There is one thing which is certain for 2020 – Olympic Games are being held July 24–August 9, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan (unless the coronavirus plays spoilsport). The Games of the XXXII Olympiad will have a major impact on the broadcast industry for more than one reason and will set the technical benchmark for the next few years in the industry. This year, the volume of content being created will continue to grow to meet demand for high-quality content for an increasing number of OTT services. In addition, growing demand for 4K and HDR content means file sizes will only get bigger. As a result, the industry is expected to witness growing demand for high-performance, highly available, and reliable storage designed for studio editing, rendering, and other performance-intensive workloads.
New age broadcasting – OTT
OTT television is new age broadcasting. TV via live streaming, BBC iPlayer, Netflix, multi-platform video, smartphones, and consoles, has ushered in the age of TV everywhere and burgeoning content. What is it that Amazon Prime, HBO Now, Netflix, and alike, that has shaken up broadcasting? On-demand-access, VoD, standalone streaming, multiple-screens viewing, flexible subscriptions, slimmed-down television bundles/skinny bundles, original content, audience interaction, and cost-effective packs, are among a few things on the platter. Broadcasting has moved beyond linear TV, expensive cable bundles, and inflexible programming. The low-cost packs are a big factor. Original content and series is the next in queue – Netflix investing millions of dollars in exclusive content. These standalone streaming services are attracting the millennials in hoards. The phenomenon has given rise to a new social group, the cord-cutters.
Social TV and the multi screens
Does an exodus from linear television translate into people watching less TV? Rather the exact opposite. People are watching more television, consuming more videos, but the key divergence has been in the viewing experience, which has expanded to multiple screens. Smartphones, computers, and tabs have accelerated video consumption. Live streaming and OTT has given audience more control over video generation, distribution, and consumption. Cross-screen engagement has transformed the relationship between television viewing and the audience, resulting in distinct viewing patterns. Second and third screens are becoming an extension of the viewing experience. Live-video streaming platforms, Meerkat and Periscope, are set to transform and democratize news and video broadcasting, notching up social conversations. Live video streaming of the Mayweather and Pacquiao boxing match was a breakthrough in social broadcasting. The second-screen conversation has transformed television. Television shows go trending, garner higher viewership and ratings – depending on whether the conversation on social media is rolling or not. Audiences are not just surfing through channels when the TV is on anymore; they are riding the waves of second screens.
The 5G opportunity
As 5G deployments gain momentum into 2020, the media and broadcast industry is looking at ways of capitalizing on this next-generation mobile technology. Excitement about 5G’s potential has reached feverish pitch. It has been touted as a game-changer for the broadcast industry, but when many consumers are still comfortable using 4G speeds and can already stream media on-the-go, can 5G live up to its hype? The differentiators at the technical level mean 5G has the potential to change an audience’s media consumption, offering new services and experiences. A critical factor within this is taking advantage of the ultra-low latency and bandwidth afforded by 5G to allow consumers to be in the moment – bringing the live experience closer when remote, and more immersive when up close and personal.
In the case of sports events, 5G is a gateway for future development within the connected-stadium experience. Coupled with the increasingly ubiquitous wearable technology, one can imagine countless opportunities for AR applications. It could be a monumental move forward for broadcasting sport that takes place outside of a single venue or stadium. 5G’s wireless connectivity can provide a larger area of coverage far more easily than the usual bespoke broadcast fixed networking.
The opportunities afforded by 5G can also be evidenced within the live-music arena. The VR set-up could be as easily constructed at stage-side, by the mixing-deck, or from the VIP area ahead of the stage. Interestingly, while there is a benefit in a permanent set-up such as a sports stadium, the bespoke build that is created for outside festivals could allow for more services. Festival sites could be built with 5G infrastructure at the core to underpin everything from the broadcast requirements as well as site management necessities. It is essentially a blank canvas.
Although not yet a reality, one major benefit of 5G that is set to emerge over the next few years will be network slicing. In a nutshell, this is the ability to manage traffic across the network set-up and create private virtual networks within it. It could be used to allocate specific channels to handle mass outside-broadcast requirements.
For 5G, network slicing is set to become a fundamental ingredient in providing many of the 5G services that will be seen emerging over the forthcoming years, helping to drive innovation in network handling, performance, and optimization.
4K HDR is the new goal
Much of the industry noise and bluster surrounding Tokyo 2020 is about 8K that is going to remain a niche service for some time. There is always a lag between industry innovation and more prosaic consumer reality, and with even the case for 8K as a production format yet to be proven, its consumer presence remains tenuous. Strategy Analytics, in its Media and Entertainment Predictions for 2020, sees the percentage of 8K sets as an overall part of UHD screen shipments, hitting a little over 1 percent by the end of 2020 with a rise to 6 percent by year end 2023.
Many broadcasters, even in Asia, are still working out how and when to get 4K services on the air, especially in live sports, never mind adding HDR or even high frame rate (HFR), which are also on the horizon as future upgrades. With the big SVoD players all majoring on 4K HDR (indeed, Netflix has started to specify HDR as a requirement), it is now either the base spec or the new goal depending on where you are in the world. And there are viewers waiting too. In the same report, Strategy Analytics sees global UHD TV shipments set to rise from 129 million units in 2019 to 148 million next year and on to 193 million by 2023. 8K might be a future format, but 4K HDR is very much an increasingly present one.
Anti-piracy efforts redoubled
The growth in 4K HDR also means a growth in the piracy attacks that target such premium services. This has been a constant concern throughout 2019. 2020 is going to see the anti-piracy efforts redoubled though throughout the industry. The use of AI is expected to increase to identify pirate behaviors among end-users, though as corollary to that the industry may start seeing its deployment in piracy attacks next in 2020. There will be more worldwide legislation to block illegal streaming and – hopefully – illegal IPTV networks, while it will be interesting to see if the new D2C offerings from the likes of Apple and Disney will have robust anti-piracy measures baked in from the outset.
This was one of the most intriguing trends identified in 2019 and this will continue in 2020. So far it is a phenomenon that has been mainly confined to the Asian market, where three services in China alone have a user base close to or over half-a-billion people, and where overall income is expected to reach USD 32 billion in 2020. As more streaming services come on line and competition for what is a finite consumer budget intensifies, though, it looks like the AVoD model will spread further afield, making inroads into even the established US market. Expect to see consumers adopt a pragmatic mix of paid for, ad-free subscriptions augmented by AVoD services. What will be really interesting is whether those services are offered by the same media companies in different tiers.
Esports is still coming
This is a big trend. Live sports viewing has been the preserve of sports broadcasters. But because of the big technology platforms (like Amazon and Facebook), it will all change. These platforms will compete for rights to the most popular sporting events. But the most exciting thing is that these platforms are taking D2C delivery approaches. In the past, people needed to go through traditional broadcasters in order to get in front of the customer. But that is all in the past. Through streaming services, these platforms will distribute digital media directly to customers.
In 2018, the sports fans saw the negative impacts of latency. FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia attracted a massive number of the online audience. They were affected by user-experience issues. From the BBC, a lot of viewers were streaming games. But they experienced delays for almost 60 seconds. Just imagine that you are watching a big game at an outdoor watch party and you hear cheers for a penalty goal that is coming from a pub 60 seconds before you see the goal. The bottom line is that it is a massive issue that people faced in 2018 and 2019. As online streaming is becoming more and more popular, solving the latency issue is a must, and it has to be done rather quickly. So, solving this issue will be another trend in 2020. A lot of digital companies have claimed that they have a solution. So, it is interesting to see what they offer.
A push to integrate FinTech into media
Great strides have been made in streamlining ad buying and selling processes over the last two decades, from proposals to orders, right through to scheduling, ad insertion, and delivery measurement. The piece that is still largely missing for broadcast media is extending that workflow efficiency into the post-sale stage – and that is where FinTech comes into play. Adding the ability to include invoicing and cash-in-advance, ACH, and credit card payment processing within the existing workflow, either integrated with or built into the existing tech stack, will close the loop and create an end-to-end solution.
A different era?
The vision of broadcast in 2020 is about personalized technology, on-demand viewer experience, individuated content distribution, binge-watching, small television shows and independent cinema, innovative TV formats, more localized and vernacular content, ad-free models to targeted ads, and everyone connected to a smart TV.
Factors like expanding internet connectivity and broadband infrastructure, smartphones and live-streaming apps, social networking, and cutting-edge technology, among others, have transformed the television experience from linear to an era of anytime, anywhere, and any device availability of content. The volume, variety, and velocity of content and data consumption, is increasingly paving the way for legacy content and the indispensability of investing in digital preservation, restoration, digitization, and re-purposing of content to meet the exponential demands of the viewers.
A fair few of the 2020 broadcast industry predictions made here is no real surprise; more the eventual playing out of trends that have, to be fair, been in motion for some time. That perhaps makes 2020 less a different era and more a long-expected one. But there are some innovations in there that could be genuinely disruptive, especially Edge AI as the possibilities of on-device processing become better understood, and (possibly longer term) anti-piracy. Certainly, it will be interesting to look back from 2030 and see how much the world has changed in the decade still yet to come. And that change starts right now.