As broadcast industry operations increasingly transition to IP , broadcasters and operators are exploring ways of working in the cloud that make practical and financial sense. Oceans is Pebble’s next generation service-oriented technology platform built for all clouds, but equally happy on-prem, designed to enable you to deploy, manage, host and upgrade your broadcast workflows and services from a single intuitive unified interface, now and in your IP future. Catch up with our Oceans webinar to learn more here!
In these uncertain times we’d like to reassure you that Pebble remains fully capable of delivering your ongoing projects, and that we are committed to maintaining excellent contact with you throughout this current crisis. Every member of the Pebble team is equipped to work remotely as needed, and we are united in our commitment to minimise the impact that the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has on our ability to support you.
Our support team continues to operate and all the numbers you need remain unchanged. As a reminder:
- Please email email@example.com or call the main Pebble number +44 1932 333790 for your support queries during UK working hours Monday to Friday (09:00 – 17:30).
- If you have an off-air emergency and a valid support contract, you can call the emergency support number +44 117 987 5489 outside of these times.
Our Solutions Architects and Customer Fulfilment teams continue to work on designing and delivering your projects in a timely manner. Obviously our ability to carry out site visits is restricted, however we have been fully set up to work remotely from the Pebble offices for some time now. Whilst there is likely to be some disruption to the supply chain, we have worked in partnership with our hardware suppliers for many years and we are currently still receiving regular deliveries. If you have any questions or concerns please contact your Project Manager or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Whilst the major Spring trade shows – CABSAT and NAB – have been postponed, we have set up virtual stands for each of these events and we encourage you to meet with the Pebble experts to find out what’s new, discuss your playout plans, and get a sneak peek of what the R&D team has been working on. Make your appointments here! CABSAT virtual stand / NAB virtual stand. Of course you don’t need to restrict yourself to these times if you have any questions or would like information on any of our solutions. Please contact email@example.com – we’d love to hear from you.
If you have any questions or concerns, please do get in touch with me.
The YurView network, from COX Communications, delivers local, regional, and national broadcasts as well as live streaming and digital content to customers across the US. The company produces Emmy award-winning sports coverage along with original programming that covers the outdoors, entertainment, arts, events, people, businesses, news, and more.
Each of the regions where COX Communications has a presence has a YurView channel, featuring paid programming as well as local and shared programming produced by Cox. Live university and high school sports also form an important part of the content offered in each market.
With markets in California, Nevada, Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Florida and Virginia, each local station was responsible for its own master control operations, but the organization identified that many of the legacy playout automation systems in these locations were fast approaching end of life.
Three years ago, the decision was made to bring all local market feeds into a single centralized facility in Phoenix, Arizona, and to have a single master control operation that would manage all content. To make this happen, engineers and integrators developed an infrastructure that allowed all local programming to arrive in Phoenix and be recorded onto a Harmonic Omneon system. For a time, the legacy Sundance automation was deployed for this, but the YurView team needed to identify an alternative solution which would allow them to move forward and future-proof their operations.
“Harmonic suggested Pebble Beach Systems’ Marina automation system so we took a look,” said Tim Armour, Chief Engineer at COX YurView/Cox Creative Studios. “Marina looked like a perfect match for us and it had a lot of similarities to what operators had been using. This gave us confidence that we could seamlessly migrate playout operations over with no disruption.”
The YurView team made the move to Marina in August 2018 during a building expansion for the master control operators. They now have 17 channels going out across multiple markets, plus three or four smaller channels. “The Main YurView channels and COX sports TV, which is predominantly distributed throughout the southeast, is all originated out of our Phoenix location by our operators using the Marina system. It’s been very successful,” he confirms.
Driving the need to centralize
Many TV stations have been driven to centralize operations, which frequently results in the creation of regional hubs. Instead of a regional hub, the Cox YurView team created a national hub. “It’s an economy of scale with fewer operators watching over more channels. You’re making one investment in technology at one place. When you have content originating in so many locations, rather than distributing and storing it on their own local content storage, it’s much more efficient and cost effective to do it in one place with a centralized storage hub that everyone can pull from. “Our outside clients can now upload content to us as opposed to distributing to FTP sites across the country. We use Harmonic’s Carbon Coder for codec transport which turns incoming media into the mezzanine format needed for our workflow. This removes the need for equipment to transcode material in each market since it is all processed and stored in one place at the same time.”
Tight integration is key
The heart of the system is Marina and the Harmonic Omneon playout system. The new Harmonic Spectrum X playout devices integrate DVEs and graphics.
“There’s a tight integration between Pebble’s Marina software and the Spectrum X playout ports. Marina can give all the commands over IP for doing a lower third weather delay graphic or anything like that, so it’s a very simple process. Other systems require talking to a playout port, a graphics device and other devices independently, with the potential of having to use GPI commands to trigger things. Marina and Spectrum X integration is operationally seamless for managing items on the playlist and entering commands into the system,” says Tim.
For Cox Sports TV, there’s a considerable amount of sports live programming that will then be replayed at a later time. The program producers use a lot of graphics bugs to tell viewers when content is live or that it’s a replay in the upper right of the screen. “It becomes a simple secondary event in the Marina playlist. Operators go to a menu and pull the bug that they want and simply drag it onto the event in the playlist where it’s supposed to go. At the end of the playlist, Marina automatically pulls the bug off, goes to a commercial break, and comes back into the next segment where there’s another secondary event to put the bug in. It’s very easy.”
New Features Equal New Revenue Opportunities
Marina has allowed operators to utilize more SCTE 35 commercial insertion commands which was impossible to do with the previous automation system.
“If we’re broadcasting a Fox Cardinals game, for the avails during the commercial breaks (which allows the downstream content distributors to insert commercials), we can take a trigger from Fox and that instructs Marina to start a commercial break. This enables us to make use of our own programming, or conversely we can send that command downstream to trigger any of the downstream commercial insertions that happen in the regional markets. “We work closely with the COX Media part of the organization as they are focused on commercial programming for the local markets. Being able to send those commands out and have separate commercial insertions for each of the regions has enabled account executives to maximize their sales.”
Next month, the Pebble engineers are installing a redundant Marina system with automatic failover to give Tim and his team even more security for their operations. “We’ve built a sophisticated system that can grow with us as we continue to evolve our operations,” he says. “Pebble Beach Systems and Harmonic have been instrumental to our success, and we have plans to further expand the system in the coming months.”
Today’s widely reported research claiming that “Live TV is dead” is bold and brash and attracts attention, but it is really true? Yes, there is some decline, and the way in which we watch content is adapting and evolving – but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater here. Let’s take a look at the UK market to test the theory. Total broadcaster revenue in the UK sat at £13.6bn in 2017 according to Ofcom, with broadcasters spending £7.5bn on content, much of this on live sports programming.
Ofcom also reported that “Nine in ten people watched TV every week in 2017” and despite seeing some level of decline in viewing figures, nine in ten people is close to the entire population. We certainly cannot claim to call something nearly all Brits engage in ‘dead’ by any means. And although “Those aged 55+ accounted for more than half of all viewing in the UK”, the average life expectancy is 80 years old. That’s another 25 years of broadcast TV viewing for the solid customer base.
And live TV isn’t dead for younger viewers either, Love Island broke records this year by bringing in ITV2s biggest ever audiences and plenty of live TV shows are still attracting viewers who need to be part of the conversation. If anything, Twitter hashtags and online spoilers have forced younger people back into watching live TV. Love Island was the most talked about show on Twitter in 2018, with more than six million tweets posted about the show, and this desire to engage from younger viewers cannot be met in the same way without live TV.
Of course another huge factor in live TV’s resilience is the thrill of watching live sports. Sports fans are certainly not willing to compromise on the “live” element of matches and the popularity of HD sports channels are evidence that mobile and tablets simply won’t cut it for these customers. People want to know the score as it happens and celebrate (or commiserate) in the moment. According to Statistica 90% of fans are willing to pay for sports programming, and Google insights found that 80% of sports viewers are using multiple screens to check scores, communicate about the matches or engage in other digital media. It seems then that perhaps live TV is not only alive and well but can coexist with the streaming world, if anything to only be improved by it.
Fewer UK TV channels are closing every year. If TV truly were dead we should be seeing this number increase, with more and more TV Channels struggling to make ends meet. In fact, the broadcast model is a highly lucrative one, which is why it has been successful for so many years. While online streaming services struggle to bring in the revenue to support their content, traditional broadcasters are still showing signs of life.
It is evident that the way in which live TV is being consumed is changing, and traditional broadcast has started to become less popular – but it is by no means dead. The multi-screen nature of how we view content will provide new and exciting challenges for broadcasters going forward and potentially allow a huge increase in advertising revenues as our devices collect ever more data about us. But as we can see from ITV’s Love Island, the need for consumers to be part of the conversation and a constant fear of spoilers absolutely drives fans to be part of the live experience, and part of the discussion as it’s happening. Live TV isn’t dying, it’s changing, and we’re at the precipice of something exciting and amazing, maybe we shouldn’t be quite so willing to write off the medium that has brought us here.
As more media organisations examine the merits and challenges of migrating their broadcast playout operations to IP and virtualized deployments, we’ve seen an exponential growth in the sheer variety of POCs and RFPs, and in the scope of requirements they contain. Broadcasters are looking for clarity in this time of change, asking questions such as:
“Should we be uncompressed or compressed?”
“Can we use a public or private cloud?”
“We can’t just throw all this SDI equipment out! How do we expand and future proof our investment?”
“Can we have both SDI and IP?”
“How can we handle the needs of live broadcasts in this new IP World?”
“Which decision is the most fiscally responsible for our business while allowing us to evolve?”
“This IP stuff is expensive. Is it going to be worth it?”
There is, of course, no single right answer to any of these. Every broadcast playout workflow is unique, so properly supporting any broadcaster’s needs requires agile software development, a collaborative approach for the lifetime of the project and, crucially, an experienced engineering and deployment team.
Here at Pebble Beach Systems, we have that experience in spades. We’ve worked on some truly ground-breaking installations—each one different from the other—and each with a new set of requirements. So here’s a look at some of the challenges we’ve helped our customers resolve.
Virtualised Playout for a large European Service Provider
In 2015, this customer started a project to evaluate the feasibility of virtualisation. This was quite early on in the history of virtualised playout – most broadcasters weren’t even talking about it back then – but their customers were moving towards much shorter one or two-year playout contracts, and they needed a more agile playout infrastructure to cope with this level of churn. The lease on their building was coming to an end, so they made the decision to move out of their specialist broadcast facility into a standard office building and to host the playout of around 90 channels in a remote data centre. The challenge was to do away with SDI, dramatically scale back running costs, and find a partner willing and able to go on this journey with them. Having tested a number of compressed IP-based playout solutions, Pebble Beach Systems was selected, with a solution featuring Marina automation controlling our Orca integrated channel technology.
The system has now been on air since 2017 and comprises a total of 240 virtual machines, playing out 90 channels to air, all protected with 1+1 channel redundancy. The 180 Orca channels in the data centre support transport streams for live input and output, and NDI for low latency monitoring. Operators in the office building which hosts the control room use a combination of our Lighthouse web clients and Marina clients for monitoring and control, and each of the Orca channels can be configured in software to meet the processing requirements of each channel.
This customer reduced their equipment foot print from 160 racks on premises to just 40 racks in the data centre, and in reducing the amount of hardware they were therefore able to reduce power consumption by 66% compared to their old playout system.
Hybrid SDI and IP Playout for a Major Worldwide Business and Finance News Network
This customer was moving to a new location in the heart of London, presenting an opportunity to refresh their broadcast technology and showcase the latest IP technologies. Their 7 financial news channels (including 2 web streaming channels) needed to support fast turnaround workflows and be remotely controlled from New York production facilities when the US markets were open. Knowing that IP would be the future, the goal was to have as little SDI infrastructure as possible, even though the SMPTE ST-2022-6 standard was still in its infancy.
Following a rigorous evaluation process involving a detailed proof of concept, Pebble was awarded the contract to supply a playout solution featuring Marina automation controlling 14 Dolphin integrated playout channels (7+7) and 64 Dolphin ingest and review channels.
Each of the playout channels can select from one of four inputs for live pass through (this would be the local feed for EMEA, USA or APAC, plus a spare, or they can playout pre-recorded content form either local or network storage.) They support a hybrid mix of either 2022-6 or SDI for video input and output.
Building a bridge between SDI and IP is the kind of flexibility that truly sets Pebble apart. For instance, Pebble has recently announced support for the Vizrt engine running on our servers. At the time, our customer wanted to continue to use their existing Vizrt engine, so it was able to connect directly using SDI. They are making heavy use of our Lighthouse remote monitoring and management system in their MCR, with touch screens in the control rooms which render an HTML5 page from Lighthouse, including a Smart Panel customisable UI. We also enable the control of automation systems across all their worldwide geographies to automate regional channels for their “follow the sun” operation.
Business Continuity Operation for fully synchronized Disaster Recovery in the Private Cloud
An existing Pebble customer came to us with a requirement to set up an IP-based Disaster Recovery system outside their base in the Middle East. Their playout centre has a traditional playout system using Marina automation, video servers, master control switchers and graphics, but this requirement was for a business continuity center, rather than a pure DR system, which functioned just as well as their main site.
The solution we architected enables the operator at the broadcast centre in the Middle East to continue to play out their channels with Marina automation controlling traditional devices (SDI), whilst everything is synchronised across to the new European DR facility 24/7, where a virtualised deployment of Marina controls Orca devices running in a private cloud. Since the system implementation started in 2017 additional features have been rolled out which handle live sources, run 3D graphics with a best-of-breed graphics plugin, and add capacity to support all 23 of their channels. Monitoring is done through the Lighthouse application which enables the staff to have a view across both systems. They can move seamlessly between the main and backup site.
This Business Continuity deployment has replaced an expensive third-party DR service and brings that function ‘virtually’ in house, delivering highly significant ongoing cost savings.
Playout for the largest Uncompressed IP Project in Europe
Pebble was awarded the contract for this new greenfield site at the end of last year. Obviously, IP standards have moved on since earlier deployments, and this broadcaster is building an all-IP facility utilising SMPTE ST-2110 technology to its full potential. (Among other things, 2110 splits up video/audio/aux signals for much greater capacity and efficiency compared to 2022-6). The 4 channel playout solution which Pebble is providing features Marina and Dolphin, and one of the key requirements was to use as many open standards as possible, so the project makes heavy use of the new NMOS specs including IS-04, IS-05, IS-07 (Pebble chairs the IS-07 initiative) and IS-09. When complete, the facility will be all HD with the ability to upgrade to UHD when the outbound infrastructure supports it. The solution includes the new Viz Engine plugin which run directly in our Dolphin integrated channel device, reducing costs, complexity and rackspace for the end user.
Interestingly, the project includes a high level of audio processing. Whilst SDI is limited to 16 tracks of audio, 2110 manages multiple audio flows much more efficiently, with 1 to 64 tracks in a given audio flow. This user will be one of the first playout customers to use 2110 to its full potential, with multiple audios and multiple auxiliaries.
If you’ve read this far, I hope these examples were useful to you to illustrate the breadth and depth of installations Pebble has been part of. After all, we’re not just paying lip service, we’ve literally been there and done that! Give us a call so we can help you do it too!