From Olympic Rights to 5G and AI, Broadcaster Innovation is Alive and Well

Antonio Arcidiacono, for five years the EBU’s Director of Technology and Innovation, focussed on the massive potential for AI within PSM, new 5G advances, Native IP potency, and the marriage of terrestrial and satellite under a 5G roof, in conversation with George Jarrett.

The European Broadcasting Union’s recently held annual General Assembly did not feature a single element that was created exclusively by AI, but it was a key topic. Arcidiacono said: “The key subject that we discussed was the impact of Generative AI on public service media, and the issues that may come with the arrival of more AI-based applications.


Antonio Arcidiacono, EBU

“The opportunities are there because new technologies are always bringing with them applications and end products,” he added.

The next biggest EBU Assembly subject was live sport, in major part driven by two rights coups – agreement with FIFA for World Football coverage, and with The Olympics for coverage between 2026 and 2032.

“Having the sports rights for the Olympics illustrates the success of when we go at something with all the members. We are very strong and can obtain interesting results, and that is where the value of the EBU is,” said Arcidiacono.

The EBU Technical Assembly in Vienna had already debated the fact that streaming technologies can often struggle with handling huge event live sports.

“For live events broadcast remains the best solution, and what we are working on now is how to structurally combine Native IP broadcasting and Unicasting. The advantage is that by using the IP Native layer for distribution and by using the 5G as an upper layer that could be used for orchestrating the functioning of the system,” said Arcidiacono.

“You can have the best of both worlds.”

He next spoke about the huge EBU project 5G Emerge with 20+ partners. He said: “With this we are studying how to combine the satellite broadcasting infrastructure and multicast to serve terrestrial infrastructures on a Native IP basis. This will be used concurrently to go to the smart network edges.

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“You can go one to many this way, but the same transmission will arrive on mobile platforms, trains, busses, boats, etc. All this with the flexibility of combining broadcast and Unicast in a single way. This is connected to what we are doing in the 5G-MAG group, where on the side of the reference tools for 5G mobile networks we are always integrated with terrestrial networks on IP,” he added.

Becoming mainstream

The reference tools – with applications built on top in the upper layers for 5G production and distribution – are new from 5G-MAG, and the support of 5G Emerge will see the satellite element emerge in the weeks leading into IBC.

“We are also looking at new formats that could be delivered using 5G enabled infrastructures, and among those we are looking at volumetric video, from capture to distribution,” said Arcidiacono. “And on the 5G production side we have demonstrated and developed solutions that are now becoming mainstream.”

Some four of the five shortlisted projects for the EBU T&I Awards (given in Vienna) involved 5G, and the main award went to the BBC for its 5G coverage of the King Charles III coronation.

“A group of seven EBU members have joined forces in what we call the Coalition of the Willing, which is preparing for the launch of 5G broadcast. Austria is supporting the use of 5G broadcasting in UHF frequencies,” said Arcidiacono. “And new members from North America have joined the EBU, to see how they might deploy 5G broadcast.”

Broadcasters in Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, France, and Ireland’s RTE are the other six of the willing. In addition to 5G broadcast, what will the EBU major on at IBC2023?

“We will present the results of our AI-powered products and services. Look at the advanced news pilot; we are integrating in the news pilots the 1.8 million news stories we have. We are also experimenting with Chat GPT, and seeing how we can use elements of creative AI within content which is protected and trusted,” said Arcidiacono.

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AI benchmarking

The live multi-language captioning on EuroVOX will be a big deal at the show. “We can caption any live event with 32 languages coming in quasi-real time. It waits for the end of phrases to translate, said Arcidiacono. “We will also present the latest advancements in Peach, and there we will show what we have done with AI benchmarking and in AI apps using open-source algorithms.”

Sustaining the migration to live IP production is another thread for the show, and so too the AI and Data initiative (AIDA). What has IP still to do?

He said: “It should become more affordable from the cost point of view, but the market is evolving towards a segmentation as usual, so you can have the key luxury solution, second level down to tenth level, but it is still IP, and fully standardised.

“There is democratisation of IP on both the production and distribution sides. But the different actors, from the Telcos to the broadcasters, and the CDN providers to the satellite operators, really need to learn to work together. IP is the common Esperanto,” he added.

The DVB satellite standard came into force back in 1993. Is the EBU about to save its ‘one to millions’ capability?

“The satellite industry has not changed technology in the last 30 years. Yes, it has been evolving from the DVB as the DVB is too, but there has not been a lot of change. The evolution towards Native IP and the integration with the terrestrial networks will make satellites become central again because there is not any other solution cheaper and more effective,” said Arcidiacono.

The engineers are good

The unique advantage here is that satellite and terrestrial cannot mimic each other completely. For broadcasters, recent times have required dealing with existing infrastructures whilst having to prepare for the future.

“I know that is a complex exercise, but that is where the engineers are good and find interesting solutions that combine the one with the other. The smarter marketing message that many companies have been gearing around is that broadcasting is dead and there is all this space for online and Internet,” said Arcidiacono.

“What I am ready to defend is this year. It is not any more a competition between broadcasting and online, but it is a combination of the two. This idea of having the opposition between the two is totally outdated,” he added. “It is true that you need to have a certain size and certain economies of scale, and that is where the partnering amongst EBU members makes sense, and it can make us stay for a longer time.”

The EBU’s recommendation engine Peach has given him a sense of change amongst media audiences.

“People are looking for more trusted sources, and they are not necessarily eager to be closing to a bubble and be pushed to consume more. They want a more open approach, and this is what we do with our engine. It is trying to open your horizons and show that there are many things you can consume from other sources, and on other subjects,” said Arcidiacono. “This more human approach is what in the longer-term plan wins against the pure monetisation.”

Collaboration with IBC

The EBU has an incredible number of partnerships. “We are working with SMPTE, the DVB, 5G-MAG, HbbTV, and all these collaborations are extremely fruitful. We always have shared in this kind of broader communities. I am trying to establish how we can communicate better with those communities by joining forces with these other organisations, in terms of communication – so that we can enjoy more interaction.” said Arcidiacono.

“In the same direction, we are collaborating with IBC in bringing five innovation companies and their products into the Future Zone for this year. We are always in favour of these collaborations going from a very small start up to the big agreement, like how we and our members went together for The Olympic rights…”

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