Final thoughts on IBC 2018
I’ve just returned from the IBC 2018 event in Amsterdam, the largest media and broadcasting trade show in Europe. As always, whenever I visit a large broadcast and film exhibition, I come away marvelling at the incredible technology and innovation in all the other industries, as well as my own. To some extent, that’s possibly the Hollywood ‘glamour’ effect kicking in: it’s easy to become star-crossed in front of a green screen, or when you watch a demo of some high end editing software as the speaker explains just how they achieved a certain effect in a movie that you remember being thrilled by!
But I want to write about about the impression that IBC 2018 left in relation to my own specialised subject, digital storage and specifically tape. LTO tape is a standard within the broadcast industry because the benefits of LTFS and tape’s low cost scalability (and durability) make it an ideal medium for distibuting content as well as longer term archiving. In spite of this, there are some vendors who claim that their cloud-based alternatives offer a better solution, and who are positioning their services as a “tape replacement”. On the evidence of IBC 2018, however, my conclusion is basically “not so fast, if ever”, which is kind of what you would expect me to say, but I feel the LTO tape industry has good reason to be confident.
The first reason is anecdotal but on the evidence of the LTO tape team, made up of representatives from HPE, Quantum and IBM, this year’s IBC may have been their busiest ever in terms of leads and footfall through the booth. With LTO-8 now offering 30 TB per cartridge, and up to 16.4 PB in a 42U rackmounted tape library like the HPE StoreEver MSL6480, tape has compelling cost per TB for content creators grappling with the additional storage demands of Ultra HD 4K origination and distribution. These pressures can only increase in parallel with the screen sizes and resolutions. NHK Japan recently announced plans to commence 8K services in December 2018 and during IBC itself, South Korea announced that it would end HDTV (720p/1080p) services in 2027 to accelerate the transition to ultra high definition broadcasting. And VR and AR solution providers were very much in evidence showcasing solutions that will enable media companies to differentiate content - at a data price. One thing is certain, therefore, the insatiable demand for storage on a hitherto undreamt of scale and flexibility will underpin future film and broadcasting creation, distribution, monetisation and retention. With the LTO roadmap positing 480 TB per cartridge by Generation 12, tape most definitely has a role to play.
The second driver is the switch from traditional multichannel television and broadcast to OTT (over the top) and vMVPD (virtual multichannel video programming distributors) providers, like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Sling TV and YouTube TV, and live streaming of specialty channels like eSports, that are delivered over IP networks. One service provider offering live video control for broadcast services through the cloud predicted that within the next 5-10 years, all TV broadcasting would be IP-based: it’s faster, more flexible and de-centralised, immersive and offers greater potential for monetisation. In 2018, ‘cordcutting’ or cord-shaving’ is a phenomenon - in the US, a million households per quarter are switching from multichannel subscriptions to more streamlined solutions. According to a report by Research and Markets, video streaming revenue is forecast to increase from $30.29 billion in 2016 to $70.05 billion by 2021, as consumers continue to embrace pay TV and OTT solutions for streaming videos. This made me wonder what would happen to all the satellites currently circulating the planet, but I see his point. This is a challenge for the network infrastructure that will support these services and also for the storage that will be needed to cope with the petabytes, exabytes and beyond, of high definition content that will be needed from the point of creation right through to the end of its useful commercial life.
Mobility will become even more important than it is now, both because of the arrival of 5G and the potential future growth in autonomous vehicles as a means of media-delivery. Access to always-connected smart devices has multiplied to include voice-controlled smart speakers, smartphones, connected homes and connected cars, allowing them to stream music, television and film on demand with dollops of AI to improve the efficiency and personalisation of the digital world. Real time evidence of the importance of this is T-Mobile’s recent acquisition of broadband video startup Layer3, which will enable it to launch an internet-delivered television service across the U.S., powered by 5G. This paradigm shift has increased the demand for data both to originate and enhance the delivery of content.
So, what does this incredible energy and innovation mean for a storage technology as venerable as tape? Cloud sweeps all before it? Well, as I said, not so fast. Cloud storage gives content producers and distributors access to an almost instantaneous pool of unlimited storage once data is ingested. But although headline storage costs may seem incredibly cheap, the cost of sustained retrieval from the cloud of even just 5% of an archive dataset may dwarf any potential savings. In spite of their aggressive rhetoric, a technology specialist from one leading cloud provider acknowledged that cloud services make sense for the content that is being actively used during production and distribution. But once immediate demand fades, and for long term archiving and retention of the majority of unstructured data, the economic and scalability benefits of LTO far surpass those of the cloud factoring in the costs of retrieval as well as storage - by up to 66X according to a recent report from ESG.
And in contrast to some of the complexities inherent in working with a myriad of cloud vendors with their often unique APIs and gateways, LTFS with LTO tape delivers a non-proprietary storage medium that makes content consolidation and sharing easy.
Finally, another factor is security. The recent “Mission Impossible: Fallout” movie cost $178 million to make. The value of this IP is colossal but the source material (excluding sets and costumes) is now almost completely digital. Tape remains the most secure long term archival medium because it can be both encrypted and kept offline. It scales to meet very large capacity requirements and supports rapid restoration for the repurposing of content.
So, with subsequent generations promising to offer increased speeds and capacity, LTO technology with LTFS looks well positioned to drive workflow improvements and meet capacity requirements across the media, entertainment, and broadcast industries following IBC 2018 and on into the future!