Glodina Lostanlen, CMO, Imagine Communications

Where just a few years ago broadcast vendors built premises-based and purpose-built appliances, increasingly they are now offering software solutions. The broadcast industry is now dominated by commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computers rather than branded boxes designed by the vendor.

However, that tangible shift masks a more gradual, measured, and subtle transition that is expected to continue into 2017. When vendors started embedding standard IT technology inside their devices, they kept the broadcast bespoke connectivity: SDI, AES audio, and so on. These are remarkable standards; they provide the performance required (at least up to HD resolution) and every single vendor and user recognizes them.

Because those standards are not computer compatible, the industry has had to create a workaround, with each device containing an extra box or board that converts SDI to IP on the way-in, and IP to SDI on the way-out. This is inefficient, adds latency, and creates more points of failure.

IP-based networking is not point-to-point, like SDI, nor does it follow a one-signal, one-path transmission structure. Broadcast organizations and experts over the past few years have been effective in conditioning IP so that it is now capable of delivering the performance and precision media professionals require, as evidenced by its ability to meet the split-second requirements of the financial trading industry, for example. Where problems have arisen is that the industry, until recently, had failed to reach a consensus on a standard way of transmitting audio, video, and related data over IP-based networks. Obviously, locking users into a single vendor or a standard without industrywide support is not in anyone's interest.

That is why Imagine Communications and other technology suppliers, through their work with the Alliance for IP Media Solutions (AIMS), have established a roadmap for the adoption of open standards in IP connectivity that is being widely embraced across the industry. Imagine Communications CTO Steve Reynolds is deputy chairman, working from day one for the betterment of this trade organization. AIMS was founded to promote and give direction to organizations that are already defining standards for IP communications. AIMS is focused on the standards already out there, work done by great bodies like SMPTE, AMWA, VSF, and EBU. AIMS membership is now over 50, including vendors and media companies of all sizes.

During 2016, AIMS published its roadmap which sets out an open, collaborative way in which IP connectivity can be implemented in all areas of broadcasting, including live production. It is the only set of IP standards in the industry that has been developed using a collaborative, non-proprietary approach and as a result, it has garnered industry-wide support. More importantly, organizations, including customers, can go into 2017 with the ability to construct solutions and modernize their networks using standards identified in the AIMS roadmap.

The advancement of IP, of course, is only one of the trends likely to influence the broadcast industry in the coming year. We expect to see significant progress in areas such as Ultra HD (UHD), virtual reality (VR), HDR, monetization through targeted advertising, cloud-native applications, and multiplatform delivery using OTT networks. But all of these advances are in some way tied to and dependent on the transition to more agile, versatile, and future-proof infrastructures. The adoption of architectures defined by software sets the stage for the media and entertainment industry to enter a new era in which technology no longer places constraints on creativity and innovation.

The ability to nearly instantaneously commission and decommission resources will give media companies the freedom and ability to explore business opportunities that were too expensive to pursue in a traditional, purpose-built hardware environment. This all depends upon getting IP interoperability right, making this the most important advance of the coming year.