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Cultural Change

Traditional Broadcasters

Cultural resistance to change is a central issue to manage when designing and deploying a CDN. There are many stakeholders who are affected by a CDN deployment, and despite best intentions, not all of them will see the benefits. I aim to provide a little of my view on the psyche of some of the players in the various stakeholder groups.

In most recent conferences over the past two or three years there has evolved a sense that most technical challenges faced by CDNs can be addressed. However, there is a universal sentiment that the biggest challenge facing CDN and IP video platforms is in cultural resistance to change.

I still see some companies proclaiming the imminent “death of SDI" Having myself spent 20 years delivering IP video, I had to go back to learn about this legacy technology, and yet there are many tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of TV broadcast companies that still run their operations with SDI as the backbone network technology. Those operators are, understandably set in their ways, working typically to a mantra of “it ain't broke, why fix it"

The intransience of others can be excruciating to live with, once you have yourself taken the mental step into the IP delivery paradigm. Even more so once you have gotten the service velocity advantages of microservices and the NFV models (which I discussed in detail in Chapter 7 above).

In my practical experience trying to proactively help traditional broadcast operators into the brave new world of IP is rarely easy. Patience is ultimately the best approach, but that also means setting that expectation in others. The traditional broadcaster is essentially used to a circuit-based private network. We are going to have to change that broadcaster's expectation to the service models offered by “best-effort” IP. Boadcasters will nit-pick over quality, since they are from an age where one expensive appliance produced one highly specified/restricted type of video, and if it wasn't compatible with the rest of the workflow, the workflow simply wouldn't work until either the vendor had

Content Delivery Networks: Fundamentals, Design, and Evolution, First Edition. Dom Robinson. © 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

issued an upgrade or the unit was swapped for that of a different vendor. Such mistakes were costly, and network rollout was a complex waterfall business with huge associated costs.

It is a Herculean challenge to change the traditional broadcast culture to align with what Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon (GAFA), and other IP centric companies (let alone the thousands of smaller companies who are operating that way) call DevOps or “agile” development.

The idea of continuous development within an infrastructure whose owners are used to the environment being closed, invariant, and homogeneous is a whole worldview change.

The TV boomers who now form the senior executive management of most infrastructures can see their kids and grandchildren occupied with smart devices, but they themselves still maintain that “it will never catch on” in some form of (to be honest slightly worrying) denial.

We are several generations of human resourcing in the streaming sector. Arguably we have rolled out more complex models in the short 10 to 15 years we have existed than the TV and broadcast networks have rolled out in 80 years. And that pace is accelerating. Through this we learn quickly. We fix quickly. The technology provides economic advantages and reaches the audience demanding the content.

Most broadcasters run 5- to 10-year strategy cycles. IP-based companies can afford to be more reactive to the markets, and those markets are driven by an increasing end user audience who are demanding new and different technologies all the time. Long technology cycles in the IP space are three to five years. Most changes are almost annual. Meeting that type of customer is not what the traditional broadcaster is used to.

There are huge parallels with the story of the music industry 15 years ago. There are protectionists who really want it to “all go away” and to return to a world where only TV broadcasters operated broadcast video, and they could dictate how it would be received and consumed. Today, the consumer decides the device and format for the content delivery, and the place and time. With so many technical service platforms now able to step up and meet that demand, the traditional models are simply too inflexible to remain relevant.

But the traditional broadcasters are big lumbering, and powerful dinosaurs, and they provide significant revenue to the rights holders and content providers. This is making rights deals for online operators difficult to obtain. The traditional networks simply have a lot of historic leverage. However that leverage is inexorably diminishing as independents like Netflix and iTunes show that there is huge potential value in online rights licensing.

While statistics may always interpret the situation favorably for one side or the other, the very evident fact is that as the present generation ages, it is moving toward IP for its connectivity and content consumption. Any broadcaster who denies that should look back at the music industry (covered in depth in Section 2.3.4).

The music industry used to comprise the recording industry along with the music rights owners. Now the reproduction industry is a poor ex-girlfriend of the music publishers who are doing licensing deals with online portals and seeing unprecedented revenue.

Today, the traditional TV industry is at an earlier stage of the same cycle. It is struggling to make that separation of infrastructure from rights aggregation. As commercial models prove the viability, shareholders will take interest and more focus will be placed on doing the online deals. We have already reached critical mass. In the past three or four years we have finally seen the rights holders start to seriously embrace online models, and if not openly, then by their actions they have admitted that IP is the future.

 
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