Reality hits TV at IBC

These are good times for the TV business, partly because the field has a buzz at a time when other industries are still being reined in by recessionary forces.
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These are good times for the TV business, partly because the field has a buzz at a time when other industries are still being reined in by recessionary forces. This was reflected by the record 50,937 attendance at this year’s IBC from Sept. 6-11. This was only slightly up on last year by 0.93 percent, but even a modest gain was not expected over 2011 — itself a record — at a time when marketing and travelling budgets are under close scrutiny everywhere.

Yet, there was a sense of sobriety and reality at IBC 2012 in complete opposition to the mood of 2009, when 3-D was all the rage and OTT was little more than a whisper around the corridors. OTT or multiscreen then became the big theme a year or two later, and this year was when both movements were held up to the light. 3-D has sunk almost into oblivion, while multiscreen or OTT is happening with a vengeance.

The day for 3-D may well come, but not for a while yet, with ultra HD much more in evident this year. That is hardly new, having been debuted by Japan’s national broadcaster NHK some seven years ago, but this year there were screens showing better pictures than ever before, with signs of clearer manufacturing strategies emerging.

Meanwhile, the elements of multiscreen have matured and are now available, notably CDNs, encoders with moves towards HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), and of course MPEG DASH streaming, as well as cloud storage and delivery. There was perhaps less hype about the cloud than might have been expected, which came as a relief as this is an abused word that is really just a synonym for network.

The word network was in evidence though at IBC, as network PVR, which has made a striking comeback this year. This does have something to do with the cloud, since it becomes more appealing economically if it can exploit large batteries of storage servers using inexpensive expensive drives under the direct control of the service provider. But it also has to do with some easing of the rights restrictions, in some countries, that have bogged down network PVR since it first appeared on the agenda around six years ago.

It is still restricted in terms of cost savings by the ludicrous requirement in some areas and by some content providers that operators store separate copies, or “instances”, of each unit of content such as a movie or games show for each user, replicating the situation with home based DVR across the network. This affords no extra protection for the rights holder, since there is no logical difference between multiple instances of content and just one instance linked to a list of consumers authorized to access it through having elected to record it.

Yet, given that rights have always lagged behind technology, there was at least a sense at IBC 2012 of this gap having narrowed. Network PVR looks like becoming a stronger market driver this year, not just for recording and viewing later, but also rewinding live streams for start over viewing. This could lead to on the fly packaging for multiscreen TV, with content only being formatted at the time it is played to match the end device receiving it via some form of network PVR or start-over service.

Other themes at IBC tended to revolve around multi-screen, including the rise of the pre-integrated, almost off the shelf, OT T package. This was nonexistent a year ago and has arisen because there is a growing demand for complete fast to market multiscreen solutions, while many of the leading vendors only provide one or two of the pieces.

Already one or two of these pre-integrated packages are being deployed, adding to a growing sense at IBC 2012 that we in an age of activity rather than false promises or empty rhetoric. The dash for multiscreen is well underway, and will continue for a year or two yet.

There was one other striking trend which is rather more on the horizon, and again plays off the cloud. This is “Big Data Analytics”, which means crunching together large amounts of data relating to services, customers and their preferences, and other information, both for making decisions over a period of days, weeks or months to improve services, and also in real time for personalized contextual recommendations or playing targeted adverts. The potential for increasing revenue by exploiting Big Data has become clear, but making it happen is a big task that in the short term will be tackled in the cloud and offered as an extra service by the likes of Amazon.