The digital world — an opportunity, not a threat, for broadcasters

Opinion on Digital Transformation by Brian Morris, Vice President and General Manager of Global Media & Entertainment Services, Tata Communications
Brian Morris, VP - Tata Communications
Brian Morris, VP - Tata Communications

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Over the years, the media industry has been gradually disrupted by emerging technologies, going all the way back to the advent of colour TV. The idea of traditional TV networks delivering linear programming has since been completely reinvented, with a switch towards cloud-based platforms offering on-demand content. The constantly evolving digital world may be daunting for broadcasters and content producers, whatever their size, but the opportunities it offers are endless.

The idea of watching a TV show at a certain time has already become obsolete for many viewers, with improved broadband infrastructure and mobile data enabling viewers to watch content when and where they want. This has also had an effect on the way that broadcasters are commissioning and developing shows. Some in the industry, including popular creator Joss Wheadon, have criticised the effect the ‘binge-watching’ culture that comes hand-in-hand with streaming has on quality. However, recent Emmy wins for Hulu’s original series, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ suggest that streaming is fighting alongside traditional broadcasters to bring quality TV content to viewers.

A similar change occurred in the music industry over the last decade or so, with iTunes moving listeners away from physical media such as CDs to digital downloads. This was then followed by the likes of Spotify bringing subscription-based music streaming to the masses. Many music industry firms that failed to adapt to the changing landscape fell behind their competitors and disappeared. From HMV to Napster, the casualties of the music streaming industry tell a cautionary tale for broadcasters. In the TV world, cable companies began to win ground over traditional free-to-air analogue broadcasters long before the digital switchover was completed, showing that making your mark early on is a good strategy.

Next-generation broadcasting for the digital age

Rather than fighting the change and sticking to tried and tested services, businesses can benefit from branching out and adapting their operations and content to compete with newer rivals. Video-sharing site YouTube has already proved that it can go toe-to-toe with traditional broadcasters, especially among younger audiences. According to research by Google in the Middle East and North Africa, growth in watch time on YouTube has accelerated and is now up over 60% year over year, ranking the region second after the U.S and ahead of Brazil in terms of total watch time. YouTube is also more than ready to serve its users growing demand for content, with over 3.25 billion hours of video watched each month. And, YouTube recently boosted its commitment with the launch of its YouTube TV subscription service.

Legacy broadcasters and rights holders are experimenting with new and more accessible ways of pushing out content to new audiences, including using social media platforms for live broadcasts. The NFL has experimented with live streaming games on Yahoo, Amazon and Twitter, while the latter has also shown live games from the MLB and exclusive pre-game content from the NBA. This kind of experimental broadcasting shows how niche content can be made more accessible by looking beyond conventional methods.

The emergence of OTT (Over-The-Top) networks has made it easier than ever for smaller operators to deliver their own content and compete with larger rivals.

In fact, according to Digital TV research, in the MENA region, 17.27 million homes will have SVOD by 2022, a rise from 3.74 million as reported by 2016 end. More findings from the research show that the regions OTT players - Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Icflix, Starz Play, Iflix and Shahid Plus, will represent 39% of the region’s SVOD subscribers by the end of 2022, taking their share up from 34% in 2016.

For live events, Tata Communications works together with the event organizers to ensure that the content produced is of the highest quality for viewers to enjoy. Take for example Formula 1, where the role played by Tata Communications is to host essential infrastructure that enables tens of millions of viewers to watch exclusive content on formula1.com. Furthermore, the company’s media ecosystem is used to power video reports from Vice Media, by providing a reliable network for reporters working in remote areas around the globe.

Creating the formats of the future

Going beyond traditional video, there are also a number of new formats to consider, including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and 360-degree video. Alternative formats that have been hyped in the past, particularly 3D, have struggled, largely because of the difficulty in rolling them out and the amount of new hardware needed.

However, new formats are increasingly integrated into existing hardware, rather than requiring additional accessories. For example, Sony and Microsoft regularly roll out updates and new features and games onto their PlayStation and Xbox consoles and online networks, rather than requiring users to constantly invest in new kit.

Content creators and next-generation broadcasters will have to adapt platforms to deliver new formats like VR and 360 video, which are set to have a major impact on the entertainment world. Early examples of how the technologies can be used are already available, including a recent test of a live 360º video broadcast of the 2017 Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix.

In the future, new formats could include holograms or even mixed reality content that adapts to the individual viewer. Netflix is already experimenting with adventure book-style shows where the viewer gets to choose what happens next.

Artificial intelligence and the Internet of things

The all-connected world of smart devices, known as the Internet of Things (IoT), will be further fuelled by the introduction of 5G. This could have a major impact on the broadcast industry. Improved mobile connectivity will drive the uptake of autonomous cars in future and will inevitably lead to the introduction of new formats tailored to varying drive times.

In fact, according to research by IDC, the Middle East and Africa’s share of the global IoT market is projected to grow by almost 20 percent in 2017, with revenues reaching USD 6.6 billion. The IDC report predicts that expenditure on IoT could reach USD 1.3 billion by manufacturing businesses, which would account for more than 51 percent of the total investment made in the IoT. It is also expected that the transport industry will spend about USD 1.3 billion on IoT as well as cloud computing, which helps in the increased performance of location, tracking, and monitoring of freight and cargo by sharing information through a cloud.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics will also have an increasing impact on the way that people consume content and what they watch, with several streaming companies already using machine learning to serve up personalised recommendations to viewers. AI could even be used in future to help create content based on user preferences and biometric feedback.

The new digital landscape represents a gigantic shift from the traditional world of entertainment. But broadcasters and content firms can benefit from the huge opportunities it offers by rethinking and restructuring their businesses to adapt to evolving viewers habits and emerging technologies. Meanwhile, the pressure to constantly innovate is heating up for streaming companies like Hulu and Netflix who must also find ways to utilise new technologies to stay ahead of the game. What’s more, these next-generation technologies will continue to level the playing field between the big players and disruptive start-ups.

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