IBC Reflections: Cisco’s Roger Sherwood, Samira Panah on the Cisco Media Blueprint as a Roadmap for the IP Transition

The strategy includes a growing emphasis on sports broadcasting

Cisco was at IBC 2017 promoting the traction it has gained with its Cisco Media Blueprint as M&E organizations look to transition their operations to IP. Among the major media clients implementing the Media Blueprint, according to Cisco, are NBCUniversal and Viacom.

During the show, SVG sat down with Cisco’s Roger Sherwood, global strategy, M&E, and Samira Panah, regional manager, M&E, to discuss the market’s reaction to the Cisco Media Blueprint since its launch 18 months ago, how it can enable the move to virtualized infrastructure and the cloud, the broadcast vendors it has partnered with on IP solutions, the company’s plans to grow its position in the sports-production vertical, and the importance of security as broadcasters move to the cloud.

Roger Sherwood, global strategy, M&E

What is Cisco promoting here at the IBC Show for the M&E market?
We are focusing on the momentum we’re seeing right now with the Cisco Media Blueprint. At NAB [2016], we formally launched the Media Blueprint, bringing together several products in Cisco’s portfolio to focus on media and entertainment. At that point, we made an effort to start talking to our customers extensively and looking for the solutions they needed, identifying where Cisco can play a major role. This industry is going through the fastest transition that we’ve seen in any industry in terms of [transitioning] to IP, cloud, and virtualization. Seven of the world’s largest broadcast-media companies have latched onto that initiative, which we announced here at IBC 2017. They’ve all started deploying in-line with the Cisco Media Blueprint.

When we came up with the idea of Blueprint, we deliberately didn’t want to tie anybody into a specific architecture that was all Cisco. There’s a whole ecosystem of partners that we know we had to convince to come aboard on this. This is an entirely new space for us, so we are very proud of the global broadcasters that we have been able to attract on this, with the highlight being NBCU, who has adopted almost everything we put into the Blueprint.

Samira Panah, regional manager, M&E

Tell us a bit more about NBCU’s adoption of the Cisco Media Blueprint.
It was really validating to have NBCU’s [CTO/SVP of Engineering, Operations, and Technology] Keith Jackson at our [IBC press event] provide a very stellar endorsement of our Blueprint strategy to make their transition to IP across the production studios, postproduction space, and distribution. They are leveraging our infrastructure stack as the backbone for the preparation, management, and distribution of all their content.

Furthermore, we also had Viacom’s CTO David Kline come out and endorse where we are going from a content-distribution perspective, which is outstanding. We are setting a template for customers to crawl, walk, run, and Viacom is a great example. They are leveraging our D9800 [network transport receivers] for the distribution of their satellite feeds, and the flexibility of that platform also will allow them to dip into the IP world if they ever want to. Those IRDs are capable of taking on ABR transport-stream technologies, so, if any of our customers leverage those next-gen IRDs, they can always shut down a satellite and move to IP distribution as well. It’s great because we can future-proof the platforms that we are coming to market with today.

I think our sports and entertainment customers can look at those major organizations and find commonality.

Whether they’re production studios, remote facilities, postproduction, distribution, or all of the above, we have an answer. So it’s been really rewarding to see the positive response so far.

Eighteen months ago, many in the industry were skeptical of Cisco’s commitment to M&E. How has that sentiment changed?
I wouldn’t say that I went in with no doubts at all; we knew we had some challenges and preconceptions to overcome. I think the key for me was the first 12 months. IP has been talked about in this industry since as early as 2009-10, and the initial [projection] was that [the transition] was still five to 10 years away. Even though, today, only about 5% of the broadcast market is actually looking at IP and has a proof-of-concept toward deployment, we are now seeing a domino effect around those early deployments. It’s moving far quicker than I think anybody thought.

We are getting to the point where we can take more of a cookie-cutter approach. For example, Grass Valley resells our IP fabric solution completely bundled with their solution. That’s how we are going to see this scale very quickly.

Virtualization is the next thing. Now that [the industry] is accepting that IP is going to happen, the question becomes, What can we do with it? And the first step is to get those proprietary hardware systems into a virtualized software stack. That’s the next thing that I think we will see a lot at NAB [2018]. From there, we’ll see that trickle-down effect across the entire industry.

How important is it for Cisco to partner with established broadcast vendors in pushing this transition to IP?
In general, Cisco’s strategy as we build our own products has been to partner, acquire, and then to co-innovate. Of course, there’s going to be applications that exist within our customer base that are dependent on [existing vendors] like Grass Valley, Evertz, Imagine, Snell [Advanced Media], and we are going to be able to work with them end-to-end on our stack. I think the partner element is critically important, as well as the co-innovation element. We are relying on our customers to lean in with us for this transition and help us validate the direction we’re going in by quickly iterating and then amplifying these. I think, for us, this year is about executing on that momentum we’ve seen over the past six months.

How is Cisco looking to further develop its position in the sports-production market?
Sherwood: First, our partnership with EVS is a huge announcement here in terms of our sports [roadmap]. We’ve played together with EVS for several years as our digital-signage partner in stadiums, but now we are looking to leverage that partnership in terms of IP. We haven’t neglected sports so far, but we’ve really gone after the Viacoms, the NBCUs, and big broadcasters first.

This year, however, we are specifically targeting sports broadcast and sports stadiums, and we see EVS as our gateway to that market. Today, we have hardly any presence in that space because very few sports [organizations] have made the [IP] transition. But EVS is in almost every one of their [facilities], so this is a very strategic partnership. Just like Imagine and Grass Valley have been our gateway to the traditional broadcasters, we see EVS being our gateway for sports. We will take the same approach we have thus far: EVS will lead [and] resell our equipment as a bundled solution. My goal is to make sure we’re the best infrastructure provider possible to EVS as they convince their customers to move to IP.

Panah: That’s why, this fiscal year, we formulated a sports and entertainment practice within Cisco’s media operation. It’s not going to displace what Cisco’s business unit is doing to support the sports-venue space, but our focus really is now on the production, contribution, postproduction, and distribution space.

You mentioned the broadcast industry’s interest in virtualizing infrastructure moving forward. How quickly do you see this happening?
I think we’re going to see a similar adoption [curve] as we’re now seeing with IP. We are already on our way. We’ve had a media-datacenter solution for two years, and the vendors are now finally understanding what VMware is and what virtualization is. That’s the first step. The second step is dealing with the tendency in this industry to want to run everything in-house.

We’re already seeing customers start to experiment with placing pieces of their operation in AWS and Azure [cloud]. You’re going to start to see more use cases [that] have their own applications but, in order to run them on a global basis, will [virtualize their infrastructure]. We’re very heavily focused on that second stage right now: simplifying the automation and operation of that application so that you can run it in Amazon, Azure, Google, no matter where you want to run it. You’re going to see a very big multi-cloud play from Cisco. And again, because this industry is going in that direction right now, we’ve got a great chance to capitalize on that early in the game.

Panah: As we target virtualization moving forward, our customers need to understand what their applications are doing in their networks in real time as well. Cisco has a very formidable strategy around that entire stack — both from a physical-infrastructure perspective by selling the routing and the compute and from a cloud-orchestration and automation perspective to help our customers transition to public and private clouds.

We’ve also built and acquired solutions that are aiding our customers in understanding exactly what their applications are doing in real time to drive business intelligence. That is extremely powerful for our sports customers, especially [with the way] they’re talking about the in-venue space and want to know what their consumers are doing at all times in the venue [and], furthermore, how they’re leveraging their dotcom applications. Those are some of the insights that we had only imagined a few years ago [but] can provide today.

As media organizations transition to more-virtualized and cloud-based infrastructure, security becomes an even more important issue. How is Cisco helping customers to keep their assets secure?
Media customers right now are ground zero for security attacks by hackers because it’s the most coveted content. So we have a very firm strategy to help to protect the network, the individual client devices — your phone and laptop — and the cloud environment. All of our customers are using some form of private- and public-cloud environments, so we need to be able to help them secure their assets wherever they go. We have a very formidable strategy across all three of those areas.

In addition, through the acquisitions, we have created an organization called Talos for advanced threat intelligence. It’s a 24/7 service with 500+ employees that are scouring the globe at all times looking for threats or vulnerabilities. What’s unique is that, anytime a threat is identified, we can push those signatures down automatically to our platforms, so everything is updated in real time. For example, Talos actually identified the WannaCry [ransomware] signature first and then pushed it down to all of our platforms, so any of our customers that were leveraging that were much more secure. You’ll be hearing more and more from us about our strategy for security specific to media, but I think Cisco as a whole has a very comprehensive platform that we can leverage.

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