More than ever before, different types of media companies are looking to expand into new sectors, creating increased competition for engaged audiences. TV companies, tech companies, OTT services, movie studios, and even non-M&E brands will compete to provide TV content to viewers.
The main trend of the broadcast industry has always been the same – to inform and entertain viewers. The landscape, however, is changing. Aside from traditional broadcasters, there are new players; the telcos and mobile operators.
Regardless of which trend is focused on, what is still valid is the old adage about content being king. The cost of content is increasing and that has two consequences. The FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) companies build their own production facilities or purchase production houses and the amount left in broadcasters’ annual budgets for technological investments decreases. Do more with less have, for years, consistently been reactions to these services. There are many products and services pushed forward under this flag, be it cloud services, SDI over IP, and many others.
Drivers for change are the impact of new media and the OTT companies on audiences. With a global reach and large budgets, these new entrants are creating pressure on the legacy broadcasters. To survive, the broadcasters are also launching direct-to-consumer offerings. Another issue for broadcasters is how to remain relevant to younger viewers. Going direct to consumers entails embracing multi-device delivery, although most leading broadcasters have addressed this issue over the last decade. The response to companies like Netflix has been a collaboration between broadcasters and the widening of their reach to a global audience. Content rights will, however, present an issue.
Buying trends. Media companies are becoming media factories, aiming to maximize asset utilization and optimize workflows. The media factory concept calls for a change in culture. The technical infrastructure needs to be more agile, and this leads to the flexibility available using cloud architecture. Vendors are seeing increasing adoption of cloud storage and processing with AI set to follow (most AI algorithms are available on cloud platforms). This move to agile cloud systems is leading to declining CapEx levels and a move to OpEx on services. The transition to OpEx is going to affect vendors. Their customer profile is shifting to be service companies rather than the end-user broadcasters. The use of public cloud is still small, with private cloud being more popular. Since broadcasters and media companies have a long history of running their own content repositories, this is not surprising, but another factor is the size of media files and the associated transfer costs of moving files back and forth to a public cloud. The potential savings of using off-the-shelf cloud services, however, may not be wholly realized. Many broadcasters cannot find products off-the-shelf that meet their needs so are developing bespoke solutions. The nature of the media business does mean that the requirements on IT systems can be demanding: real-time streaming and huge file sizes are just two differentiators. Content management is the top area for bespoke solutions and requires a high degree of customization. Microservices are popular architectures for building bespoke services.
Strong emergence of new video formats
There is a huge appetite among the audience for a more immersive content consumption, resulting in a growing importance of formats such as UHD, 4K, or even 8K, the largest resolution to date and that is already being marketed by some TV manufacturers. This trend, however, has a downside, which is that the investment in equipment, transmission networks, and content management systems that support such high quality, is expensive.
4K on the rise. Without question, 4K technology has grown in popularity over the last 5 years. 4K-supported televisions outnumber HD televisions in any electronics store, while UHD movies and TV series are available on popular streaming services such as Netflix. So why are broadcasters not yet offering an abundance of 4K content? It comes down to cost. Broadcasters need to consider whether the investment in the bandwidth and equipment necessary to produce and distribute 4K content is worthwhile, especially since the primary delivery mechanism is through digital transmission, i.e., via DTTV, IP, or satellite. The 4K content is ready and available, so broadcasters will be actively looking for a cost-effective means to get 4K out to a broader audience.
8K – an impending headache? 8K will be top of mind for the media tech industry. In 2019, the consumer electronics industry will be consumed by (at least) two technologies that affect broadcasters and content producers. Both technologies must learn baby steps before they can run, but the marketing noise will hide that reality. That pounding headache that broadcasters feel coming on is labeled 8K. Japan is broadcasting 8K (by satellite) for several hours a day and predicts the 2020 Olympics will be captured and broadcast in 8K. Supporting that theme, Consumer Electronics Show 2019 had plenty of 8K receivers on display. However, using all of a broadcaster’s available bandwidth just to transmit a single 8K-program stream is not a viable business solution. Most broadcasters will be quite happy to transmit HD with HDR, which better fits within current equipment capabilities and leave space for other broadcast services.
IP and cloud are enabling new business models like remote production. The elastic nature of the cloud accelerates the launch of new services, and already major players are using cloud playout. Two very different conversations on Internet protocol (IP) are taking place. One is about IP as a means of moving signals in live production; the other concerns IP as a means of moving files. In the former, there has been significant progress in the definition of common standards and specifications. The latter is more about the non-live environment, and particularly the consumer demand for streaming video, often on the move. Where they come together is that consumers are now expecting the broadcast-level quality of service around streaming, mobile video. The biggest impact of IP this year has been that broadcast and IT professionals have come together around that challenge. IP is also being adopted to enable virtualized playout and all the benefits this delivers in terms of channel launch agility. The transition to IP is a gradual one and it will take years to achieve full deployment since it is as much about transforming culture as technological change.
SMPTE ST 2110-new connectivity. The SMPTE ST 2110 standard is rapidly gaining traction within the professional media industries, and for good reason! Many broadcasters want to update or expand their facilities but are looking at enterprise IT infrastructure as a model to do so. Broadcasters now have a choice of remaining with existing SDI infrastructures or renewing facilities using SMPTE ST 2110, IT-based systems. The SMPTE ST 2110 standard replaces the need for SDI routers and dedicated SDI video production systems, by defining a standard way to transmit uncompressed audio and video data across high-performance IT networks. The finalization of the SMPTE 2110 suite of standards in May 2019 means that every element that has been part of the traditional SDI studio can now be put into an IP studio. This has given impetus to IP technology adoption. SMPTE 2110 is called a promising technology but more work needs to be done. The industry is in the process of going from a standard on paper into the interoperability of equipment that needs to exist in practice. There is a need to look 3 to 5 years out before it goes mainstream. The impact of SMPTE 2110 is already being felt in remote live production. Leading the way is Australia’s Andrews Production Hub in Sydney, which opened in March 2018. Fox Sports is using it to produce Aussie rules football and other sports from venues 4000 km away. Service supplier NEP also deployed IP technologies at Wimbledon 2018 as a replacement for traditional SDI routers, in a system that was able to support UHD production. While projects like these use dedicated fiber to send signals to the production center, technical advances are opening up live remote coverage of lower-budget, second-tier events.
Remote productions – new workflow
With the rise of high-bandwidth wide area network (WAN) connectivity, whether public or private, broadcasters have begun looking at remote integration (REMI) or remote at home productions. This involves sending raw high-quality camera feeds from the field over IP to a centralized live production system. Broadcasters can, in turn, improve efficiency and minimize costs by using these in-house or cloud-based production systems to produce high-quality live programming. With remote production, fewer staff and equipment are required in the field – lowering travel expenses and logistical costs. The studio is also able to cover multiple events in a single day with the same personnel. Another cost-efficient option is to send remote feeds directly to cloud-based production software, whose program outputs can be directly transmitted to OTT and social media platforms.
A perceived lack of security
Broadcasters already are taking advantage of the vast amounts of computation and data (file) storage for file transfer-based audio, playout systems, and all manner of corporate data processing, scheduling, and accounting. There is one additional resource offered by the cloud, potentially the most important one for broadcasting: high-bandwidth global fiber-optic data networks to be put into use more and more as the broadcast networks. Broadcasting began using IP networks for web streaming audio over the internet two decades ago. But the high-bandwidth global fiber networks that are part of the cloud are of a higher quality and reliability than the internet, suitable for live professional audio, live broadcast contribution, remote production, and delivery of final program. It is true that availability to direct connect, or peer, to these networks is at present somewhat limited based on locations of points of presence. But more high-bandwidth backbone points of presence are being built as the demand for cloud access grows globally across all industries.
A lot of questions come up regarding security of the broadcast when using the cloud. Quite the contrary, there is a growing consensus that the cloud facilities actually are more secure, more carefully managed and maintained and stricter regarding network control and firewalls. Anyone wanting to build his own secure data center has a rather high bar to match what the professional cloud provides. As the broadcast industry has borrowed technology from the IT industry, the way forward for security is to also borrow the best practices around security from the IT industry. The cloud providers are at the top of the IT security world. Broadcast will benefit from working with them.
The dawn of a new era, 5G
5G, the next iteration of wireless networking, already has begun to roll out trials across the globe. As of mid-December 2018, there were 192 operators in 81 countries already demonstrating, testing or trialing 5G technologies, according to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association. More than two-dozen wireless operators across the world are promising to roll out working models of the technology in the next few months. Some are already offering 5G home wireless service, while others are offering limited mobile trials. They are ahead of the mid-2020 timeline for a broad launch globally and are likely to keep pushing the pace. This is definitely a situation where being first scores big points (and big numbers of subscribers).
If, and it is a pretty big if, 5G technology delivers on its promises, the ability to deliver wireless gigabit internet service, massive bandwidth, ridiculously low-latency video, and five-9s reliability – it is a game changer.
5G will have a huge impact on telecommunica-tions companies. It is likely to launch a new cord-cutting epidemic as consumers cut their home broadband, will give a helping hand to AR and VR technologies, finally allowing lightweight, eyeglass-style wireless headsets, and may even bring 3D back into the conversation. It has that much potential. Some estimates say video could make up as much as 90 percent of all 5G traffic. For OTT services, that means, faster and smoother delivery of video, no buffering, higher resolution, a better, more engaging experience for users; for AVoD companies specifically, it will foster the collection of better, deeper data that could be used to better personalize advertising. Obviously, live delivery of sporting events has the potential to be better than over traditional broadcast or pay-TV delivery, especially by incorporating AR during games.
The future of AI in broadcasting space
And something that is enhanced by the cloud are technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI): the star trend of 2019. It is becoming more necessary to have tools that allow not only automating tasks in order to gain efficiency and speed, but that also allows relying on intelligent automation for daily tasks and workflows. Only then can the industry focus its attention on what really matters: the creation of quality content to differentiate them from the competition. AI and machine learning are relatively new offerings but already broadcasters are looking at applications. Going global raises the issue of localization, dubbing and subtitling in other languages. This labor-intensive process is one area where AI shown promise, with automated speech-to-text and language translation, and it is predicted that broadcasters will be looking at AI as a potential cost-saver in this area. Some potential applications of AI in the broadcasting sector are:
Quality checking. AI’s ability to handle symbolic learning and machine learning comes in handy in performing QC tasks. The system database can be filled with information about conforming to technical video standards for various devices and image recognition can help in finding flaws in the actual video viewing experience.
Search. AI takes metadata marking to the next level. Based on image recognition and symbolic learning, a large inventory of metadata can be created. AI can help in the classification of content; whether a moment is happy or sad in a video, for example. Another example is being able to identify brand logos in sports events, which will help in the successful promotion of those events. Processing using AI systems increases both the speed of searches and increases the accuracy of the search response.
Metadata. Symbolic AI, through speech and image recognition, can create metadata information associated with any content. But AI takes metadata to the next level through machine learning, providing classification or groupings of content. This can be further improved by creating trends using neural networks.
Highlights. AI symbolic learning can help to more quickly identify the key highlights of sports events and, by using the advanced transcoding and editing systems, can help create highlights. Ferrari announced that in partnership with Intel, they are working on a way to create personal feeds when watching a race. A drone follows a particular car and AI will be able to mix and cut to deliver the relevant feed. It will be interesting to see how this develops. AI can then improve it through search functionality and can quickly provide details of similar events in the past and create or embed links to make the highlights even more interesting. Such statistical analysis alongside video archives will add value to content.
Presenting the news. First viewed as a threat to journalists, in 2019 a deeper understanding will be seen of how robot journalism can help expand news coverage areas. It is clear as well that robots are better journalists than news anchors, as Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, proved recently with the unveiling of their uncanny AI anchors. The Washington Post’s AI-powered bot, Heliograf, helps free up journalists to work on more interesting and complex stories, while also allowing for hyperlocal news coverage, such as local high school sports.
For vendors, arguably the greatest challenge at this point resides in satisfying the continually evolving ways in which broadcasters and content creators wish to apply immersive audio techniques. To no small extent, the industry has witnessed that on the video side with 4K/UHD – and the same can be said for immersive audio. Surround formats, notably 5.1, were marketed heavily during the 2000s – with decidedly mixed results. But the potentially significant qualitative benefits of immersive and object-based audio technologies – often collectively referred to as next-generation audio (NGA) technologies, mean that the current buzz of excitement feels more substantial. With multiple technologies competing for attention, and a broad consensus on best practice for immersive audio broadcasts still some way from taking shape, vendors inevitable face a challenge in determining the best R&D pathways. Not surprisingly, many are presently putting the emphasis on developing multifaceted tools that can support a variety of different workflows, while accepting that these will almost certainly change substantially as more immersive broadcast services are introduced and consumer set-ups evolve. The demand for ever-higher picture quality in the broadcast world goes hand in hand with a quest for an equally compelling audio stage. But it is also safe to say that the interest in immersive audio production essentially depends on how effortlessly it fits into consumer homes.
Content is still king and now it is targeted
The importance of content creation, and even more so, of what is known as targeted content and targeted advertising is a trend that will also gain some prominence in 2019. This trend refers to the need to generate specific content and advertising for a specific audience, according to their tastes and interests, and above all, depending on the screen through which they consume it. The consumption habits of viewers have changed and that, with the widespread use of second screens and mobile devices, the consumption of online video has skyrocketed. The average daily time dedicated to television consumption is expected to go down almost half an hour to 2020 compared to 2016, globally. On the contrary, where some lose, others win. And this is the case of OTT platforms. According to IHS Markit, the number of subscribers to OTT platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime is expected to rise from 401 million in 2017 to 650 million in 2021. Even Google has recently published some statistics of the Youtube platform, which assure that 6 out of 10 people already prefer to watch online video than to consume linear television. Taking into account these statistics, it is not surprising that the creation of content and advertising is gradually being specialized depending on its audience and consumer platform.
The picture in the market today is made up of two significant influences, which is seeing companies being pushed from different angles. There are the advances in technology, which one can track but cannot control, and consumer expectations and demand for new experiences, which one cannot control yet must be serviced in areas such as the desire to download and watch content anywhere. This point is a big shift from the idea that everything is made for the biggest screen possible – as many satellite and traditional broadcasters believed until recently. Now satellite has shifted from dish and box to OTT platforms and that means using the cloud.
Many broadcasters have already made the switch to an IP-based workflow, but there is likely to be seen a complete retirement of SDI in the near future. Just as SDI once replaced the tape-based workflow, IP promises to be another significant industry paradigm shift. Digital media segments will far surpass traditional media segments in growth. Convergence will be a hot topic for the entire media and entertainment industry. More than ever before, different types of media companies are looking to expand into new sectors, creating increased competition for engaged audiences. TV companies, tech companies, OTT services, movie studios, and even non-M&E brands will compete to provide TV content to viewers. Future developments in VR, AR, 4K, and 8K resolutions, high quality downloads and streaming, and AI will only be possible with the fruition of 5G wireless networks.
One thing is for certain, 2019 is going to be a year of big changes for broadcast and service providers and they must prepare themselves for some turbulence.