With pretty much any task in life, if you can’t or don’t want to do it yourself, you can find someone else who will do it for you.

There are many reasons for wanting to source services from outside: you might not have the necessary skills, or even if you do, the job may take longer, cost more or not be done to a high enough standard than if it were done by a skilled practitioner. Maybe the task just isn’t core to what you do and you’ve got other things you want to spend your time and energy on. In business, outsourcing is pretty common. Cleaning, catering, printing, design, IT support, are all areas of a business that need to be done to keep the wheels turning but may not be core to the activities and skill set that exist within a company.

In the world of TV and media, outsourcing is similarly common place. Historically, this has included technical services such as Playout, Media Management or Metadata for example – giving broadcasters more time to focus on their content and their audiences. However, as the convergence of media and technology continues to effect change, and consumers’ attitudes and expectations continue to evolve, now, more than ever before, there is a need for greater flexibility, agility and of course, efficiency.

Broadcasters can benefit hugely from a Managed Service – there’s no need for large capex investments and they can have access to the latest technology for a definite monthly cost. But, understandably, one size doesn’t fit all. Some broadcasters don’t want to relinquish control completely. Others do. Now, thanks to technological innovation, there are more options for broadcasters to consider when it comes to Managed Service Playout operations.

One key development is the use of IP based systems. The historical need to put broadcast technology and the highly skilled operators that use it in the same place has always been a compromise. If you put the technology in places where land is cheap you may struggle to get operators to travel to it. Conversely, the areas where broadcast professionals want to work are, typically, not the locations you can afford to dedicate to vast floors of rack space. In the past broadcasters have had no choice but to opt for the latter.

In Playout the next phase in the adoption of IT technologies, after the infamous ‘Channel In A Box’, is to seek to use IP connectivity to replace all of the control and monitoring signals that pass from the racks room to the control room.

The removal of SDI from the racks room itself, whilst inevitable, has less instant commercial benefits than boiling down that mess of short range signals that connect the operators to the machines into a single IP connection. Why? Because once all of the control interfaces in the control room are connected to the racks room by IP, then where those two places are located becomes a business decision and not a technical limitation.

To date, internet based systems have enabled some elements of Playout to be carried out remotely or on demand but often with a compromised operator experience. Limited functionality inherent in these systems meant that they could only be adopted as long as you tolerated their limitations. Now, it is possible to build fully functioning Playout operations centres, running complex channels that are entirely separate from the technology on which they are based.

For all broadcasters it allows technology to be put into data centres rather than on premise racks rooms – so the cost of technology footprints can scale down as well as up and operational centres can be built in normal office space, offering a greater choice of location, lower rental costs and operational flexibility.

For broadcasters who use Managed Services it means they can have much greater interaction with those services. No longer are the Content Management and Playout services a ‘black box’ that media disappears into until eventually turning up on TV. IP based MAM systems allow a Managed Service customer to see what is happening to their content and participate in its enrichment, using only a browser, as it passes through the Managed Service provider’s systems. Similarly in Playout, Managed Service operators using IP based control systems can offer access, visibility or even full control of their systems by their customers. Either all of the time, in a hosted model, or in a shared capacity.

Visibility of services is crucial in building a strong partnership between a broadcaster and the managed service provider. Combined with mature, customer centric contracts and output based KPIs, IP based technologies allow that visibility to increase and for greater cooperation and adaptability of services either over the course of a contract or even over the course of a day.

The future is uncertain. However, it is clear that making a large capex investment in any delivery platform carries with it a risk that those platforms will not meet customer needs even in the near future. The use of Managed Services helps smooth that investment and mitigate that risk in an unpredictable environment.

Richard Cranefield, Head of Global Playout Solutions, Ericsson Broadcast and Media Services.