Fewer jobs, fewer engineers. The message from the Society of Broadcast Engineers five years ago was that we were in a “engineer age bubble that will continue to move into retirement years.” It warned of a “severe shortage” over the next ten years. Changes in technology, it said will impact how severe this shortage is, so has this vision been realised and can we still do something about it?
Certainly, the anecdotal stories appear to ring true – the one where the average age of broadcast engineers is 64 years – but as with any change, especially around technology, there are misconceptions. Firstly, just because engineers are ageing does not mean they cannot be upskilled to work with new IP-based equipment. Secondly, most broadcasters will not rip and replace equipment entirely because it’s just not financially viable, so knowledge of SDI-based equipment will also be relevant for the next year or so.
Keep pace with change But clearly something has to be done to ensure broadcasters keep pace with change and that doesn’t just mean re-skilling the workforce. Broadcasters need a culture shift too, to create a buzz around innovation, to shake the status quo and embrace change. This is as much about mindset as it is skills. Recognising the potential benefits of IP and not being resistant to change is an important first step. IP can empower a workforce. Understanding that IP networking has the power, for example, to reduce latency, improve quality of service and increase service availability will go some way to creating a robust and dynamic working environment that will benefit both engineer and broadcaster.
The problem many broadcasters have is getting this message across to existing broadcast engineers and finding enough new engineers to supplement skills. The same could be said of IT engineers. While they may have a handle on the networking demands of IP broadcasting, they will also need to embrace broadcasting knowledge and the idea of a more innovative, zero outage culture. Education is at the heart of this.
Help shape the future of TV production There does appear to be a widening gap of digital and relevant technology skills across industries, so it’s not as if broadcasters can go to the market and easily pluck the talent they need. A joint Capgemini and LinkedIn report recently found that 29 percent of employees believe their skill set is redundant now or will be in the next one to two years, while more than a third (38 percent) believe their skill set will be redundant in the next four to five years. It’s a worrying trend and broadcasters are at the forefront as demand for new digital TV services and technologies drives the demand for increased flexibility, fluidity and cost-effectiveness in programme production. For existing engineers this should be music to their ears. It’s an opportunity to help shape the future of TV production, to improve working practises and be part of a major revolution, one that the TV industry has probably not seen since the advent of colour.
Upskill to upscale One of the greatest motivators for broadcasters choosing IP-based routing is to accommodate 4K production. Today it can take four HD-SDI cables to carry a single 4K signal whereas a 10GbE cable can take that same signal with a light compression. While there is already talk of 40 and 100G switches that would enable even more signals or greater resolutions, clearly the IP approach has significant advantages. For traditional engineers it may seem like a big technology knowledge shift but in reality, it’s not an insurmountable one.
Retraining or upskilling existing engineers into implementing and managing new IP products and infrastructures will go a long way to helping broadcasters face up to the skills shortage and rework the culture. Having knowledge of SDI but also IP will, for the immediate term at least, give engineers significant advantages as broadcasters transition to IP. While on the surface, it’s a challenge for engineers schooled in SDI, it’s as much about confidence as it is about skills. Yes they have to get to grips with networking technology. Protocol stacks and message flow, packets and frames, principles of routing and switching, as well as multipoint and multicasting technology and virtual networks are not easy to get your head around but combined with existing broadcast knowledge it makes for a powerful engineer. Upskilling to enable IP transitions will reap huge rewards for broadcasters.
Sony and Juniper Networks provides a comprehensive, IP Live Production training course Vendors are keen to help too. It’s in their interest. Juniper can help broadcasters upscale in their skills and knowledge of IP, with training and certifications. If we didn’t think it was possible we wouldn’t do it, so broadcasters have to grasp the nettle and engage with engineer retraining courses on offer, including the IP Live Production and IP networking course we’ve developed with Sony.
“IP Live Production technology is still evolving very fast, the adoption of new standards and new live production protocols deserves a professional training course where the best of both worlds meet. Since a year and a half, Juniper and Sony provide this to the broadcasters, production companies and system integrators engaged in this major transition”, says Nicolas Moreau, Live Production Solution Marketing Manager, Sony Professional Europe
“Live Production over IP is now a reality and enables innovative Workflows. In order to reap the benefits of those new production applications, Sony and Juniper provides a comprehensive, IP Live Production –centric training course to help to shape the modern broadcast engineers”, Nicolas Moreau points out.
Identify those engineers with the ability to adapt and learn IP In-house upskilling will go a long way to solving the potential crisis and hold off the predictions of the SBE. This will buy broadcasters significant time as a new generation of software engineers are trained through specialised courses, such as the National Film and Television School’s Master’s degree in production technology and engineering.
Of course, not all existing SDI engineers have the desire or ability to retrain. While broadcasters cannot wave a magic wand, slow down time and help everyone, they can at least identify those engineers with the ability to adapt and learn IP. They can lead by example and create a culture of innovation internally that fosters enthusiasm for change. That is the real battle. The rest, as they say is academic.
Read also more about the IP transition in our IP Checklist with more takeaways.
By Sergio Fickel, Marketing Lead Media & Broadcast EMEA, Juniper Networks