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Broadcasters Urged to Seek a Silver Lining

Digital technology creates opportunities in workflow and distribution

Securing the future of broadcasting sometimes means looking for unexpected opportunities, Robert Pepper said at the broadcast engineering conference at NAB2005.

Pepper, acting chief of the FCC Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, noted that broadcasting has already undergone a dramatic revolution--just look at the jumps from analog to digital, from narrowband to broadband and so on, he said.

Pepper, who is responsible for providing advice to the FCC chairman and commissioners about industry and policy trend, with particular attention to issues that cut across traditional industry and technology boundaries.


Pepper said that what is now coming into focus is why revolutionary changes have occurred--and what broadcasters ought to be doing about it.

Pepper pointed to faster, newer technologies that offer key benefits: cheaper storage, better broadband speeds and dramatic improvements in compression.

Take the plummeting cost of storage. The cost of storing video today is around $1.35 per hour. In 2010, Pepper predicted the cost would fall to around 2 cents an hour.

Similar changes are ahead for broadband. Increased improvements in broadband and compression technologies have led more than 6,000 wireless ISPs to pop up across the nation, and broadband cable operators are expecting to see almost a billion requests for video-on-demand (VOD) from broadband consumers in 2005.

As a result, entirely new methods of content consumption are just around the corner. Pepper mentioned one such entrepreneur, Sling Media, whose Slingbox Personal Broadcaster lets viewers watch local television programming from anywhere they have a cable connection and broadband port.

The Slingbox redirects the TV signal from a home cable box, satellite disk or PVR to another location, such as a laptop or PDA.

"The mix of broadband and compression and cheap storage is giving consumers more choice and more control," Pepper said, noting the proliferation of interactive games, online gaming and podcasting.

"The world is becoming more interactive," he said, and the goal for broadcasters is to understand that and embrace the change.

The key is to remember that people want content for themselves, and they want the ability to manipulate it and transform it on their own time. As an example, Pepper pointed to the 2004 blockbuster, "The Incredibles." The animated film earned $93 million its first week in theaters, but racked up $100 million on the first day of DVD sales.

While broadcasters still must address issues surrounding security, reliability and legal ramifications when it comes to rights management and other content issues, Pepper said, the broadcasting community needs to ask itself several questions: What do consumers want? How will they use these new technologies? And how much control do they want over these new devices?

"Consumers are the drivers... and broadcasters need to find a way to use these new technologies to reinvent broadcasting for the next 50 years," Pepper said.

©2005 NAB

Susan Ashworth is the former editor of TV Technology. In addition to her work covering the broadcast television industry, she has served as editor of two housing finance magazines and written about topics as varied as education, radio, chess, music and sports. Outside of her life as a writer, she recently served as president of a local nonprofit organization supporting girls in baseball.