To suggest that 2018 has been a transformational year for the broadcast and media (M&E) industry is perhaps an understatement.
Television, as we know it in the most traditional sense — pre-programmed content transmitted over a linear platform — has been irrevocably changed. Consumers, in increasing numbers, are embracing their personal connected devices as the main medium in which to consume content.
Non-traditional content providers continue to thrive and flourish, as epitomised by the fact that Netflix is expected to spend up to US$8 billion on 700 original series this year. Sports, traditionally a stronghold of pay-TV, is shifting seismically towards the over-the-top (OTT) and video-on-demand (VoD) domains — the likes of Amazon and Facebook have acquired live streaming rights to some of the most sought after sports content in the world, including the hugely popular English Premier League.
How then are media companies adapting to these changes?
Consolidation of resources appears to be one way to go — Comcast’s takeover of the UK’s Sky and AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner are just some of the high-profile examples that reflect a wave of merger and acquisitions that is likely to continue.
From a technological perspective, 2018 has seen broadcasters and media companies explore various technologies as key enablers that will allow them to redefine key broadcast workflows with more efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Of these technologies, IP has arguably, been the most keenly discussed, particularly with the ratification of the SMPTE ST 2110 standards suite. Writing in this issue of APB, Mike Cronk, chairman of the board, Alliance for IP Media Solutions (AIMS), suggested: “I submit we can definitively say that IP is beginning to have the positive transformational impact we have envisioned.”
And IP can perhaps no longer be considered a pipe dream, with Cronk pointing out the likes of China’s CCTV, South Korea’s KBS, CNN, Fox Networks and NEP in Australia have already implemented SMPTE ST 2110-based systems.
Recognising the importance of Asian broadcasters beginning to understand how they can make IP work for them, APB, in conjunction with partners Ideal Systems, Arista Networks, Dejero, Dell EMC, Embrionix and AJA Video Systems, organised an IP Master Class in Singapore in June 2018.
Converting to IP is not just about replacing SDI; instead, there is a “bigger transition” at play, emphasised Michel Proulx, media industry advisor and former CTO of Miranda Technologies. Speaking as the keynote presenter at the APB IP Master Class, Proulx referred the “bigger transition” to the move from hardware-based, fixed-function solutions towards software-based solutions.
He explained: “The software-defined world needs IP because the real deal of flexibility comes from software, which will allow fixed tools to be more agile.
“Moreover, the benefits of moving to software is greater, as it will eventually lead to virtualisation and the cloud.”
Other technologies that have taken their turns in the spotlight include virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI). For the former, its aesthetic appeal and potential should not be dismissed out of hand; however, the fledgling technology would do well not to follow in the footsteps of 3D, which for varying reasons — the biggest of which, arguably, was those cumbersome eyewear — failed to sustain consumer interest.
The latter, in the age of digitisation and the Internet of Things, is perhaps an inevitable development. Alongside machine learning (ML), AI can potentially offer broadcasters a more in-depth understanding of their audiences, and thus to cater specific content to specific segments of audiences.
In Asia-Pacific, countries such as Japan and South Korea have already begun 4K/Ultra HD (UHD) broadcasts and in the case of the former, 8K will be its technical precursor to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
While the emergence of high dynamic range (HDR) is continuing to encourage broadcasters to embrace 4K/UHD, it remains to be seen if adoption will peak in the region, particularly when so many countries have yet to complete the transition to digital TV.
Take South-east Asia as an example — ASEAN having mandated that all countries in the bloc complete their digital transition by 2020 and the clock is ticking rapidly. Singapore is on track to be the first country in the region to complete the digital switchover (DSO), with all analogue TV signals to be permanently switched off by 1 January 2019.
And the DSO, perhaps, will be the most immediate challenge and priority for many broadcasters in Asia-Pacific. In order to enjoy the full benefits of many of the technologies mentioned above, it is imperative that broadcasters complete the DSO as speedily as possible.
What about emerging technologies whose potential impact on the broadcast and media industry remains uncertain?
Having been brought into the public consciousness by bitcoin, or cryptocurrency, what exactly can blockchain bring to the broadcast and media industry?
With blockchain technology, the digitisation of assets can be decentralised, trustful, traceable, highly transparent and free of intermediaries, said Mock Pak Lum, senior advisor at Tembusu Partners, a Singapore-based private equity firm.
Mock, former CTO of Singapore pay-TV operator StarHub, added: “Given that all media assets will be digitised, the distribution and consumption of media content is well suited for blockchain adoption.
“With the adoption of digital identity on blockchain by incorporating biometric verification, we can determine the person in the family who is consuming the content.”
Less certain, perhaps, is how the broadcast and media landscape will evolve in 2019. Will consumers continue to strengthen their love affair with the consumption of video content over mobile platforms and devices? Will we see more broadcasters and media companies re-inventing themselves as OTT and VoD service providers — and will linear TV’s role as the primary content consumption continue to diminish?
Come 2019 which technologies will emerge as the key enablers that will allow broadcasters to thrive in these increasingly uncertain times? The New Year promises to bring both answers, and questions, in equal measure.