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Linear TV To stay alive and thrive — minimise operational costs, stay relevant, offer quality content, says Dr Z

By Shaun Lim

Traditional linear TV is on its last legs, and will likely cease to exist within the next decade — that is, if you believe Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings.

Speaking at Netflix’s Q2 2022 earnings interview recently, he declared, “Streaming is working everywhere. Everyone is pouring in, [and] it’s definitely the end of linear TV over the next five, ten years.”

Notwithstanding the financial rewards Netflix could potentially reap in the improbable demise of linear TV as the streaming service continues to battle dropping subscription numbers, should Hastings’ dire prediction, nevertheless, spark concern for the longevity of linear TV?

The big question is: Will linear TV become extinct like the dodo?

While linear delivery where people are dictated what to watch at fixed timings is “going out of fashion”, TV as an entertainment device will still be relevant.

What will continue to change, is the mode in which content is sent to, said Dr Ahmad Zaki Mohd Salleh, Director of Technical Operations, Media Prima of Malaysia.

Speaking exclusively to APB+, he explained, “Today, we watch YouTube on a 50-inch flatscreen TV, so the content may come from various sources on different platforms. People still want to watch their favourite movies and films on a large screen, sitting on their sofa at home.

“The challenge for broadcasters is how to deliver content to TV sets.”

With the appetite for content arguably as high as it has ever been, the likes of Netflix and Disney+ are hardly the only challenges broadcasters are having to contend with in the war for eyeballs.

With lifestyle changes continuing to encourage on-the-go consumption of content on mobile devices, short-form content offered by platforms such as TikTok and YouTube is thriving.

While there are myriad reasons why consumers choose their preferred content platforms, the importance of content in the value chain must not be underestimated, Dr Zaki highlighted.

“While it may be too simplistic to say good content is all it takes to garner eyeballs, the general rule of thumb is, localised content always represents a good start. Sports, good-quality local entertainment which are relatable to the local population are likely to appeal.”

He went on to highlight how talent shows that play on emotions, and which add a touch of frivolity, have proven to be a hit with audiences in Malaysia, and have allowed broadcasters to build relationships with their viewers.

For Media Prima, the emphasis continues to be on creating good quality content and making the content easily accessible for viewers. 

This includes repurposing content to make it relevant for various online platforms and digital formats to suit new lifestyles, where people are more mobile, have shorter attention span, and demand more short-form content.

As to how Media Prima can solve the age-old conundrum of monetising content, Dr Zaki readily admitted that he has no all-encompassing answer beyond quality content, although he is adamant that more needs to be done to combat the threat of piracy.

He said, “Broadcasters and regulators have to work together on this and enforcement is top of the list. In my opinion, there must be political will at the highest level to ‘want’ to eradicate piracy.

“Then, consolidate the relevant ministries by giving them a common goal and getting someone qualified to lead the execution plan. Singapore is a good example of a very well managed and streamlined approach to fighting piracy.”

A more modern and efficient approach may also be required, as Dr Zaki lamented, “Forget the idea of going house to house and checking if residents have illegal devices in their houses. It is a complete waste of time, money, manpower, and not to mention, a completely futile endeavour.”

The long road to 5G for Malaysia 

Besides his role as Media Prima’s Director of Technical Operations, Dr Zaki is also wearing the hat of Chairman, Malaysian Technical Standards Forum (MTSFB), whose recent remit includes studying the feasibility of 5G broadcast in Malaysia.

He described, “Video content will comprise more than half of all data traffic and it would be in the best interest of 5G infrastructure owners to be able to offload some of this video data to a ‘broadcast’ mode rather than streaming it, which will consume bandwidth, a finite commodity.

“Once this content is offloaded to a ‘true broadcast’ mode, data bandwidth will be freed up for other data traffic, which could enable platform and mobile network operators (MNOs) to generate more income using the remaining bandwidth.”

While Malaysia is targeting to implement commercial 5G services by the end of this year, the country’s 5G plans have been disrupted – to say the very least – driven by the somewhat controversial decision to adopt the SWN (Single Wholesale Network) model.

Earlier last year, the Malaysian government announced the creation of Digital Nasional Bhd (DNB), a ‘special purpose vehicle’ (SPV) that will receive 5G spectrum, as well as build, operate, and lease 5G infrastructure to new and existing telcos.

To throw a spanner in the works where Malaysia’s 5G rollout is concerned, telcos Maxis and U Mobile have reportedly rejected DNB’s advances, citing no benefits in being a minor shareholder in DNB, which has reserved 70% ownership for telcos in the country.

Describing this as a “somewhat difficult position” that MNOs in Malaysia find themselves in, Dr Zaki said, “The situation is very similar to what broadcasters went through when Malaysia introduced MYTV as the CIIP (Common Integrated Infrastructure Provider) for broadcasters.

“Media Prima invested heavily on infrastructure and legacy equipment, which were no longer needed once MYTV came into operation.”

Established in 2014 to support Malaysia’s transition to digital terrestrial television (DTT), MYTV facilitates common infrastructure sharing among free-to-air (FTA) broadcasters, and is responsible for making the DTT platform ready for lease by FTA broadcasters.

This, according to MYTV, allows FTA broadcasters to optimise their resources and focus on creation and production of more content and value-added services.

Dr Zaki, however, has a different take on MYTV’s role. “New players with minimal investment and low upstart costs are now able to compete in the industry at an almost level playing field and this has created a more competitive landscape for broadcasting as a whole.

“Malaysia is a small market and competition in the broadcast industry has been intense even before the advent of the CIIP. However, Media Prima takes this as a challenge and continues to streamline its operations to remain competitive and evolve into a Digital First broadcaster catering its content to multiple platforms and viewer demographics.”

Despite the ambiguity that continues to surround Malaysia’s 5G rollout, Dr Zaki will also continue to represent MTSFB and the wider broadcast community to engage directly with DNB on the possibility of 5G broadcast being one of the latter’s stable of services in the future.

The future of broadcast is now

With his years of experience in the industry, Dr Zaki has experienced a number of key transitions within the broadcast and media industry.

And while the futurist in him can envision a future occupied by people with wires embedded in their eyewear and smart devices strapped to their belts, or how the industry will change – for the better or otherwise – by terrestrial spectrum being eroded by 5G and 6G, these, in his words, are just “science fiction”. 

In the here and now, keeping operational cost at a minimal while improving revenue, remains a major challenge for the industry.

He elaborated, “For technical operations, optimisation will always be on our agenda and can be achieved in various ways, including improving automation, introducing artificial intelligence (AI) in areas such as subtitling, quality control (QC), and wherever human involvement and dependency can be minimised. 

“Content orchestration and business processes will also be looked at extensively to remove mundane and labour-intensive processes, which hopefully will improve efficiency while introducing less errors.”

Dr Zaki’s prognosis is that linear TV will be alive and well if TV broadcasters can leverage emerging technologies to evolve and stay relevant by producing quality compelling content at minimal operational cost.

If you are pacing the exhibition halls at IBC 2022 from September 9-12 in Amsterdam, looking to refresh your station’s legacy equipment, bear in mind the doctor’s advice to focus on solutions that can automate and optimise operations, especially content orchestration and business processes.

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