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Ask the experts with Julian Wright, CEO Blue Lucy Media a number of single function ‘black boxes’ or software-based processes running on proprietary hardware to provide the video signal or file-based processing. From that perspective, there is a long way to go. Q. What has caused this apparent lethargy? There is probably no single reason. Undoubtedly, some early adopters were burned by poorly developed, unreliable offerings and partial (more cautious) implementations suffered integration headaches that yielded apparently little operational benefit. There are a few high profile digital swans at some broadcast facilities, the shortcomings of which are often highlighted by the wary as a reason to resist a more complete migration to fully IT based infrastructure. Q. Digital Swan? Convergence of IT and broadcast technology Q. ‘Convergence’, specifically the convergence of IT and broadcast technology, appears to be one of those themes that endures. Why does the subject still garner so much attention in 2012? It must be 15-years since the term was first used in this context, are we not a fully converged industry? No, I don’t think we are fully ‘converged’, far from it; and yes, it does seem strange. It is probably 20 years since the first video files were introduced in a production workflow, but the broadcast and media technology business has apparently lagged behind other industries in the exploitation of IT-based systems. That is not to say that the broadcast facilities of today are not highly reliant on ‘IT’ infrastructure - most control rooms have a high degree of computer driven automation, and desktop editing in news rooms is almost universal. A review of the underlying system components however, often reveals an environment comprising 40 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE A digital swan is not (quite) a white elephant. Some early attempts at deploying IT workflows in which ‘must have’ legacy systems were retained resulted in solutions in which a number of proprietary single function devices from multiple vendors were forced to communicate through an array of gateways and format converters for the overall workflow to be realised. Thanks to a uniform user interface, an impression is created of a smooth, integrated operation whereas in reality, like a swan sailing across a pond, it is the furious paddling beneath the surface that keeps the platform operating. Therefore, failures and errors inevitably occur. Engineers and operators who have a ‘swan’ in their facility will appreciate the analogy. Their swan probably has a name. I remember a few! Q. The issues you highlight here appear to relate to the approach as opposed to any intrinsic problem with the technologies. That’s right. There are few technical barriers to a broadcast production implementation in which the IT components dominate. Issues of resilience or time criticality are long gone. Indeed the IT industry offers more in terms of formal service assurance at multiple levels within the technology stack than broadcast technology ever did. There are components in a broadcast/ production chain that will always be highly specialised, most obviously cameras but many, perhaps most, of the downstream components need not be. As high end media production and broadcast move to digital and file-based working, new tools and systems will be required to take better advantage of the IT technology that has benefited other industries. Merely dressing legacy systems with a layer of new technology is not enough to deliver the required levels of interconnectivity and efficiency. Instead, a whole new approach to workflow and the consequent integration requirements are needed in order to satisfy the growing diversity and complexity of media business deliverables. Broadcasters and content owners need to move to products that use techniques common to other high technology sectors and try to avoid partial or compromised solutions that will deliver proportionately less benefit than a wholehearted approach. Q. A broadcaster taking a wholehearted approach to system design doesn’t address the integration issues though. No it doesn’t and, sadly, the integration issue remains. Vendor lock- in is a real problem in the broadcast industry, possibly more than any other technology space. Too many manufacturers take an open standard and make a subtle change to it so that it appears compliant. But on integration with a component from another manufacturer, problems arise (I’m sure most will have encountered problems with the ever-expanding flavours of the .mxf container). Manufacturers do not yet appreciate that the use of open standards is for the benefit of their customers and is now essential. Systems architects within broadcast organisations are challenged by reduced budgets and an ever-increasing number of content delivery channels; and interoperability issues characterised by manufacturer specific ‘application frame-works’ and ‘platforms’ are greatly frustrating. These situations would be anathema to a web content management system (CMS) architect. Unfortunately, such frustrations are becoming increasingly common right up the production chain.