By Shaun Lim
Like many other business sectors, the broadcast and media industry has not been spared from the massive disruption brought forth by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Despite having to provide a safe working environment for employees while having to incur substantial financial losses, the broadcast and media industry has continued to demonstrate resilience in serving audiences around the world,” said Dr Amal Punchihewa, an ITU expert and advisor/consultant to the Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD).
In an exclusive interview with APB+, Dr Amal added, “The broadcast and media industry has continued to produce content by deploying affordable emerging technologies rapidly, especially remote production technologies to sustain content production and distribution.”
With many people continuing to be restricted to their homes because of the pandemic, there has also been an increase in broadband consumption for remote working and learning, as well as accessing content, Dr Amal pointed out.
This growing strain on broadband networks due to the surge in data usage, he felt, called for innovation by the broadcast and media industry to be able to distribute content with limited broadband capacity, while maintaining the best quality of experience that they can offer to cater to content consumption habits that continue to evolve.
Building a lasting relationship with viewers
As Dr Amal asserted, more content is being consumed by viewers as they spend increasing amounts of time at home due to the pandemic. This, in turn, is driving more operators to invest in direct-to-consumer (D2C) business models as they look to maintain long-term relationships by understanding their audience’s consumption patterns and habits.
“As a solution to the weakness that traditional broadcast and media delivery had with one-way communication, broadband opened up a return path for interactions,” Dr Amal said. “Integrated Broadcast-Broadband (IBB) technologies are now further augmented with Native-IP services.”
Native-IP based media solutions, he explained, allowed existing video service providers to adopt a wide range of business models, while opening the door for new entrants, such as telcos who are able to provide transport video efficiently and effectively over broadband networks.
Broadcasters and media organisations must continue to work on distribution systems that are agnostic to devices and delivery channels. The DVB-I specification, for instance, enables content access on any device and at any time, based on the most suitable content quality and delivery mechanism at the time and the location of access.
From an engagement point of view, DVB-I enables viewers to easily find and watch content on any device, whether delivered over a broadcast or broadband network, including fibre and 5G.
Other technologies are also coming to the fore as operators look to increase the number of interactions with their audiences. These, Dr Amal identified, include artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and cloud computing.
He elaborated, “Within privacy and data protection regulations, if available and enforced, broadcasters and media operators could generate more insights and analytics by mining the data they can gather through returns channels available via broadband. Having insights, they could then offer better recommendations, maximise user experience, reduce churn, and build a long-term relationship with their audience.”
Bridging the digital divide in Asia-Pacific
For broadcasters and media operators in the Asia-Pacific region to be able to build and maintain direct and lasting relationships with consumers however, an existing digital inequality needs to be addressed.
While more viewers are now consuming both entertainment and news content via over-the-top (OTT) connections, it should not be forgotten that OTT requires wired or wireless broadband to be implemented.
Dr Amal, who also previously served as the Director of Technology and Innovation at the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU), noted, “Recent reports from both ITU and the Broadband Commission highlighted the digital divide, where more than half the global population does not have broadband access.
“In the Asia-Pacific region, the situation is more alarming as some countries fall well below 50%.”
Advocating that connectivity requires both availability and affordability of broadband, he added, “This enables true accessibility or universal access that the broadcast and media industry require for their certain delivery mechanisms. Though traditional broadcasters mainly deliver content via over-the-air (OTA) using terrestrial or satellite services, integrated broadcast-broadband services that seamlessly marry two distributions would suffer. “
Dr Amal batted for more collaborations between telcos and mobile network operators (MNOs), as well as between MNOs and the broadcast and media industry. For instance, in New Zealand, where Dr Amal currently resides, fibre-to-home connectivity has reached 87% penetration, driven by the efforts of the Rural Connectivity Group (RCG).
RCG is a joint venture by Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees, where the MNOs share networks to offer connectivity via 4G Multi-Operator Core Network (MOCN) technology.
MOCN technology, said Dr Amal, allows the MNOs to share spectrum and build the RCG network by minimising infrastructure, that is, one pole can support shared antenna, power and backhaul. “When building a network in a rural environment with minimal funding, MOCN supports the efficiency and cost-effective delivery of fast wireless broadband and calling services to where they are needed most,” he added.
Emerging technologies and sustainability frame the future
With the hope that 2022 will usher in a semblance of stability and a return to normalcy, broadcasters and media operators are continuing to reinvent themselves to stay relevant in a constantly evolving media landscape.
“Expect to see more tests and trials of emerging technologies” was Dr Amal’s prediction, as more innovative products and services based on the latest generation of Internet-centric distribution solutions such as Native IP, DASH, ABR multicast, targeted advertising, and 5G, make their presence felt.
“For 5G, the broadcast and media industry has been working with the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) partners to maximise the potential of 5G in the value chain of media content,” said Dr Amal. “Various consortiums are now working to find the production and distribution use cases of 5G.”
He also sees the response to climate change and maintaining sustainability as a growing priority for the broadcast and media industry, and an important development for linear TV emerging in 2022.
“In 2022 and beyond, we could see the development of end-to-end delivery solutions for linear TV with a focus on the sustainability and energy impact of the end-to-end transmission chain, the quality of experience of the delivery of video services for the end-user, and easy optimisation of architecture on a delivery network to further reduce the costs for operators,” Dr Amal concluded.
Question: While integrating broadcast technology with broadband transmission is a great way forward, what is your take on linear TV in 2022 and beyond?
The old maven Andrew Yeo at APB+ would like to hear from you … please send your views to firstname.lastname@example.org