Multiple screen sizes may create multiple headaches

One of the advantages of digital television is that producers can make programs in a wider aspect ratio to take full advantage of 16:9 raster. This then raises the problem of viewers with different ratio displays. Film transfer to video has long had to cope with creating many versions: the 4:3, the widescreen, the airline edit. In addition, these have to be created in PAL and NTSC. It adds up to around 10 versions.

Aesthetically, these conversions are not ideal; they are a compromise. You cannot frame a shot simultaneously for more than one aspect ratio. There are workarounds like pan-and-scan.

With HD, producers have found they can frame a shot more like a movie — long, wide shots rather than many cuts between close-ups. The shot is composed for a large rather than a small screen.

Just as television producers are getting used to larger, wide-aspect screens, mobile and wireless content delivery is coming to fruition. 3G and DVB-H technologies will bring video to the mass market this year. No television station can afford to ignore this new means of delivering content to the consumer. Recent market research has shown that viewers are happy to watch clips up to 20 minutes long. That is a proper program — and not the highlights originally envisaged.

Unfortunately, the dictates of the small screen in mobile devices goes contrary to the production values employed for HD production. This is going to give program aggregators and distributors problems. We have found compromises for dealing with aspect ratio, but creating programming that can be enjoyed on a large plasma screen and a handheld device is tough. The same issues apply to the sound design. Mono delivered through an earpiece sounds very different from a 5.1 home theatre system.

One of my special interests is digital asset management (DAM). To create and manage multiple versions of content that can be enjoyed in high definition in the home theatre (in SD on a 14in portable perhaps via IPTV) or on a handheld wireless device will stretch production budgets unless comprehensive and affordable workflow automation is used. Television production has been on a long journey from its origins as a craft through to the content factories of today's big media publishers.

Workflow automation and DAM will become essential tools in providing cost-effective versioning of content for the plethora of delivery channels. There has been a barrier to the adoption of DAM by broadcasters, and that is cost. Indications are that it is becoming more affordable. As production becomes file-based content, it becomes much easier to integrate with IT systems and reap the benefits of using commodity hardware and software platforms.

As broadcasting becomes narrowcasting, the advertising or sponsorship Euro is spread very thin. To keep up or even advance production values in the new cross-media environment, we must look to technology to lower costs.

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