As we near NAB, we begin looking forward to the usual round of product launches and exciting new technologies. However, hanging over the broadcasting community are the current global economic woes. Whenever I talk to vendors, I ask their opinions. Of course, many with public companies are guarded about telling me what could be seen as “forward looking statements.” But the messages I am getting show little in the way of a pattern.
Some say that large projects that were planned years ago are continuing on, as budgets were already allocated. And then some parts of the world are not suffering the same lack of funds for investment. Overall, it's a mixed view on sales. It's clear that vendors are being forced to focus much more on tracking markets for opportunities.
To sum it up, we are in period of ambiguity, and it is uncertain how long it is going to last. Set against this inevitable doom are many signs of continuing development. 3-D stereoscopic broadcasting is gathering pace. Trials are continuing, and on the consumer side, displays have emerged to support the technology. Mobile television continues to see increasing interest, especially in the Pacific Rim.
For broadcasters, times look just as uncertain. They already had the challenge of losing advertising spending to the Web, and now the economic downturn is leading to further falls. Search engine marketing is offering targeted advertising that straight broadcasting cannot. For television to play in that space, the receiver must be able to interact with the operator to feed back viewing patterns. For cable and satellite providers, the back connection from the STB already exists. It is the over-the-air broadcasters that lack a reverse path.
Television can still differentiate itself from the Web. Whether delivered over-the-air, via cable and satellite, or as mobile TV, television offers the appointment viewing that solo browsing does not. For news, sports and reality shows, broadcast television is hard to beat as the distribution channel of choice.
The issue is how to compete in other areas, such as movies and episodic programming, where the capability to download and view on screens large or small provides alternatives to broadcasting. The obvious answer is to compete head to head with the new media entrants. Over-the-air stations should have a strong Web presence to offer their viewers complementary content from promos to program downloads.
But this area is getting competitive as newspaper publishers add video news to their Web sites. User-created content also competes for eyeballs with professionally produced content.
The next five years will be challenging for broadcasters who do not adapt to the continuum of digital content that is now available across all distribution channels. The future unique selling proposition of television must be live events, whether news, sports or reality shows.
Recent events can only accelerate convergence of media formats, which I believe will inevitably lead to a bigger split between production and publishing/distribution, with traditional production companies feeding global media publishers. I don't see the Web replacing television, but I do think both will morph into a new media publishing world that delivers over RF, fiber, copper and removable storage media to a multitude of screens from handheld to home theater. Mix this with file-based workflows, and only program production — with cameras, lights and switchers — will remain as classic television engineering.
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