Peter Mayhead: Post IBC Blog

Another year, another IBC. As we return from Amsterdam to ponder whether the months of planning, designing and messaging were worth the money, sweat and tears we poured into this event, I am happy to report another successful IBC for Pebble. Throughout the week, I was able to spend quality time with customers, prospects and partners, discussing their thoughts on the state of the industry, their plans for the future and where Pebble can support them.

At the Devoncroft Executive Summit, IP networking and content delivery was highlighted as the number one trend in 2019 and the most important commercial issue for media companies globally, and many customers were keen to discuss the pros and cons of virtualising their playout operations with us.

Whereas a couple of years ago you might have been tempted to believe that virtualisation offered a panacea to every broadcasting challenge, we are finding that many discussions are of a much more pragmatic nature these days, and that’s a good thing. Organisations are coming to the harsh realisation that adding a virtualised infrastructure into their broadcast workflow adds a significant layer of complexity and specific new requirements into the mix. They are realising that choosing to implement a full-scale virtualised platform will require much more than just a change in technology. Instead, it will require a fundamental change in their organisation’s business model as well as their relationship with application providers and integrators. For many broadcasters, virtualisation is not necessarily about being cheaper, or getting more out of the resources. It’s about flexibility, scalability and ease of maintenance, which can certainly result in savings over time, but only when correctly implemented.

It’s no secret that at Pebble, we are firm believers in the advantages of IP technology in the entire media production chain. Having said that, most station managers and broadcast facility CTOs I’ve spoken with recently are wondering how they can get from where they are today, with their current infrastructure, to the brave new world of IP, virtualisation and possibly cloud, in a managed, incremental way.

It’s clear to me that what most of these broadcasters are looking for is an honest and trusted partner. Not a box shifter with the best discount. While there are plenty of vendors out there offering brand-new platforms, ready to go, they require their customers to essentially forget everything they have today. At Pebble we don’t advocate for rip and replace strategies. In fact, we believe that the best strategy is often to focus on evolution rather than revolution and go through the process with a partner you can trust, someone who is flexible, agile, versatile and will work as a consultant with you throughout the process. End users are not simply buying a product, they are investing in the people: building a relationship with their suppliers and collaborating with them to maximise the ROI from this new technology landscape. Vendors should listen to the specific requirements of each deployment, adapt to their customers’ needs, offer expertise and a collaborative approach well beyond the on-air date, and deliver accountability for their offerings throughout the lifecycle of the deployment.

At Pebble, we believe in the power of interoperability and collaboration. As an independent specialist playout automation vendor, it’s in our DNA. We have a long history of interfacing to our end users’ preferred devices to create an agnostic approach that enables them to specify the exact playout infrastructure to meet their specific channel and business requirements. From large multi-national vendors to specialist niche providers, we have built excellent relationships with multiple providers to ensure this is maintained. When we can ensure that these technologies communicate with one other using standardized, universally recognized protocols, the end user gains immense freedom to architect the solution that truly meets their needs.

The fact that we were able to engage in these deep thoughtful and almost philosophical questions with our customers about how to evolve, how to best embrace virtualisation, how to grow their revenue streams is testament to the trust they put in us and the confidence they have in our ability to help them solve their problems. It’s clear to me that following the successful restructuring we went through the last couple of years, we are now recognised as one of the very few remaining independent specialist vendors in playout. In a turbulent market that is plagued by consolidation, we are growing and generating significant profits which allows us to make substantial investments in our R&D. We are small and agile and uniquely placed to help define the future of this vital area of the broadcast industry.

Finally, I’d like to end this note with words of heartfelt gratitude for every one of our Pebbles who worked tirelessly to put together another great IBC show. I’m proud of our team.



Daniel Robinson Blog: To cloud or not to cloud

Virtualising Playout – More Pebble Straight-Talk to Help You Through the Decision-making Process

Pebble first launched Orca – the virtualised integrated channel solution which runs under the control of a virtualised Marina automation system – in 2015. Several years on there are now multiple Orca deployments in diverse applications, including a full cross-continent business continuity service, and a large-scale multi-channel deployment which broadcasts in multiple languages requiring precise synchronisation and comprehensive audio playout rules.

With more and more deployments being announced, the buzz around virtualised playout keeps growing. But questions remain about the economic, logistical and technical benefits to the end user, and judging by the high volume of on-premise playout solutions that we install and commission – whether IP or baseband – it’s clear that this path is not one that every broadcaster or media company is ready to follow.

We originally visited this topic in our article ‘’Virtualising Your Playout Operations: A Reality Check” cautioning the broadcaster to carefully examine the reasons why they want to virtualise, and highlighting the many factors they need to consider. These observations on infrastructure, monitoring, benchmarking, provisioning and more still hold true, and we’d encourage you to take a look here.

In the meantime, we’ve noticed that the conversation has shifted and amplified around certain areas, with the debate around the private/public cloud escalating and new cloud-native solutions entering the market. So, what do you need to consider today if you’re thinking about virtualising? What is actually relevant to playout, and how do you cut through the marketing noise to establish what really matters to your operation? This is a great opportunity to deploy modern technologies, but not without assessing the risks of the move.

To cloud or not to cloud?

If you’re contemplating shifting your playout to the cloud, migrating your operations to IP is the first step, and it’s not a trivial one. But this enabling technology will open up your options to move off premise and handle your playout from a co-location data centre, a privately-owned data centre, or the public cloud.

Cost is a key factor here. Whilst running your playout on premise in the traditional way will cause an initial spike in investment when the servers are purchased, over the following years your running costs are going to be lower (e.g. Maintenance and SLA), and they tend to be fixed and calculated as a known percentage of the initial price.

Provided that your entire operation – not just playout – can be lifted and shifted to the public cloud, then comparing the cost of this to managing a typical on premise broadcast facility may give you favourable results in the short term. You’ll make savings on rack space and power consumption, as well as on the costs of running your building including fire suppressant systems, security guards, and all the necessary infrastructure to support staff and equipment. The figures soon become quite compelling if you’re in a position to consider such a radical wholesale move.

Specific savings in playout are not so easy to identify, however. There are obviously benefits to only using the compute resources you need, when you need them. But if you’re a Tier One broadcaster managing a high value service which requires high levels of availability this may not be relevant. And you’ll want to maximise the efficiency of your virtual machines, but certain processes in channel playout require provisioning for the worst case and highest loads, so they’re expensive machines to deploy.

Don’t forget to factor in the cost of ancillary services. It may seem inexpensive for you to deploy a virtual instance for an hour but multiply that up to establish the cost of keeping a channel on air for a month or a year and the picture is quite different. Also, your files may be free to upload, but can you really accurately predict the download volume (and associated cost)?

What is clear is that there is a compelling case to handle Disaster Recovery operations in the cloud. But don’t forget that if you need to spin up a channel quickly you also need to repoint your distribution end points, so you’ll need to consider which technology is required to handle this in order to create the full environment. A full Business Continuity system which runs in the public cloud, fully synchronised with your main operations may be the preferable approach, giving you the functionality you need, without disrupting your viewers’ watching experience.

So, is it really useful to have an infinitely elastic ecosystem for playout, when playout is usually static? How important is it to be able to scale within seconds? Once a channel is established it will generally run for at least months, with no great variation around its processing requirements. It’s definitely worth considering whether, for fixed channels with pre-loaded content and static schedules, you really need that agility. It may be that the benefit you gain from shifting to the public cloud lies more in the 3rd party networking expertise and enhanced redundancy that the large cloud services offer with, for example, Amazon having three data centres in any one region, and your choice of configurable redundancy across those.

In Conclusion

As a specialist playout solution provider, we have the technology and the expertise to deploy solutions on premise, in the cloud, utilizing baseband, compressed or uncompressed IP. We pride ourselves in remaining agnostic, giving impartial, practical advice, and offering solutions which are architected specifically to meet your requirements now and in the future. We would be happy to share our experience so that you are aware of the facts before deciding which approach will give you the results your business needs.

Nevertheless, we believe in the evolutionary approach. We provide an architecture that can grow and change with your needs, perhaps allowing you to change the core while all your infrastructure is still SDI and then to migrate to a full IP solution with minimal disruption. Throughout this journey we remain focussed on the importance of custom system design, collaborative project delivery, and a flexible approach to working with you to deliver your solution.


Miroslav Jeras Blog: NMOS IS-07 – The Swiss Army Knife for IP Workflows

Whilst Team Pebble is hard at work making the final tweaks in preparation for the IP Showcase and for demos on our booth at NAB, I thought it be useful to share some detail on IS-07, the NMOS Event & Tally specification, and what it aims to bring to IP video interoperability between vendors and their systems. For those not familiar, this specification is being developed by AMWA and is a recently adopted extension to the NMOS Networked Media Open Specifications suite of specifications. The formal definition would be that IS-07 defines a mechanism for emitting and consuming states and state changes in the IP environment.

Simply put, it replaces the need for wired GPI connections in modern broadcast facilities as they migrate to IP infrastructures. But it goes much farther than traditional GPI, because the true power of IS-07 lies its ability to transport string and numeric values, plus timing metadata and type metadata like range or unit of measurement. So this means that IP-based equipment from multiple vendors can be connected, and pass control information, better than ever before, and all that using open standards. Also, those connections can be easily and simply remapped as required using IS-05 – the same protocols used for routing RTP media streams.

Of course, there are existing protocols that cover simple data transport over the network, but those tend to be proprietary protocols that are often implemented on a per project basis. IS-07 solves the problem in a standardized way that ensures interoperability between vendors. It’s like a Swiss Army knife for system integration. It allows connectivity between a wide range of equipment, from hardware panels or multiviewers up to pure software only devices, all of that orchestrated by control systems.

It’s exciting to be at the forefront of this initiative which has ramifications for all vendors and users who are architecting and maintaining IP infrastructures. On the Pebble booth at NAB this year, we will be presenting a targeted demo showing just a subset of the vast functionality this protocol will enable, featuring Pebble equipment alongside technology from Riedel and Atos.

We will also be participating in the IP Showcase in NAB’s Central Hall again, and I’ll be presenting a paper there on IS-07 on Wednesday 10th April at 11:30. This year, the Future Zone of the IP Showcase will feature a dedicated IS-07 area where attendees can see devices from different vendors seamlessly integrated in an interactive demo workflow. Devices in the demo include hardware and software panels, playout systems, multiviewers and measurement equipment. Please come and see the possibilities and ask questions at either the Pebble booth or at the IP showcase. I hope to see you there!

As the entire industry moves towards the adoption of open standards like IS-07, Pebble invites broadcasters to witness the clear benefits that these latest open IP control standards will bring.


BBright Brings UHD-Channel To NAB 2019

FRA: BBright, a leading solution provider for Ultra HD deployments, will bring its newest playout/video production server, the UHD-Channel, to NAB 2019. Read more about how BBright will demonstrate the ability for UHD-Channel to be controlled by the flagship Marina automation solution from Pebble Beach Systems!