File-based media will be introduced as the standard form of delivery to broadcasters in 2014. But the debate continues over whether the industry will be ready to meet the October deadline for the introduction of AS-11
“The Digital Production Partnership’s (DPP) self-imposed deadline where file-based content delivery becomes the preferred exchange format for almost all major UK broadcasters is less than a year away and still most facilities and production companies are a long way from finalising their DPP adoption strategies. So says Bruce Devlin, CTO at AmberFin, a company that has developed an area of specialism in the creation and support of DPP-compliant file-based workflows. One reason is that many leading industry manufacturers have yet to build AS-11 into their deliverables.
Another is that leading post houses predict that the costs of implementing AS-11 delivery will probably be more than the cost of HDCAM SR tape, the current standard delivery format.
The big hurdle for 2014 for the DPP will be getting the manufacturers on board, agrees Nativ’s Jon Folland, who argues that manufacturers have never been keen on supporting standards for the simple reason that in a standardised world they can be more easily switched for a different solution. Says Folland: “To my mind the deadline is a bit unrealistic.
If companies don’t have a budget to buy the right software they will just wait and see what happens before committing. I expect many post houses and software vendors will wait until the last minute before jumping aboard.”
Could it fail?
There is no guarantee that AS-11 will be a rip-roaring success. In the past new standards have failed for a variety of reasons. If they were not fit for purpose in the first place it’s likely they will be superseded by better solutions. There are also are a whole range of other non-technical factors that can have a huge impact on whether or not a technology standard is widely adopted – which is, of course, the ambition.
Sometimes they fail simply because people are too busy to take them on board. Sometimes the financial cost of switching to the new standard is too great for companies to bear.
The unexpected departure of key personnel responsible for driving forward standards adoption can also have a huge impact. But one of the most powerful reasons that standards don’t take root is that manufacturers don’t like them much. They are much more interested in locking clients into their software and proprietary technology. So for standards to work they have to offer manufacturers clear benefits and few disadvantages.
Another issue which needs to be sorted out next year is where the responsibility for QC in the new world of file-based deliverables will reside.
Many post houses are concerned that some broadcasters – notably Channel 5 – will pass both the responsibility and cost of QC to post houses and programme makers, a cost which has traditionally been an itemised part of a programme budget.
At a UK Screen event dedicated to workflow and automation last month, DPP technical standards lead Kevin Burrows confirmed that in future producers and post houses would be taking the lead in performing QC checks at the point of delivery, with broadcasters taking a back seat. By next October the aim is that broadcasters will only carry out spot checks.
Loft London md James Gibson admits to being a leading DPP naysayer. “I think AS-11 is a bit of con which doesn’t do what it’s designed to do. Based on the AVC Intra–adopted standard for HD, it’s not full HD. So a lot of people don’t want to adopt it – not a good start.”
AS-11 has created issues rather than solved them, insists Gibson. “It’s a mezzanine file so people will send in AS-11 and broadcasters will transcode it to something else for playout, which to my mind defeats the purpose. The long and short of it is we’ll all end up using tape, LTO and hard drives throughout 2014 and beyond,” says Gibson. Loft London has its own delivery platform Cubix delivering files to a global market but AS-11 only addresses the UK. “It’s a step forward but we need to standardise by looking to the EBU or [international standards body] SMPTE.” For Gibson, AS-11 is a standard “created by frame sniffers and guys with pens in their top pockets”. “The question is, is there really a burning need for it?”
What there is a need for, he admits, is standardisation of formats within sectors such as a SMPTE-recommended archive, distribution and playout format. “The singular file format from post to preservation isn’t the way forward, but standards led by industry rather than committee designed to answer the needs of specific sectors should be encouraged.”