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‘Interworking’ Navigating the future of broadcasting … what challenges lie ahead?

By Dr Amal Punchihewa 

Over the last few months, we have heard a lot about the challenges of sustaining various broadcast services including news. For democracy to thrive, news services must not only be reliable, unbiased and accurate but also require media pluralism through several credible news providers. The advertising revenue of broadcasters from over-the-air (OTA) is continually in decline and broadcasters are looking for technologies that can help them optimise ad revenue as the media landscape, including viewing habits, changes; and traditional broadcasters have been introducing streaming services too. 

Over-the-top (OTT) service providers also find it difficult to be profitable by offering only subscription services. Several OTT providers are now offering both subscription and ad-supported content. The OTT service providers going back to the way things were before streaming growth shows the increasing importance of advertising revenue. They have admitted that they cannot make operations profitable unless they build it on both offerings of subscription and advertising. This has added more pressure on traditional OTA broadcasters. 

OTT service providers are revisiting their over-the-top strategies to become more business-oriented. A key element for OTT service providers is the ability to launch free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) and ad-supported video-on-demand (AVoD) services efficiently and with existing resources to allow optimisation of growing ad sales versus having to focus on the costs of the infrastructure or external third-party systems to manage their business. To do that, they need tools that manage not only content and commercials but also integrate data for direct ad sales possibilities.

In this column, I previously highlighted the Freely service in the UK. TV operators have been focusing on integrating a hybrid broadcast–broadband user experience on an appealing platform for consumers. The UK’s recently announced next-generation hybrid free-to-air TV platform – branded Freely – will use HbbTV’s Operator Application (HbbTV OpApp). The German pilot is based on the DVB-I specification that relies on a TV set’s native user interface, while Freely is based on privileged access to the connected TV’s user interface and other sub-systems. 

The technical standards of the latest generations of digital terrestrial television broadcasting have embraced IP-based approaches. The inclusion of multicast and broadcast technologies in the most recent releases of the global mobile telecommunications standard has coincided with the availability of 5G broadcast, and the integration of 5G multicast/broadcast capabilities within the 5G media streaming system.

While true convergence between broadcast and mobile technologies remains unlikely to occur, the preconditions for mutually beneficial interworking between the different systems seem now to have been mostly achieved.

There have been several presentations and discussions on the evolutions of both broadcast and mobile technical standards as they have approached more closely the domains of one other, reaching notable developments with the arrival of ATSC 3.0, DVB-I and DVB-Native IP (DVB-NIP) as possible game-changing systems, and some of the new solutions from 3GPP. 

The National Association of Broadcasters’ NAB Show, which is held annually at the Las Vegas Convention Centre in Las Vegas, concluded on 17 April this year. NAB is an advocacy association for America’s broadcasters and advances radio and television interests in legislative, regulatory and public affairs. Through advocacy, education and innovation, NAB enables broadcasters to best serve their communities, strengthen their businesses and seize new opportunities in the digital age. NAB helps broadcasters to find the resources they need to successfully operate their broadcasting services. 

The NAB 2024 also reminded stakeholders of the battle against big tech and regulations that find it difficult to be in line with the changes taking place in the industry.  The industry needs to make sure that policymakers and regulators understand how rapidly the marketplace has evolved. The NAB show also noted that misinformation and disinformation are a massive problem and urged broadcasters to work together and put democracy above the interests of any individual company.

The DVB Project’s Head of Technology, Emily Dubs, spoke at the 2024 NAB Broadcast Engineering & Information Technology (BEIT) conference.  She presented a 24-page paper titled “How IP-based Broadcast meets 5G for resilient and sustainable media distribution”, which can be accessed on the DVB website. The paper presents how technologies for mobile broadcasting have evolved and what is likely to come next.

The paper describes how technologies from DVB and 3GPP can interwork in a mutually beneficial way. The industry has been discussing the convergence between broadcast and broadband in the last decade. However, the paper emphasises the interworking between the mobile industry and the broadcast industry. Having observed previous attempts to deliver broadcast content to mobile devices and not seeing commercial success despite having feasible technologies, the focus would be to explore how user experience can be improved by working closely with 3GPP.

The paper also describes how combining DVB terrestrial or satellite broadcast networks, DVB-DASH streaming and DVB-NIP together with 5G networks, would enable deployment scenarios where the strengths of those networks can complement each other and facilitate migration journeys.

The key message is the possibility of interworking between DVB and 3GPP networks with DVB-I as the special glue that brings it all together at the service layer. The term to note is “interworking”. Recent attempts from all digital terrestrial technology groups were to improve the user experience of the television audience. Over a decade ago, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and all other technology developers and standard organisations introduced integrated broadcast-broadband (IBB) technologies.

Those IBB technologies provided an integrated environment for audiences to access media content. HbbTV and Hybridcast are two main IBB technologies that are being used by various countries. 

Similarly, there were attempts to harmonise various distribution technologies. We are close to the theoretical limit of digital terrestrial systems that can be implemented practically today. Several signal processing blocks are common in most digital terrestrial television broadcasting (DTTB) standards. During the IBC conference in Amsterdam, we had a meeting of the Future of Broadcasting Television (FOBTV) group, although it may be too late to have a unified terrestrial distribution standard due to various reasons. These include the DVB informing that it will not develop a third-generation terrestrial standard beyond DVB-T2, which is a mature, well-performing and widely deployed global standard; and the latest ATSC 3.0 standard currently being deployed. 

The current emphasis of the DVB project is on improving the audience experience having content access anywhere, at any time and on any device.  ATSC 3.0 as a recently developed terrestrial standard is more IP friendly.

DVB has developed various modules to enhance the DVB distribution ecosystem while complementing terrestrial and satellite distribution systems. DVB-I and DVB-NIP as described in Emily’s paper to BEIT bring important features such as service discovery. DVB interworking with 3GPP, especially via the consortium of 5G broadcast stakeholders – 5GMAG – explores how 5G could augment broadcast services, especially in terms of delivery.  

Emily’s presentation at the BEIT conference, which was part of a session on the application of 5G in broadcasting, focused in particular on the promise of deploying DVB-I as a standardised service layer for 5G technologies. This can allow both new radio-based 5G networks (using 5G Media Streaming) and LTE-based 5G broadcasts to carry services with an appropriate service layer facilitating commercial success, which is standardised and TV-friendly.

The paper also discusses in detail broadcasting standards’ road to IP, multimedia and mobile including initial building blocks used in first-generation DTTB standards. Then, it describes how second-generation DTTB standards are paving the way for multimedia broadcasting including the latest IP-based standards ATSC 3.0 and DVB-NIP/T2.

In contrast, the paper also describes 3GPP’s path towards broadcast, 5G broadcast’s foundation and variants, features, value proposition, its prospects and challenges and 5G media streaming. The paper concludes with ongoing initiatives and interworking prospects at the system core, including ATSC’s global harmonisation efforts, and coexistence at the RF Level and at the service layer, for example, DVB-I over 5G.

5G and broadcast technologies will continually evolve to complement the delivery of content in demand. However, in addition to appealing content, for a broadcast delivery system to survive and thrive, it needs an ecosystem in which all stakeholders including audience, device manufacturers, broadcasters, policymakers and technology developers work collaboratively to make operations affordable and sustainable. 

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