Times are changing

At a recent local camera show, I realized that many of the booths featured DSLRs and their accessories. The rise in popularity of DSLRs has transformed a sector of the acquisition market that's looking for the advantages of a large sensor. OK, so you need loads of extras, like separate audio recorders and viewfinders, but the cost-savings makes it attractive for a certain type of shooting.

I remember another time, when consumer products trounced professional. If you have ever tried to source material for demo at trade shows, you know it can be difficult to get good content, and especially the rights to use that content. One way to do this is to go out and shoot something yourself, which is what I did.

It was in the twilight days of the tube camera, and I went out with a three-tube camcorder. Viewing the material later, and comparing it with something shot on a new consumer device that used a CCD sensor, I was surprised to see that the new camera produced quite acceptable pictures, and at a fraction of the price of the old “broadcast” device.

Of course, this is what technology advances are all about. Tube cameras had so many drawbacks that it's not surprising 35mm film was used for any program that demanded high picture quality and was not live.

In just a couple of years, flash memory cards have come to replace the videotape for acquisition, with one consequence being that indie production has opened up to a much wider base because expensive VTRs are no longer needed for ingest. Just as the NLE replaced the three-machine edit bay, the flash card ends the need for tape for acquisition. Tape will remain for a while as a delivery format for transmission masters, however, until files take over completely.

For the broadcast equipment manufacturer, revenue lost by this fall in product prices (and not just cameras and decks) must be made up by selling in greater numbers. But, this lower cost opens up new markets. Just think about how many websites today feature video, whether for product marketing, corporate communications or training. This could not have happened with the expensive broadcast video equipment of 10 years ago.

This explosion of video is competing for eyeballs with conventional linear TV. As service providers increase the bandwidth of domestic Internet connections, OTT opens the possibility of direct publishing.

Consider the book, for example. At one time, readers selected a book to purchase by a mix of reading reviews, recommendations from friends or by browsing in a bookstore. Where's the channel scheduler in that process? The “channel” is an artificial construct that dates back to the days of VHF broadcasting, when a small group of state broadcasters and commercial networks could decide what we could watch and when via their precious allocation of spectrum. To keep with the book analogy, the bookstore could be considered a content aggregator.

With cable and satellite, the number of channels has mushroomed, but it's still all about channels. Cable and IPTV offer a selected range of VOD, but broadband and OTT delivery really frees us from the channel scheduler.

The music industry has already lost some control, with bands able to sell CDs at concerts and downloads from their websites. High-capacity broadband opens the gates to anyone to similarly sell video.

It's a choice for consumers of whether to discover or be given entertainment. In this case, broadcasters have the advantage of a brand. Viewers know what to expect from that brand, and if they want lean-back entertainment, channel viewing is a no-hassle option.

For the more interactive viewer who wants to decide what to watch, it's back to peer recommendation, reviews, following favorites or some sort of recommendation engine; I find these have varying degrees of success.

Lower-cost equipment opens the door to more content creation, but much of this will be delivered outside the existing distribution channels. In this model, the broadcaster becomes a middleman, not unlike the record industry, and just one conduit through which content can be delivered to the public.

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