Managed Media Services Unlock IP for Sports Contribution

By Jan Helgesen, product manager, Nevion

Contribution delivery for sports is a dynamic, high-speed world where services need to be set up and torn down on demand to meet transport needs that can change within minutes. As concerns around quality, control, and security are slowly being alleviated, IP for contribution video is increasingly becoming an infrastructure of choice.

The benefits of IP’s any-to-any connections, increased efficiency, lower operating expenses, and economies of scale are just too compelling and too seamlessly dovetail with today’s media landscape of connectivity to all devices. Residual benefits have longer-term positive consequences. Smarter use of network resources optimizes service cost.

Modern distributed IT technologies are well suited to address the challenges of flexible high-speed transport while allaying traditional fears associated with IP contribution transport. Today’s media management, encompassing comprehensive control and management, also serves to simplify and automate complex IP networking. What were traditionally individual/separate workflow components — provisioning, scheduling, resource reservation, connection management, security, authentication — often spanning several different systems can now be integrated into one platform. Self-service portals enable users to book services and access service-level information.

A New Breed of Managed Media Services
The biggest challenge to deploying IP for contribution delivery is managing the complexity of IP/Ethernet networks. Static bandwidth provisioning and standard protection and security profiles are no longer feasible. A media-services–management system can and should control and monitor all aspects, including the media to be transported and all services and components involved in the transport from end-to-end throughout the network.

Often these systems work across legacy systems, offering support for hybrid infrastructures and providing a clear migration path towards IP. Open approaches encourage interaction with third-party equipment and management systems, critical in today’s software-driven environment. The latest available Internet technologies are also being adopted, incorporating apps that can be launched from any standard Web browser and enabling creation of custom apps for specific purposes. Simplification and automation of complex network processes are key in managed-media-services environments and eliminate the need for specialized hardware. While saving resources, this also lessens the need for highly trained personnel to operate systems. Intuitive and often customizable user-interface controls can control entire IP ecosystems.

Managed-media solution

Managed-media solution (click on image to enlarge)

Modular architectures, often based on a layered networking approach, offer scalability and allow tailoring to customer specifics. These capabilities are critical, particularly in sports productions, with many simultaneous connections and high traffic to be managed. Easy and automated network inventory is essential in complex networks with numerous connections. Video and audio encapsulation, compression — either JPEG2000 or H.264 — and protection protocols can also be delivered and managed within the new breed of managed-media systems.

Inside the Architecture
Although individual infrastructures may vary, a distributed-database/ distributed-processing model from the ground up may provide the most secure, high-performance core. Automated provisioning of media-transport services provides intelligent routing decisions based on bandwidth utilization and other network constraints. Diverse path routing supports end-to-end redundancy, and continuous service monitoring identifies and automatically addresses potential problems before they affect service. Automated disaster recovery guarantees uptimes equivalent to those of point-to-point networks. And multiple hardware servers can provide high redundancy for little or no loss of functionality or performance should a server become inoperative. Dynamic connection management, bandwidth optimization, analytics, and network inventory should also be encompassed.

The best systems are able to take all of this functionality and hide the complexity, allowing users to view only what’s absolutely necessary through intuitive graphic interfaces. The more automated, the more efficient, error-free operation. This efficiency also lessens the need for highly skilled network operators, who can spend their time on more important engineering functions.

The system’s network-abstraction layer allows the provisioning and monitoring of services without the user’s having to consider detailed configuration settings in each network element. The platform auto-detects available video endpoints and enables the user to set up connections by selecting the appropriate endpoints and service profile. The system also provides asset information, monitoring of available video ports, video-over-IP service profiles with Quality of Service (QoS) calculation (Forward Error Correction, or FEC), as well as a map view for video services and ports, timetable view for video-service ports, dashboard view for equipment management, and API for integration with other systems.

As a result of these capabilities, producers on-site at a venue can set up video-over-IP connections and record directly to the main production facility or record locally and transfer the files at a later time through software. Through the system’s dynamic connection management, the main production facility is able to use a limited number of decoders in support of 16 locations, dynamically shifting the connections where they are needed. Teams can connect directly to the main production studio and use Web-based tools to manage content, with the system also providing key scheduling, provisioning, and monitoring of all services.

The flexibility to link to more than a dozen locations on an as-needed basis enables rapid and cost-efficient content production and delivery, saving the resources associated with so many permanent connections. The main facility maintains three connections at any given time, receiving content where and when it makes sense and according to the games’ schedule.

A European football organization selected IP-based contribution to enable remote production at 16 stadiums.

A European football organization selected IP-based contribution to enable remote production at 16 stadiums.

When a sports-television–production facility responsible for a major European football organization was looking to upgrade its content delivery and better equip small onsite remote studios, an IP-based contribution system was the answer. The system needed to enable remote production — including delivery of live footage as well as edited highlights and clip packages — at 16 geographically dispersed stadiums.

IP Protection Techniques Mature
Protection mechanisms integrated into managed-media platforms continue to advance, ensuring the highest-quality video delivery. Increased bandwidth combined with QoS mechanisms, such as MPLS, and traffic prioritization are coupled with FEC and diverse path routing designed for perfect protection switching, minimizing the effects of random packet losses and link failures. Hardware redundancy, ensuring continuous transmission in the event of power or hardware failure, and switching for input protection provide even greater protection for IP streams.

A Connectionless Future
IP will only continue its steady rise in broadcast contribution. We are in a time of IT ubiquity, and ensuring safe, cost-effective connections wherever and whenever they are needed makes sense for the mobile world that we all inhabit. Utilizing bandwidth opportunistically for file transfer and other data and video services is an important driver to IP. Sports-production studios, content owners, and broadcasters need only look at the rapid proliferation of second screens and the new revenue and reach opportunities that affords to see the far-reaching benefits of an infrastructure designed to easily accommodate these services. All of this, however, is dependent on the proper management of IP systems.