Where are we at with CiAB at the end of 2013?

a tv in a cardboard box

Something has gone wrong in the world of channel-in-a-box. This is a technology – or really a set of technologies – that has occupied the headlines many times over the past few years. But the discussion around this industry subsector seems to us to be dominated by technologies and their specific capabilities at the expense of more rational discussion about business cases. This isn’t to say that technology decisions aren’t important; but discussing technology specifics before looking at business cases seems an odd way to begin.

If the answer to the question posed is “yes, we need to launch more channels to increase revenue” or “yes, we need to be able to launch channels more quickly” or “yes, we need to review our DR situation to make it more flexible/scalable,” then the next question should be: how do we achieve that cost-effectively and with technical elegance?

Responding to that question poses a challenge for the customer because this is not strictly a technical exercise. The answer will come from an understanding of their business, where the opportunities for growth lie, and the role available technologies can play to assist in that growth.

Before we can even consider CiAB as a solution, it’s important to say that while CiAB appears to be an all-encompassing notion, it really isn’t one thing. You can’t define CiAB with a checklist, hoping that if you have all the boxes checked then you have a CiAB system. This is because, despite a somewhat grandiose name and a fair bit of hype, channel-in-a-box systems do not exist in isolation. There’s a multitude of surrounding infrastructure, and therefore workflow, that has to be understood and optimised.

With that understanding, let’s get back to the business case issue.

So why consider CiAB solutions? Everyone highlights cost of ownership and ease of operation, and those are certainly considerations. Users undoubtedly save in terms of CAPEX and OPEX and also benefit from the fact they only have one vendor to contact. We think, however, that scalability and the ease with which that can be achieved with CiAB are of even greater commercial appeal. The inherent flexibility of CiAB further lends itself to growth and nimbleness. These benefits only reveal themselves as customers come to fully understand the technology and its capabilities within the context of the surrounding infrastructure. That’s where the real advantages surface.

Once customers have moved beyond the basic entry point and have a few channels up and running, then CiaB solutions provide massive flexibility in terms of adding additional channels, or indeed changing the way that an on-air channel might work. Customers don’t have to rebuild entire playout chains to add subtitling; typically that will be a software license. On Monday a customer may decide that they want to add subtitling to a channel and on Tuesday they’re on air with it.

If those business benefits are appealing and CiAB technologies do enter the frame as an option then of course it comes down to technical specifics. What are the graphics capabilities required? What about manual control, perhaps with a hardware panel? How much live content will there be? What about subtitling?

CiAB technologies are by necessity reasonably complex as they are taking the role of multiple separate units. At this point the evolving role of broadcast manufacturers as technology consultants or even mini systems integrators comes to the fore (we plan to talk more about this shift in an upcoming blog).

CiAB technologies have many benefits if well engineered, but they don’t operate in a void, nor do they automatically provide a route to greater ROI. For that to happen, the business case must stack up.

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