Promoting New Broadcast Functionality for an Effective Audience Experience
By Sam Matheny, EVP & CTO, National Association of Broadcasters
We are living in a world of great change and challenge, and information technology (IT) is at the heart of it. Internet Protocol (IP) traffic is the blood pumping through this heart, and it is delivering content to more people in more places in more ways. We are more connected, yet more untethered than ever before, and this is just the beginning of our future.
For broadcasters and media companies this connectivity is forcing change and encouraging innovation. The key performance indicator is no longer simply time spent viewing or listening, but has evolved into engagement. There are several forces changing what it means to be engaged and how it will be measured.
These are some key developments that we are engaged by, which are worthy of critical thought. All are driven by connectivity:
• People are choosing the best available screen to consume content.
• Census measurement is the new normal.
• Social engagement extends the conversation.
• Targeted delivery of content is based on data driven by points the three points above.
Let’s explore each of these a bit further.
Best Available Screen
Watching television used to mean sitting on the sofa in the living room and passively viewing a TV set from across the room. That is still the number one way people watch, but they are also increasingly consuming TV content on their tablets, phones and computers. People will choose and use the best screen available to them at any given time. Sometimes best will be mean biggest and in the most comfortable environment, but sometimes it will mean most convenient and accessible. For content creators and service providers this means we are creating content in more forms than ever before so it can be available to all of these screens.
Virtually all of these devices, including the TV, now have an IP address. This connectivity is changing how success is measured. We’re moving beyond big data – this is huge – and it will continually reshape the broadcast and media business. Not only does the idea of a sample go away, but even the notion of a television household (TVHH) as a unit of measure will eventually wither. Firms are focused on the individual user, and when this focus is combined with other technologies like location-based services, beacons, cookies and watermarking, the level of specificity achieved is powerful.
The water cooler has moved and it is now online. The conversation isn’t happening the next day, but occurs during and after the event, even for shows that have been saved on the DVR for later viewing.
“Our job is to find an opportunity to leverage this great combination of multiple screens, greater measurement, and social engagement to better serve our audiences”
This extends engagement and creates a community with new opportunities for broadcasters and media companies. I’m not just talking about a tweet during the game, but the ability to measure sentiment, react to programs, new types of advertising, and the ability to combine and link social media profiles to content and brands. And increasingly this is multimedia in nature, where folks include pictures and video in their posts, or even live reactions via services like Periscope and Meerkat.
Combining these first three points takes us to a unique place in terms of our future. It may create fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) for some, causing them to ask, “How do I program for something I don’t even understand?” Our job is to find an opportunity to leverage this great combination of multiple screens, greater measurement, and social engagement to better serve our audiences.
As broadcasters and media companies observe these trends and challenges, it is vital that we understand the technology beneath and how to apply it to our advantage. We are investing in a new technologies and IT infrastructures to support their application. IP routing, cloud storage and editing, automation systems and scalable coding are a few examples. The tools are getting better, but the work is more difficult.
We are continually seeking better encoders, more compression and more outputs. HEVC, for example, provides a 35 percent cost savings over H.264. It is not uncommon today for there to be fifteen different encoding profiles for adaptive bit-rate (ABR) delivery of HTTP Live Streams (HLS). This number is sure to increase, and it highlights the importance of standards development.
Targeting the best available screen also means looking ahead to things like Ultra-High Definition (UHD) television and the components that make it up:
•4K - more pixels
•High Dynamic Range (HDR) – brighter whites/darker blacks
•Wide Color Gamut (WCG) – richer colors
•High Frame Rate (HFR) – faster frames for reduced motion blur
•Increased Bit Depth – smoother transitions between dark and light areas
•Immersive and Personalized Audio – more realistic soundfields and greater user control of sound
All of these elements of UHD increase the file size and the bandwidth required for delivery. Whether delivered via broadcast or streamed online, these drive the importance of scalable storage solutions and networking, both within the plant as well as for consumer delivery.
And all of this is happening in the context of increased competition from every corner. Cable and satellite providers are both partners and competitors. Broadcasters need to focus on our intersections and connections with them. Internet pure plays like Netflix are already rolling out 4K offerings, and will soon have HDR and other features. And the platform players like Apple, Google and Amazon are very active in the video delivery space, and often compete on different business models. They all have direct access to connected measurement metrics that shape the services they offer, as well. Broadcasters must build out these same capabilities to remain competitive.
In this environment we are firmly focused on intentional collaboration. This includes engaging our peers, and boundary spanning with our competitors and the firms that offer services to us both. It also means proactively engaging the start-up community to understand sooner what’s coming next. We must continue to promote and develop standards that will help simplify things for the consumer. And, we must fully recognize with this greater connectivity comes greater exposure and risk. Cybersecurity needs to be front and center with every IT decision and vendor selection. There is no shortage of things to do, and our role continues to increase in importance.