Louis XV in the days before the French Revolution might have accurately described the ominous feeling looming over NAB 2019. With 5G and remote IP production already a reality, the broadcast industry is poised to undergo a radical transformation. Cable TV companies like Dish and DirecTV are being pummeled, hemorrhaging customers at a record pace, losing almost two million subscribers in 2018 alone. Dish and DirecTV have all but tossed in the towel on hawking video packages to the masses, increasingly offering broadband access only. It seems providing a pipeline for rabid OTTers like Netflix and Amazon is the future for the once-mighty cable TV operators, with a no-less-profound revolution awaiting the production broadcast community at large.
In the last few years, we’ve seen a dramatic consolidation of media titans: ATT inhaled Time Warner, Comcast sucked up Sky, and Disney chowed down on 21st Century Fox. The mergers were necessary, it is said, in order to continue to drive profits for the respective buyers because Netflix had bid up the price of content so much. Some would argue that that 90% of broadcast advertising revenue today is still derived from linear video, not IP, but the IP tea leaves are clearly on the wall.
At his Sunday NAB press briefing, Grass Valley President Tim Shoulders described how his company partnered with IMG Remote Productions in a remarkable operation that served as the ultimate proof of concept. Cameras located in Tokyo were connected to an XCU base station in IMG’s London facility using a Grass Valley DirectIP connection to deliver uncompressed, near-zero latency video over a distance of 20,000 km.
The implications of this are akin (almost) to the storming of the Bastille. For one thing, DirectIP technology obviates the need to ship football fields of hardware and crews to the far reaches of the globe for sporting events, concerts, and other things. Source footage may be acquired using professional and consumer cameras and iPhones from pretty much anywhere and streamed to a production studio in London, New York, Sydney, or anywhere else in between.
Another advantage: IP production is inherently format-agnostic, so laggards who are still languishing in SD and looking to upgrade can skip the NAB shakedown meetings with vendors, and forego (possibly) the massive investment in 4K/8K altogether.
Looking ahead, there are of course many issues to resolve if the IP revolution is to go beyond the barricades on Rue de SMPTE ST 2110. For one thing, greater security will be needed if the major players AT&T and Disney, who have the most to lose, are to sign on any time soon. Another thing is the poor consistency of the IP viewer experience. While playout is reasonably consistent and predictable in live production, it can be a challenge on the IP side bringing together multiple data streams efficiently and reliably. This suggests the greatest challenge facing remote IP production is its inherent complexity, which can lead to trouble versus the tried-and-true simplicity of traditional SDI baseband.
For shooters and DPs, the IP revolution will have a significant impact, but perhaps not as much as in other parts of the industry. Talent will still need to be shot and sets will still need to be lit, even if the base station or studio facility is located thousands of miles away. We camera types won’t be manning the barricades or singing the songs of angry men, necessarily. But, like the rest of the industry, we might nevertheless be joining our colleagues in other crafts singing sad songs of days gone by.