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Embracing a new normal

The coronavirus pandemic has forced broadcasters to rethink their approach to producing and delivering content in many ways, the post-COVID world is ready.
The future has been pulled forward. It is time to embrace it.

There is no way to sugarcoat it: the pandemic has had a highly disruptive effect on the global broadcasting industry in 2020 and many agree it will be felt for several years. The inability for people to gather safely has made it impossible for full-scale video production to go ahead as it did before. Yet, the industry has risen to the challenge in a myriad of ways and learned to be more efficient in the process.

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Technologies like 4K UHD got a deeper foothold into live production, but 1080p60 HDR remains the most commonly used format for the highest profile events. The equipment and required bandwidth costs less and signal distribution is easier to accomplish. 2020 was the year when augmented reality graphics were used to place fake crowds in the stands and simulated crowd noises as part of the first telecasts to start up after governmental lockdown were imposed.

Before the outbreak, remote operations were mostly considered at home or REMI productions and had been used for a variety of centralized productions, although it was not yet ubiquitous. It was considered a nascent but cost-effective way to produce multiple events simultaneously. But this changed dramatically during the outbreak.

Cloud-based services got a big boost in 2020. Virtualizing traditional production technologies like video switching, audio mixing, and automated file serving just make sense and in 2020, an increasing number of broadcasters pursued this model in order to support multiple content platforms. This trend is expected to continue to go forward.

The content creation area is the only product category that has seen a growing demand for social or user-generated content solutions, which have been particularly employed in newscasts. On the production side, remote editing, remote workflow solutions, IP technology, and graphics systems have increased sales, along with integrated production software suites with social media publishing capabilities.

Content and workflow management solutions with process automation, as well as digital storage and archive systems have best withstood the situation. And finally, in the distribution and monetization section, investments have been mostly made in the migration to virtualized or cloud playout solutions, in analytics software, and in solutions to better monetize a company’s assets.

Distribution flourishes in a time of need
With millions of people staying home, watching television became a new addiction and that meant content providers had to step up and fortify their distribution platforms to meet the massive spoke in demand. Using cloud-based storage, transcoding, and packaging services, content owners were able to expand their reach and manage traffic loads better than they ever have before.

The cloud also allowed media companies to spin up and down channels in a relatively cost-effective manner. As luck would have it, three new MPEG-5 codecs were standardized for use over the public internet in 2020: versatile video coding (VVC); dual essential video coding (EVC) profiles (baseline and main), otherwise known as MPEG-5 Part 1; and low complexity enhancement video coding (LCEVC), aka, MPEG-5 Part 2. All have been deployed in one form or another and are now providing efficiency and bandwidth savings at a time when capacity is worth its weight in gold.

Billions lost but knowledge gained

What got the industry through? The short answer is experimentation, ingenuity, and careful planning. By leveraging IP-based toolsets, software-defined platforms and cloud-based solutions, broadcasters, and production teams have learned to leverage workflows where location is no longer a constraint. At the end of the day, whether it is REMI, centralized, at home, or distant remote, what the industry achieved is live production from anywhere.

Sometimes good things come from bad. In the case of 2020, the industry – figuratively working with one hand tied behind its back – has become more agile, with virtually scalable infrastructures and has learned to make the most of reduced resources. The demand for content has not subsided, but figuring out how it gets produced and sent to the home is one of the bright spots of an otherwise horrible year. To sports fans around the world, video engineers and IT-centric system designers became heroes.

Looking back on 2020, it is hard to quantify how much of a financial effect the pandemic has had on media companies, but it is surely in the billions of dollars. As the industry emerges from this crisis, it is important for broadcasters to take note from the industry’s achievements in 2020 and continue to adapt their infrastructures to better support remote workflows in the future.

Heralding a new era of broadcast innovation

The discretion of management in any business is to decide what to do and why. The industry has learned what works well and, perhaps, what does not. It has been found that anchor talents, MMJ, reporters, photographers, salespeople, and creative services producers can work from home, producers can produce shows from home, master control functions can run from home, overdrive automation can be programmed and operated from home. And home does not need to be in any specific direct memory access (DMA).

In the coming years, will it be more cost-effective to operate a virtual television in the cloud? Especially for companies with leased facilities, this could dramatically cut down the need for expansive facilities, reduce real estate costs substantially, and enlarge the available talent pool. With more time, planning and infrastructure, remote work could be more effective.

Business continuity, a technological objective.
Despite the fact that the digital transition is the most important objective for companies in the industry, it is an end that necessarily involves their continuity, a need that has managed to modify the vision of technology, which is now valued more in terms of how pragmatic it allows the industry to be. 2020 has been the year in which, in the face of an uncertain global context, the industry is not committed to investing in the most cutting-edge or imaginative technology on the market, but rather in the one that allows them to be increasingly productive and efficient with increasingly tighter budgets. Other of the most sought-after characteristics are the focus on the user and the capacity to open new business opportunities. The entire value chain of the broadcast and media industry has adjusted to this new reality, and where before there was, for example, room to prioritize image quality or additional free services that would improve the user experience, now the search is more focused on systems and advances that would, for example, increase advertising revenues, improve remote production, or assist in consumer retention. This pattern, coupled with uncertainty about the future, has also led to a shift in the timing and scope of investments, resulting in increased interest in as-a-service models.

ATSC 3.0 and 5G are the broadcast yellow brick road! The broadcast industry will experience a renaissance as other industries grasp the possibilities ATSC 3.0 has to offer where the new spectrum will provide an additional avenue to reach consumers. As the spectrum penetrates more markets, other sectors will get involved and experiment in unique and innovative ways. Competitors may become allies. A terrestrial, over-the-air IP stack will bring in new partners from sectors that exploit internet of things sensors. Additionally, as ATSC 3.0 and 5G technologies roll out in 2021, service providers will realize that the two technologies enable some common services. 5G service providers will learn about ATSC 3.0 based datacasting use cases, whereas traditional broadcasters will learn about the 5G media production and delivery capabilities. There will be both grounds for competition and opportunities for collaboration. The game will play out for a few years before gravitating toward an equilibrium in terms of optimal services and use cases, but 2021 will be the year the industries will start taking notice of each other.

As-a-service, from gradual to regular. Although before the pandemic many companies were already gradually moving toward SaaS technology models, the acceleration of this trend has been consistent with the unpredictability derived from the current situation, as these models are responsible for the highest rapid response capacity. This change has naturally had a domino effect on media technology providers, who have seen their large one-off revenues from hardware-based or legacy systems diminish or become recurrent as they adjust their offerings to SaaS models, a trend that seems to be a priority for the years to come. For users, this trend also implies a greater dependency and relationship with their internet service providers and a reconsideration of the technology they can develop in-house to fulfill some of their needs.

The transition to direct-to-consumer (D2C) business models. Once again, the spectacular growth experienced in these months by OTT-type platforms and streaming has led broadcast and media companies to allocate more resources to connect directly with their audiences through new platforms or digital media. These two facts are what, according to the IABM Charting the Uncharted report, are causing a sectorial polarization toward the digital, revaluing companies that have already partially or totally initiated this transition and punishing those who lag behind, who now seek in many cases to recover the trust of a more informed consumer with more options through an irrevocable technological investment that, in some cases, could be the difference between continuity or termination of business. The transition to remote working models has shaped another of the great aspects of the digital transition: a change of perspective on how technology is seen.

One-on-one local news conversations with voice platforms. In 2021, consumers will have one-on-one conversations with their preferred local news providers over voice platforms. Chatbots and messaging apps with these kinds of personalized conversations are already prevalent in other areas, including news. As these interactions extend to voice platforms, local news will be delivered not just as a request for a headline but as a conversation about a headline. These conversations may be rudimentary, but it is a significant step toward a more personalized, voice experience with news and information.

Radio reaffirms its dominance in the dashboard. In 2020 broadcast radio showcased the vital role it plays in the community. Never before has local information and community been more important than during this pandemic. The critical role that radio has played to inform, calm, and entertain has really come through loud and clear.

Technology as a valuable tool for change. Even though broadcast TV is faced with significant pressure to adapt to our changing world, the timing could not be more perfect. With the convergence of new technologies, broadcasters are well-equipped to tackle transformation with a smarter, more effective approach. As curated content becomes the way of the future, broadcasters are hard at work, finding the balance between automation and personalization. Even though automation is the most effective way to serve varying needs, viewers do not want to feel like they are being passed off to a robot. So, augmented intelligence will provide broadcasters with a way to improve the viewing experience without overextending their resources. It has become clear that the world is a society of smartphones, and broadcasters are discovering just how critical smartphone content now is. So, broadcasters will launch more apps, mobile-friendly videos, and other tools to keep in touch with their audiences.

Way forward

2020 has been the year in which, in the face of an uncertain global context, the broadcast and media industry is not committed to investing in the most cutting-edge or imaginative technology on the market, but rather in the one that allows them to be increasingly productive and efficient with increasingly tighter budgets. The entire value chain of the industry has adjusted to this new reality, and where before there was, for example, room to prioritize image quality or additional free services that would improve the user experience, now the search is more focused on systems and advances that would, for example, increase advertising revenues, improve remote production or assist in consumer retention. This pattern, coupled with uncertainty about the future, has also led to a shift in the timing and scope of investments, resulting in increased interest in as-a-service models.

Throughout 2021, and with the gradual arrival of a vaccine, most companies will evaluate how to continue to operate efficiently, balancing out new remote working processes with a partial return to office-based operations. Cloud infrastructure will continue to support remote workflows and eliminate dependency on on-premises systems. With software-defined workflows, deployments can now be established in minutes versus what used to take weeks or longer and is an opportunity to keep rapidly adding new and innovative use cases. This trend toward virtualization and software-defined broadcast infrastructures will continue into the new year. In many ways, the post-COVID-19 world is already here for the broadcast and media industry. The future has been pulled forward. It is time to embrace it.

Simmi Karna
Vice President, Content, Reliance Entertainment Studios
“Sharing my views on how 2020 fared in terms of market and technology trends, and on how the broadcast, cable, and satellite industry will pan out in over the next couple of years.

No doubt that COVID-19 lockdown let down TV viewer’s expectations and we all have observed the paradigm shift toward OTT platforms due to shortfall of content. But that does not mean that TV has lost its place in the audience hearts. I think like any other commercial business. The broadcast, cable, and satellite industry showed resilience too and they are back to normal with incisive thinking on the content front.

As a content creator and being into broadcast programming for nearly 25 years now and heading business leader positions at various institutions. I personally feel innovative, fearless programming and world-class production is much needed to earn back the trust and believe of cord cutters. If we do not dare to experiment in television, our competitors are there to push us back with every breath. FOMO (fear of missing out) content is the key. Today people want to watch anything that is real, socially relevant and have resonance with their lives. Content that is hyper local in nature and sends out invitations to inspire, aspire and make difference to them in many ways.

As we all know, India has a large broadcasting and distribution industry, comprising approximately 900 satellite TV channels, nearly 6,000 multi-system operators and around 60,000 local cable operators, seven DTH operators, and few IPTV service providers. So you can imagine, we are nowhere standing on the verge or edge of extinction. As per latest surveys and reports television ad revenue set to clock `34,100 crore by the end of 2020. Despite the cord cutters shift from traditional TV to digital platforms especially during the pandemic. I am 100 percent sure, as the amount of fiction programming content grows upward, the advertising will fall into place for primetime slots of TV. The daily average time spent on TV viewing has remained constant for the past 3 years at a daily average of 220-225 minute and a 62-65 percent TV penetration in India implies there is enough headroom for subscriber growth over the long term.

Television is expected to grow at a CAGR of 14.7 percent over the next 5 years as both advertisement and subscription revenues are projected to exhibit strong growth at 14.4 percent and 14.8 percent respectively.

There is no competition between TV and OTT platforms. The success of any content, be it on television or OTT platform, largely depends on the technology as well. Every new technology creates a new culture of content creation and a new culture of content consumption. Therefore, platforms like Netflix and Amazon are first technology driven companies than content tent pole studios, who primarily took the advantage of technology to deliver their content to their viewers across globe.

India currently boasts of 298 million homes, out of which the linear television industry has already reached to 198 million TV and cable satellite homes. There is almost an opportunity to 100 million more TV homes in the country. Whereas the streaming platform has only touched 20 million so far. It is just a beginning of few bold experiments which turned out to be a fortune for them.

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