By Dr Ahmad Zaki Mohd Salleh, group general manager, engineering, Media Prima
Everyone is talking about staying relevant nowadays. Traditional broadcasters are constantly being bombarded with questions as to what their plans are, with regard to current challenges to their business by what we refer to today as ‘disruptors’. Hundreds of articles, seminars and forums have been written and organised to discuss and share ideas on the way forward. Regardless, we still see traditional broadcasters going out of business due to financial stress and an inability to compete in the ever-changing industry.
I shall make no attempts to offer a solution, as I do not have one. The organisation I am working for is going through the same challenges and we are also groping for answers to the same questions. However, I would like to share some of my thoughts on these matters.
Sometimes, I do ask myself: What is broadcasting today? What is it that separates us from those using various social media platforms? The famous ‘self-styled’ Korean singer and songwriter, PSY, had more than a billion viewers for his famous Gang-nam Style music video. In this context, he has more viewership compared to any TV station in this part of the world and he does not even own a TV station! Does that make him a broadcaster? By definition, yes. So is broadcasting the act of making signals available for viewers, or is it the act of viewers consuming the content?
For many years, traditional broadcasters have been offering something very fundamental to the human race, which is news, entertainment, general information and various items related to commerce. People had no choice. Other than print, traditional TV broadcast is the only other means of getting these materials in a ‘multimedia’ manner. Then came the Internet. And the Internet brought something important with it — choice. An Internet user can browse and choose whatever content he or she wishes to consume at whatever time suitable for them.
Before I answer the question, let us ask ourselves what is ‘broadcast’. As usual, if you are unsure of anything, Google it.
“Broadcasting is the distribution of audio or video content to a dispersed audience via any electronic mass communications medium, but typically one using the electromagnetic spectrum (radio waves), in a one-to-many model.” 1
A pretty straightforward and well-understood definition, I guess. But the definition now extends beyond TV and radio stations. Using the Internet, anyone can be a broadcaster today. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are effective broadcast tools, and they allow the possibility of live broadcast as well.
Therefore, the Internet, radio spectrum, microwave, cable and so forth are merely platforms which we use to broadcast. Video, audio, data and so on are merely applications which run over the platform. For instance, TV is video and audio over radio spectrum, radio is audio over radio spectrum and we have hundreds of different applications that run over the Internet carrying video, audio and data in various combinations. The same goes for publications. Print material is sent over the radio spectrum as well as the Internet, and is as effective (if not more) as compared to the traditional physical media.
The purist would argue that a broadcast medium should be obtained by tuning into the medium. This means that the signal is ever-present, and you can tune into it with the right device. In this context, broadcast signals are in the form of radio frequency. There is no bandwidth limitations and there are no limits to the number of devices that can be used. Other than this, signals are not broadcast but it is either narrow-cast, multi-cast or uni-cast.
Whatever the case may be, you may now ask yourself whether you are a broadcaster. If you work in a TV station like me, the answer is yes. If you are an Internet blogger, the answer is still yes.
The broadcast industry is also getting younger. Recently, I attended the Asia-Pacific Broadcast Union (ABU) General Assembly and associated meeting in Chengdu, China. During the plenary session, I looked around and realised how many representatives looked half my age. I almost felt out of place. The presentations are exciting; the contents are new, vibrant and fresh; and the technology is advanced, highly digitised and over multiple platforms. When I spoke to them, most of them are not even involved in the broadcast TV industry. Sometimes I ask myself whether these people are broadcasters. The answer is: I do not know, but they are members of the broadcast industry.
For the traditional broadcaster, it is time to reflect. Broadcasting will never be the same again. Disruptions to the traditional industry is aplenty. As for the word ‘broadcast’, I am not sure if it is relevant anymore.
The stage is set, and the rules have changed. Media practitioners must be able to create new opportunities in the midst of these trying times. Attitudes and outlook must change, because efficiency is the new name of the game.