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AIMS, the First Year: It’s a Wonderful Life

AIMS, the First Year: It’s a Wonderful Life

The media and entertainment industry is dealing with disruption on an unprecedented scale. Accelerating technology evolutions, continuously shifting consumption patterns and a rapidly expanding competitive universe headline a barrage of challenges confronting broadcasters, content owners, distributors and other ecosystem players as we enter 2017.

But despite the foggy forecast, the industry has many reasons to view the year ahead with optimism and enthusiasm. For starters, much of the uncertainty and doubt associated with the future technology foundation have all but disappeared. Media companies can now count on being on a technology track that will deliver the agility and versatility needed to overcome their most pressing business challenges, when just a year ago many were still paralyzed by doubts that the transition from SDI to IP would be a smooth one. For the first time in several years, broadcasters and other media companies can take comfort in knowing that the equipment and solutions they purchase today to anchor their infrastructures of the future will interoperate with adjacent solutions for years to come.

Enter AIMS

What’s responsible for much of this newfound optimism? A great deal of the credit belongs to the Alliance for IP Media Solutions (AIMS), an industry consortium dedicated to the adoption of standards governing the transport of video, audio and related data over IP-based networks that was founded in December of 2015. The success of the organization, now more than 50-members strong, has been staggering. In addition to unifying the efforts of multiple independent standards bodies and orchestrating what has been called the broadest interoperability demonstration in the history of the industry, AIMS is responsible for defining a standards roadmap that provides media companies, big and small, with the freedom to focus on what they do best: create and deliver compelling video to more and more consumers that are using more and more devices.

That’s an impressive resume for a one-year old.

The holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life will soon be in near-continuous rotation for the next few weeks. As AIMS approaches its first anniversary, it might be illuminating to take a Capraesque look at what life could have been like for media professionals going into 2017 if AIMS had never been born.

Too Many Options

Having options is almost always a good thing. One of the few exceptions is when it comes to technology standards. At this time in 2015, broadcast engineers and other media professionals, understanding the necessity of transitioning operations to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) platforms, could follow a number of different paths, none of which were illuminated more than a few yards ahead. Selecting a technology partner, which may have embraced one of many standards or was championing a proprietary approach, was essentially a gamble on the future. At stake, should the solution prove incompatible with third-party equipment, were substantial financial and technology investments, as well as the ability to tap into a hypercompetitive market place.

If not for AIMS, those same engineers would now be dealing with even more uncertainty. Mounting competitive pressures would have made it impossible for media companies to sit on the fence any longer, forcing them to roll the dice on one technology solution or another. Without the promise of widespread interoperability that comes with the embrace of a common approach by dozens of technology vendors and media companies, broadcasters would have been forced to take a much more conservative approach to the modernization of their networks, deliberating every technology purchase with extreme discrimination and caution, moving forward in almost imperceptible increments.

There would be no consensus roadmap. The industry collaboration that fueled the creation of SMPTE 2110, now being drafted, would have been diffused across multiple and likely less robust standards initiatives. Minus the existence of AIMS, the prospect of IP-based solutions offering the same plug-and-play compatibility as SDI would still be a dim prospect and the current momentum behind the feasibility of IP-based production facilities would be severely muted. Without AIMS, which is not a standards-making organization but an industry association that shines a spotlight on the activities of AES, AMWA, EDU, SMPTE and VSF, many broadcast engineers may not even be aware of the full breadth and scope of the work these organizations perform.

"Near the top of the organization’s agenda for 2017 is a focus on interoperability and implementation."

Looking Forward

Fortunately, the above scenario was averted. Instead, the formation of AIMS a year ago this week turned out to be more beneficial to the advancement of the media and entertainment industry than any of its founders could have imagined. And it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Near the top of the organization’s agenda for 2017 is a focus on interoperability and implementation. With a clear roadmap to follow and widespread compatibility assured, media companies are now turning their attention toward rolling up their sleeves and putting IP-based solutions to work. AIMS is committed to supporting these efforts through the creation of an assortment of interoperability tests and reference architectures, as well as fulfilling the AIMS mission of educating media companies on how to tackle specific use cases and deployment issues.

From a technology supplier’s viewpoint, AIMS has also made life considerably more wonderful for Imagine Communications. It’s given us the greenlight to infuse our next-generation solutions with interoperability capabilities that we know will be relevant for years to come. Many of the more than 25 IP-enabled deployments we unveiled earlier this year leverage standards that are now part of the AIMS roadmap.

Though it’s interesting to speculate, it’s impossible to know exactly where the industry might be in its inevitable transition to IP if AIMS did not exist. Let’s be happy we’ll never need to find out.

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