IBC 2017

IBC Reflections: Intelsat’s Rob Cerbone on CellSat, Prism, and How Satellite and IP Can Work Together

Joining satellite and bonded-cellular service adds the robustness needed for live sports production

In advance of IBC 2017, Intelsat revealed that it was teaming up with Dejero on a new a “blended” cellular and Ku-band IP solution that can deliver 10-Mbps signals for live television coverage from remote locations. Dubbed CellSat, the new solution proved to be a highlight of Intelsat’s booth in Amsterdam, along with Intelsat’s growing Prism IP-based service.

SVG sat down with Intelsat VP/GM, Media Services, Rob Cerbone to discuss how the sports market has reacted to CellSat, the continued evolution of Prism, the future of satellite for backhaul of live sports coverage, how satellite factors into the at-home production model, and the demand (or lack thereof thus far) for 4K and HDR transmission services.

Intelsat’s Rob Cerbone: “I think satellite will continue to play a big role in sports, particularly the higher-value events, for the foreseeable future simply because you need that robust connection that’s not a contended service.”

The big news for Intelsat at IBC 2017 is the launch of CellSat with Dejero. Tell us a bit about the product and how you see it fitting into the sports market.
CellSat is a great new product for us that adds to our IP-video portfolio. We’ve seen a lot of folks on the contribution side — in both news and sports — moving toward more cellular-based solutions that are a lot more portable in some cases. They tend to work well on a lot of [productions], but the challenge is that, for a lot of large sporting events, when you’ve a sizable number of people on their phones, the whole network gets dragged down.

So we partnered with Dejero for this CellSat product, which really joins our reliable satellite service to their bonded-cellular service and makes it a better product. It adds resiliency and robustness so you can get the kind of connectivity and throughput that you need for live sports.

Today, Dejero is focused on [achieving] a consistent 10-MBps connection, so, by bonding the satellite on top of that, we can always ensure that you’re going to get that connectivity and have the best video experience possible for those remote shoots. It’s absolutely [a great solution] for all types of sports event that take place at smaller [venues] where there isn’t fiber in there — even high schools.

[The reaction from the market] has been very good. We’ve got some clients on the sports side, but it’s a little bit more on the news side thus early on. The service we have today is primarily point-to-point, but we’re looking to extend that to point-to-multipoint in the future, and I think, when we do that, it will really get interesting in terms of sports.

Can you tell me a bit more about the market’s reaction to the launch of Prism two years ago? What are your plans regarding IP transport?
We think we’re uniquely positioned to help media companies migrate to all IP. Prism was the first all-IP service that we launched on that front, and it helps them use our bandwidth more efficiently so they can get not only the video service but the voice and data services that they now need on these remote shoots. Prism adds that to the same capacity and lets media companies use it all over one connection.

We continue to launch the Intelsat satellites to drive that IP platform, and we’ve got a number of them up there already. The launch of Intelsat 37e, which is an all-IP platform, is coming shortly. We think, as a company, we’re starting to lay the groundwork for a foundation to help our customers go to all-IP when they’re ready for that.

As the contribution industry continues to evolve, what role do you see satellite playing for the backhaul and delivery of live sports productions?
I think satellite will continue to play a big role in sports, particularly the higher-value events, for the foreseeable future simply because you need that robust connection that’s not a contended service. So we still think that there’s a role for satellite there over time.

I also think there is opportunity even for some of the lower-end sports, such as tier-two colleges that are usually [streamed] online only. For those types of events, we think there is an opportunity for us to do something similar to what we’re doing with Dejero, where we can bond satellite to IP connections to make a more robust service so that can avoid some of the buffering and the service interruptions. We think we can address those types of solutions by working with the existing terrestrial services.

How has the growth of at-home production for live sports productions impacted Intelsat’s business?
We’re providing [connectivity for at-home production] with a few different programmers today: we’ve got fat pipes in the air combining a number of different carriers to provide those services. We still think that satellite connectivity is key because you’ve got a lot of challenges on the terrestrial side, unless you’ve got a massive dedicated fiber link, which most of these facilities don’t have. So we still think there’s a big role for us on the satellite side because it’s the easiest way to get in and out, the quickest way to get set up without that direct fiber connectivity.

Have you seen increased interest in contribution and distribution services for 4K and HDR?
I think we’re hearing interest in having dialogue, but there isn’t a lot coming out the other end in terms of services yet. We’ve seen more [4K and HDR] on-demand content for special series that have been produced for Netflix or Amazon. We definitely think there’s a huge opportunity on the sports side, but we’ve really seen it only on the [highest-profile events] like the Masters last year on DirecTV.

I think part of it was that folks were waiting for HDR to come along and then figure out kind of what codec we’re going to settle on. I think those things are starting to come into place, but you’ve still got the challenges since you’re largely relying on the MVPDs to put out new set-top boxes and upgrade their whole infrastructure, which I think is a way off, with the exception of DirecTV and a couple others. You’ve already got a pretty good base of 4K TVs out there, but I don’t think we’re seeing a lot of strong demand yet. But, when that demand comes, I think we’re ready. We’ve already done some testing, and we don’t think there’s a lot of major challenges from our standpoint.