms of supporting all those platforms with a variety of content. That is one of the more significant challenges.
There is a factor of complexity in audio/video formats and the transcoding of those and then more [complexity] in integrating metadata into each of the workflows, and implementing workflow engines is also a factor so that we can push more content into every one of those channels.
VIA SATELLITE: What impact is new broadcasting technology having on your business?
Smith: Migrating in the future to a services-orientated architecture is what we will look to do. We are undertaking some of that work now.
VIA SATELLITE: What is your take on fiber versus satellite when it comes to delivering channels?
Smith: In the United States, we have decided to do both fiber and satellite distribution. We think the two are complementary. There are times when you have fiber outages — when you have backhoe fades during construction or service periods for fiber. This happens more frequently than you might expect, but there are also times when you have satellite issues. We have certainly seen that recently — look at what happened with Galaxy 15, and that certainly raises the point that you need to have a protection plan. That plan might be an on-orbit spare, but there are some companies that you deal with who don’t have on-orbit spares for all their orbital slots.
The consolidation of the cable industry in the United States has meant that you can put in a fiber backbone that makes sense and allows you to reach the majority of your audience by hitting a few cable headends and DTH providers, and this means you are protected against those untoward events that may happen with the satellite — those semi-annual solar fades or other events which impact the satellite. Equally, with fiber events, you can use satellite as a back-up. We see satellite and fiber as very complementary.
VIA SATELLITE: How would you like to work with the satellite sector in the future?
Smith: As we upgrade to HDTV on all our channels around the world, certainly there are areas of the world where the platforms are challenged to provide sufficient capacity for this transition. Particularly, as you see growth in the data space, there is a lot of competition for capacity. It is a challenging business, and some scarcity will drive market prices up, but if the regional prices are driven too far up, then you get to the point where you have to consider alternatives. I think it is a significant challenge for the satellite industry as to how they remain a strong and profitable industry, build new satellites, put them in place and meet demands at the right price points that won’t drive us off to new market approaches.
VIA SATELLITE: What initiatives is Turner working for content delivery in the United States?
Smith: One of our major projects is a storage environment. We have had this thing called Broadcast Inventory Manager, and we have had one of these in each one of our entertainment facilities. They have been very geographical location- and device-dependent. We are moving towards two major changes. The first move is from file-based storage to object-based storage to gain more efficiency. We are moving from geography-centric to geography-independent, so we want the ability to exchange content globally much more than we have in the past as we build these storage environments — a private cloud in each one of our entertainment facilities — that we can then use to exchange material between them. The ability to ingest once and use everywhere is very important to us on any device or any location, so sharing that material is very important, but we have also tended to have centralized playout centers as well.
In the future, I think it will be a bit more distributed. I think you will see us use edge-based servers in certain regions and have central ingest and media management facilities that do more distribution by pushing of material to our playout platforms. We need to enable pull-based delivery in terms of TV everywhere — cell phones, etc. There are going to have to be significant changes in the overall architecture. This is certainly one of our most important initiatives.
VIA SATELLITE: Do you believe that TBS has been ahead of the curve in adapting to this new media environment which has become increasingly fragmented?
Smith: I think the temptation is, because the opportunities arrive so rapidly, that we would naturally respond tactically to those. If we left each of our groups to its own devices, they would respond one at a time to each opportunity. Then you don’t have a technical strategy but rather have a bespoke piecemeal solution for each new distribution opportunity. My focus has been to try help different groups develop a strategy in terms of repurposing content and processing content and sharing resources. It is about developing an efficient architecture to enable this so that we are not responding to each one as a separate distribution chain or parallel processing chain.
We are looking to maximize efficiency. We have spent time building a central pool of storage from which you can put media requests in. You establish a media request for each device type you need to process. When the request comes in, you process that media from the central storage into the appropriate formats and apply the right metadata to automatically generate those. It is important to have that type of efficiency, as it enables you to get into new and emerging spaces very rapidly and very efficiently. For example, we have done cartoons to the backseats of certain automobiles over satellite radio. These are very narrow niche markets, but it is important to get into those markets early and understand them and develop the relationships that may take you to the next big emerging platform. We are gaining a lot of knowledge in each of these new distribution domains because we can very efficiently enable them. The key is creating that architecture to generate the efficiency and create the content that is suitable for different environments.
VIA SATELLITE: What are the plans for 3-D TV content in the United States?
Smith: We have a 3-D working group that is more than a year-old now. They have spent a fair amount of time working on 3-D. There are the technical challenges as well as the artistic challenges. There are the challenges related to the state of technology as well as learning how you tell the story in 3-D. You have to learn it at multiple levels. We have done some sporting events, such as NASCAR and golf tournaments in 3-D. We learned a great deal from each one. It is still very much a learning experience at this point.
VIA SATELLITE: Could we see an events-based 3-D channel from TBS in 2011?
Smith: We are continuing our work with several distribution partners about special events, but we have not made any announcement regarding a specific channel launch.
VIA SATELLITE: How do you see the broadcast landscape changing globally over the next 12 months?
Smith: I think that the file-based media workflow transition is a still challenge. Media asset management is still a big topic. There are so many vendors that say they are in media asset management today, and their solutions each generally handle a only a portion of that space, so there are many different players in that space. It will be very encouraging if they will begin to adopt a services approach where the interfaces are standardized. It takes a combination of several vendor offerings working together today to build the system architecture and create the media workflow, so this is really important. We have written a lot of our own applications in this space the past, but if the components of it were available, we would much rather work with service-based software — widely used outside the organization — and acquire this software. We want a service-oriented approach to create more flexibility in our architectures and to produce more efficiency in terms of sharing resources across our organization. This is a big strategic move.