AR, VR, 4k and 360 Video – The Challenges of Managing Big Video

overcast screen

What do these four things have in common:  Augmented reality, virtual reality, 360 video and 4k video?  Answer:  They are all HUGE.

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Huge in many ways.  They are all anyone wants to talk about when people talk about video.  They are all anyone is talking about at IBC (the International Broadcaster Conference that takes place in Amsterdam in 2 weeks with more than 50,000 engineers – the biggest in Europe).  They all make enormous files.  And they are a huge pain in the butt to manage.

The world of broadcasting is changing rapidly and perhaps the biggest theme at IBC this year is going to be about the New Generation of Broadcaster.  The NGB (must have an acronym for everything these days) is the business that delivers video over the internet to your TV and all your other devices including your phone and your computer and your tablet.  It used to be only a few short years ago that IBC had a small hall devoted to “connected” TV.  Now that everything is connected, there is no need to have a connected hall.

Top 10 publishers on Facebook

NGBs don’t look like old style broadcasters.  For one, they don’t necessarily deal with celebrities.  They are businesses and enterprises and other content publishers that have built studios and video distribution networks to send content to their employees and loyal followers.  They are the 87% of marketers who are working with video.  A quick look at the top 10 video publishers on Facebook last month and there isn’t a BBC or NBC or Fox in sight:

  1. Unilad
  2. Ladbible
  3. Viral Thread
  4. 5-minute crafts
  5. NTD life
  6. Bright Side
  7. The Food Network
  8. The Dodo
  9. com
  10. 9Gag

Sow how huge is huge?

Every brand wants to shoot in 4k.  That’s super high definition.  It’s a bit of an anomaly because it’s virtually impossible to distribute – the world of broadcasting is still getting its head around High Definition – and the file sizes are too big for the broadband networks to process them.  But it’s the latest and greatest technology so it’s in big demand and brand publishers are pushing the broadcasters to catch up.  (Note:  there are those that are already trying to sell you the benefits of 8K, but it is still more an R&D project at the moment than a commercial reality so best to get 4k sorted first.)

I think the best way to sum up how huge 4k is to listen to Dan Piro from the National Hockey League who wants to film all their games in 4k.  In short – he says they film in HD now and that is difficult enough with a single game creating terabyte of content.  They currently shoot up to 15 games on any given night and they need to make all the highlight reels available literally within minutes.  When it comes to 4k, the files are so big that a workflow doesn’t even exist to enable the live shoot let alone create the Video on Demand content for distribution.

New Generation Broadcasters

The NGBs that I expect to turn up this year at IBC are the large brands and enterprises that are just starting to create large volumes of content. A few years back Livestream predicted that the all Fortune 500 companies are becoming broadcasters.  And it looks like that is finally coming true.  Not only is Facebook producing a lot of livestreams these days, but Livestream itself claims that it is powering more than 10 million live streaming events a year.  That’s a lot of live content.

But the real bread and butter is video on demand and everything points to the fact that NGBs are scaling their production.  I was talking with an education company that makes more than 1500 videos a month and is planning to do much, much more.  There is an industry springing up around video content that has nothing to do with Youtube or Facebook or Snapchat that is all about communicating with staff and clients that is literally changing the face of how broadcasting is viewed and the equipment that is needed to make and manage it.

Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and 360 video

So what then about the hot topics of AR/VR and 360 video.  Everything, it seems, appears to be premised by these terms.  It’s as if they are so common already that they are taking over the world.  In a sense they are and in another sense there is still plenty of time to get in on the game.

The technologies around AR/VR and 360 are coming of age.  By that I mean, they are becoming affordable and there are a number of early tech adopters who are experimenting with them. No doubt IBC will be awash with new technology – cameras and lenses – and some really good applications of what can be produced.  We aren’t anywhere near Minority Report yet, but the you have to remember that Minority Report was set in 2054 – we are a lot closer than that.

As with all new technologies, the race is always to develop the application first, see if it is going to catch on and then build the new infrastructure and workflows.  We are just entering the stage of building that scalable infrastructure.

Digital Asset Management

There are only 3 words you need to know when it comes to scalable infrastructure:  Digital Asset Management.  The first step in managing the new content is simply using old technology or “adequate” technology until the concept is proven.  The next step is to stand back and think how it will all come together in a scalable workflow.  And the final step is to put some industry standards around what you have so that everyone can move in the same direction.

One of the biggest challenges with the digital world is that while all this is happening, there are dozens of innovators – both big and small – racing to come up with ideas and prototypes to best solve the problems.  TV and video is no exception.  No doubt IBC will be full of these solutions and the big challenge for NGBs will be separating the wheat from the chaff.

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