New Standards Soon to Bring Software-Defined TV to Your Living Room

NEWS ANALYSIS: Much of the talk at the National Association of Broadcasters 2016 show was about how IP standards and software-defined television will help the TV studios as well as viewers cut the cord to cable, Internet and satellite services.

Software-Defined TV

LAS VEGAS—We are in the age of software-defined everything—networking, storage, infrastructure, data centers. Now get ready for software-defined television. "SD-TV" is not hype. It's a reality that's coming soon to television studios and living rooms near you.

It's happening on two fronts. First, as was apparent all over the million square feet of exhibit space here at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) 2016 show, Internet Protocol is taking over as the future of video production and distribution.

A new industry consortium, the Alliance for IP Media Solutions (AIMS), announced the support of more than 30 members, including production and delivery platforms (Grass Valley, Imagine), networks (21st Century Fox, CBS) and, most significantly, IT vendors (Cisco, Arista), which are getting into broadcasting like never before.

AIMS is not a standards body, but is coordinating several standards into a cohesive road map for implementing IP standards into products so there is a seamless IP path from "glass to glass," from the camera to the TV set, and also creating a transition plan for broadcasters from the legacy SDI (Serial Digital Interface) standard to IP.

IP means that broadcasters can buy commercial IT equipment off-the-shelf instead of closed, proprietary gear, which will save money, but that is not the real driver of IP adoption. One of the major forces behind the transition to IP is Imagine Communications, which last year began migrating the broadcast operations of Disney, along with the ABC Network, to a virtual cloud environment. That work is still proceeding, but the trend is inevitable, Imagine CEO Charlie Vogt told me.

"The goal all along is less about cost efficiencies and more about how we accelerate the ability to generate more revenue," he said. "The main driver is Internet and IP. With AIMS, we saw the need to create an ecosystem of equipment suppliers in this space to adhere to standards to pave the way to innovation."

Also, like the telcos adopting SDN and NFV, the real opportunity for disaggregating hardware and software is enabling the ability to respond to a fundamental customer demand—to watch any content they want on any device at any time, anywhere.

"Whether the industry saves money is a trivial question," said Brad Gilmer, Executive Director of the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA), one of the standards bodies working with AIMS. "The point is broadcasters can't go back. They are doing things [with IP] that would have been impossible in a pure SDI infrastructure." Plus, he added, younger viewers are watching more TV on devices rather than on the real thing.

The second major trend hopes to do something about improving the viewing experience on televisions.

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture,...