Looking forward from IBC

Another IBC, and the usual question: What was the buzz? As attendees read the runes, there are conflicting messages. The news media predicts the second slowdown of a double-dip recession. But looking at the quarterly figures of leading vendors, the well-run companies are turning good numbers. The key words here are well-run. I can even think of a couple of vendors that improved their performance during the 2009 recession!

I also read a headline reporting improved car sales in the U.S. for September, a factor closely related to the health of the advertising sector in the U.S. But doubts still remain about a double-dip hitting the auto industry. All this uncertainty swirls around an industry that relies heavily on the health of the consumer advertising business. The holidays coming between now and the year-end will confirm which way consumer spending is going.

This ongoing uncertainty certainly makes the case for investment difficult, but broadcasters are faced with the challenges of serving the more interactive environment that the second screen and social media presents. In the battle for ratings, these changes in viewers' behavior cannot be ignored. The lean-back couch potato is being replaced with the mobile TV anywhere viewer.

The decision to not invest in new technology is going to put a media business in a difficult place. The movie business is moving to digital distribution and projection, and wrestling with the costs of 3-D. Video to smart phones is creeping in, via 3G and Wi-Fi, if not broadcast. Cable companies are adding sophistication to their triple-play offerings.

The product is changing whether companies want to invest in new services or not. If you don't evolve, your competitors will.

A walk around IBC convinced me that we are moving (or have moved) to a world where there is a continuum of screens, from a 2in diagonal up to 2m. Content is delivered as a stream via terrestrial satellite or cable, or over the now ubiquitous IP, which could be wired or wireless.

The TV anywhere model shows that content is content, whatever the screen, whatever the delivery service provider. This is the true convergence of IT, telephony and television that has been talked about for so long.

What finally broke down the barrier was the tablet. Apple showed it could be a device for untethered entertainment, not just a PC with a touchscreen. The tablet uses the connectivity of a phone, but with the viewing experience of a television or PC, and as such has bridged the three worlds of broadcast, phone and IT.

Multimedia apps have mushroomed since NAB; it's a place where you have to be. The problem is balancing the costs against revenue in this new world. The learning curve has been steep, and there is still much to learn.

Where does this leave the broadcast manufacturing industry? If you can create an app on a PC, where does all the dedicated hardware fit? We must not forget you cannot cover a football match with a PC and a webcam, with smart phones giving close-ups from the touchline! High-quality entertainment needs professional cameras, switchers and all the plethora of audio recording equipment. Then there is lighting, camera support, and for outside broadcasts, microwave and DNG equipment. And when it comes to distribution, no wireless system exists without transmitters.

It's as if many separate businesses have been thrown into a pen and told to play together. Many of the issues are of interoperability, not at the technical level but at the business level. There will be a lot of jockeying for position between creators, publishers and aggregators before we really achieve TV anywhere, on any platform.

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