Why Linux Isn't Used in Broadcast Media

Monday Dec 27th 2010 by Matt Hartley
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Broadcast media reflects the same attitudes toward Linux seen within much of the enterprise world, yet these attitudes will change as media creation moves online.

Linux has managed to carve a little slice of success for itself in nearly every industry. Well, with the exception of broadcast media that is.

While I’ve found some limited Linux presence in the broadcast radio industry, I've found that in the broadcast TV market, Linux software appears to be completely absent. It's almost like the broadcast media establishment doesn't realize that Linux exists as a viable alternative for many functions within a TV studio.

Now this isn't to say that Linux servers aren't being used, rather that there is a stunning lack of evidence that Linux on the desktop is being used within the industry as a whole.

Does this matter? I should say so -- and here's why.

Media bias or enterprise bias?

Here is where my grievance takes shape. Broadcast media seems to easily embrace overly commercialized brands for distribution of their content without any real consideration that there may be a more cost effective way to get things done.

Up until very recently, I could name three large media outlets that required you to use a Windows-powered browser to visit their websites, just to be able to view their recorded video segments. It was amazing to me -- there was zero reason for this. It's not like this content was published in a way that Linux users couldn't view, rather the page blocked users who weren't running the approved operating system.

As I went deeper into the media disconnect between open source solutions, I noticed something interesting. Many of the products that are being used by these companies are also sponsors for them as well. Fair enough, these are for-profit corporations. So I guess this is something we can wrap our heads around.

But what about a small-time TV station looking to shave costs on their enterprise level IT expenses? Do you think proprietary software is going to come riding into the room with a care package ready to roll out onto the various workstations? Think again.

So what is available for Linux in the broadcast space?

Sadly I haven't found any viable software for TV broadcasters that run a Linux shop. Nothing, not even remotely. Broadcast radio, on the other hand, does have at least one viable solution that looks promising. The software is called Campcaster and from the looks of it, the application provides quite a bit of value to the radio station using it. I think what really drives its value home for me is that the radio station can run the show either locally in-studio or from a remote site as well. Definitely a full-featured solution.

Back on the TV broadcasting front, however, nothing on the Linux platform appears to be available that really provides a solid starting point for a new TV station on a tight budget. And this is bothersome, considering that broadcast media should (in theory, at least) remain free and open to the masses. Yes, we have public broadcasters out there, but you can almost bet that they're locked into the same cycle of dysfunction with proprietary software dependency.

Luckily there is something that may help break this cycle.

IPTV

Today's content creation has shown that it's no longer bound by the old school way of doing things, thus rendering the traditional broadcast industry a relic of the past. What if the future of broadcasting isn't over the airwaves? What if the next frontier is instead, TV over the Internet?

The availability of IPTV (Internet Protocol TV aka Internet TV) is no longer about some alternative way to view video content. It's now about the freedom to watch content you want, the way you want to view it.

The biggest issue that has me looking more and more to IPTV is the fact that anyone can become a broadcaster. Create instead of just consuming content! By using one of half a dozen Linux-compatible applications, anyone with a webcam is now able to share content with the world.

No longer are we being held down by proprietary software companies, "big media" or those who support this way of doing things. An unregulated (for the most part) Internet along with plenty of the free software available with open source friendly licensing means that anyone with something to say can express themselves and share it with the world.

Clearly this has practical value for multiple venues. Take the workplace for example. If you need to create and broadcast a message about your product or services, the open-ended concept of IPTV is there to facilitate.

Broadcast media is broken

Throughout this article, my complaints have focused on the fact that broadcast media chooses to rely on existing, proprietary software rather than make any real attempt to produce something sustainable. The final straw for me was in discovering that the best collective effort for public broadcasters to address these grievances appears to be a lost cause. Even when broadcast media tries to do the right thing, it fails.

Perhaps this is for the best though. Obviously broadcast corporations need to make a business decision for themselves regarding how much trust to put into proprietary software. Yet I think the future of public broadcasting and user generated content is clearly going to be Web-based.

And maybe someday the idea of using Linux-powered devices like the Roku instead of a cable box will become as commonplace as using Linux compatible publishing software as Wordpress and Scribus for print media. Remember, the value of media as a vehicle to share information isn't just about the casual end user, it also has very strong, real world enterprise applications as well.

Proprietary software and the Windows world

Nothing kills a good mood with me like being locked into something that should be available to everyone. I don't have a problem paying for access to that something, but I'd like to have the ability to use it as I see fit. This means access to the Web, the ability to publish my feelings in writing and of course, create content.

Thanks to the modern Web we have these freedoms. Despite the best efforts of those in the enterprise world, who may have felt they knew best, the freedom that is technology and innovation have managed to win the day.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for broadcast media. Despite many valiant efforts, most of the broadcast world is rather stale and due for a serious overhaul. It has lacked the kind of revolution we've seen in the computing space, where Linux and FoSS ideals took hold and shook everything we thought we knew about choice upside down.

Upon examining everything I have encountered, I have come up with the following. Broadcast media reflects many of the same prejudices and ignorance seen within much of the enterprise world. And this is likely why no one has ever bothered to spend any time on a software suite to address this realm.

Since the future of broadcasting content is likely to come down a different sort of media pipeline anyway, maybe the healthy thing to do is cut our losses and look to IPTV solutions. The software is out there, now all we need to do is embrace it.

It's time to contribute to content creation ourselves and ensure we don't allow IPTV to become as restrictive as the broadcast space turned out to be. By creating content and contributing ourselves, we in turn become the broadcast media for the next generation.

The best part? We can choose to use Linux based solutions this time around.

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