PixelPower

KitPlus: Responding to Change

The first days of 2020 seem like a good time to reflect on what will happen to our industry in the coming months and years.

There are some things about which we can do nothing. The global political situation seems to be in turmoil. Populists seem to stop at nothing, and are certainly not hampered by the need to be truthful; the Middle East is in turmoil (growing rapidly worse as this article takes shape); and of course we still have no idea what the impact will be of Brexit, both for British companies and those based in the EU. All of these and more will be affecting the decisions of vendor companies every day in 2020 and beyond.

But what of our industry? The first point to make is that we are now in the end stage of the transition from broadcasting to content delivery, from linear television to content everywhere. The new model demands much more of delivery systems, yet technical budgets are not growing in step. Indeed, they are shrinking, so content companies are going to be looking for ever-more clever solutions.

Thanks to the growing power of COTS hardware and well-thought through software-defined architectures, both the technology and the solutions are available. The challenge relates to ‘people’.

First, the users of the technology need to buy into the new workflows and operational practices. Simply like-for-like replacement of a playout chain with a software-defined equivalent is not enough: it is definitely not a clever solution. We need to work together to create smarter ways to work, that take advantage of the new opportunities.

Secondly, we are not a young industry. It is something we regularly say, but we need to offer encouragement for the best people to join us. That has to start with STEM initiatives at school.

For all the talk of software-centric solutions, we will still need “broadcast engineers” in the future. It is about more than simply writing code. You may be able to add functionality to social media applications, or secure banking log-ons, but you still need a special set of skills and understanding to engineer a live sports broadcast. 2020 sees the Olympics and Paralympics: there will be very many engineers, with very many years of experience to their names, heading for Tokyo to deliver the quality and intensity of coverage that audiences demand.

Japanese broadcaster NHK will be claiming the headlines for its 8k coverage. But it is also important to remember that in large parts of the world SD is still the norm, and very few ordinary people will watch in anything above HD.

Just as the move from SDI to IP has proved slower than people predicted, this underlines a simple truism we should all remember: if you don’t need to be cutting edge, don’t make life difficult. If your SDI installation works, do not feel the need to throw it out any time soon, to replace it with an infrastructure which does not perform the way you expect it, and which needs additional skills which are still in very short supply.

That also applies to other new technologies for which wild claims have been made but have failed to deliver. There is a growing realisation that the idea of using the public cloud for large swathes of broadcast applications is a real case of the emperor’s new clothes.

That is not what the cloud is for; not what it is good at. By all means, set up disaster recovery in the cloud, to sit there costing very little unless the dreaded day should arrive. But for many customers 24/7 playout in the cloud really does not stand up to sensible financial and commercial analysis.

Having said all that, I am very optimistic for the future. We see good reasons for excitement in 2020, not least a tangible sales pipeline and a successful continuing recruitment programme. We are investing in a stronger team to support the delivery of better solutions.

I know we have been talking about solutions for many years, but it is truer today than ever that media companies want to buy working systems, not point products. They simply do not have the staff to decide what they need to do and evaluate the marketplace.

But systems integrators have to change, too. They are no longer stack and rack merchants, judged on the neatness of their wiring looms above all else. Today’s integrators have to manage the orchestration of the technology into the workflows that are going to deliver commercial and operational benefits.

Broadcasters and content deliverers still want to feel that they are buying the best of breed, and certainly do not want to get locked in to single-vendor solutions. So the need is for smart, capable integrators who can develop this orchestration, creating original software as well as configuring products from multiple vendors.

For companies like Pixel Power, that means we have to have strong resources to support integrators, helping them get the best out of our technology to achieve the desired goals of the end customer.

That, in turn, means that successful businesses will need a certain scale. Pixel Power became part of the Rohde & Schwarz group over a year ago now, and continues to retain its own identity. That seems to me an ideal solution: we have big company resources while retaining specialist skills.

2020 is definitely going to be an interesting year. I hope you are looking forward to it as much as I am.

James Gilbert, CEO, Pixel Power a Rohde & Schwarz Company, January 2020

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