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 has, for years, consistently been a reaction to these 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 4K or even 8K..
4K on the rise. 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. The technology must learn baby steps before it 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, CES 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.
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 streamed video, often on the move. Where they come together is that consumers are now expecting the broadcast-level quality of service around streamed, 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 SMPTE ST 2110 standard is rapidly gaining traction within the professional media industries – and for a 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 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.
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. 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.
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. If 5G technology delivers on its promises, it is a game changer. It is likely to launch a new cord-cutting epidemic as consumers cut their home broadband and 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. 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. 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 can help in the classification of content. Another example is being able to identify brand logos in sports events, which will help in the successful promotion of those events.
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.
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. 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 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.
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. 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.
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.