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TV's saving grace: sports and news

Tech-minded naysayers are forever predicting the death of TV at the hands of the Internet. What is now dubbed OTT does certainly offer the possibilities for producers to deliver directly to viewers, but can it completely oust TV (over-the-air, cable and satellite)?

Consumer electronics manufacturers are all rushing to add an RJ45 port to receivers and set-top boxes; however, many consumers are finding that OTT content doesn't necessarily offer the same range of professionally produced programming that broadcast networks offer.

Some of the current spats between broadcasters and the Web sector are about who gets paid for what. Broadcasters and producers want fair return for their programming; ISPs and mobile operators want fair return on their capital investment in the delivery infrastructure. However, third parties want to sell advertising off the back of other companies' content and infrastructure, thus cannibalizing the advertising pot that pays for TV entertainment. One fear is that content creators will lose out, the effects of which will lead to less high-quality programming for viewers.

Surveys show that the public still wants to be entertained by TV. It provides the lean-back entertainment that many need after a hard day's work.

I recently visited a major broadcaster that specializes in breaking news and comprehensive sports coverage. Both these genres require the real-time broadcast equipment so familiar to this industry; however, the staff also had a dedicated Web-video news desk, plus an area feeding news to mobile devices. This is a prime example of how TV has learned to coexist with the newer media outlets, and it exemplifies TV's future. TV did not oust radio; instead, radio complements TV when we don't want pictures. Listening while driving a car is just one example of the continuing demand for radio.

You can watch news on the Web, and people are increasingly doing so, but TV neatly packages a newscast in a way that has proven very popular with viewers. Advances in backhaul technology have kept pace with the move to HD newsgathering. The live reports that have become so much a part of today's newscasts now dominate the news, so much so that one U.S. broadcaster is even looking at dispensing with the studio anchor entirely. In this case, it's not the public Internet but DSNG trucks and dedicated fiber that make it possible for high-quality pictures to be collected from around the world and delivered to the living room. OK, cell phones and the Internet can often provide immediate pictures of breaking news, but HD requires traditional broadcast ENG methods.

Right now it looks as if the announcement of the death of broadcasting is somewhat premature. For the delivery of live content, broadcasting excels. For large audiences dispersed across wide geographic areas, terrestrial and satellite broadcasting represent a low-cost delivery method when compared to the Internet. Sure, the metropolitan areas of the world are being equipped with fiber apace, and the QoS is improving as backbone capacity and edge serving increase, but for rural areas, wireless (whether VHF, UHF or Ku-band) remains the most cost-effective way to deliver video.

There is no doubt that much content creation, production and distribution has become file-based. Such content can be delivered in non-real time to set-top boxes for viewing and can be processed with low-cost software on commodity hardware. But live news and sports still need big iron: cameras and their accessories, trucks with production switchers, and audio mixers. Backhaul requires encoders, modulators, HPAs and dishes. And back at the station, there's more hardware, switchers, routers and audio mixers, as well as the encoders and muxes to feed the transmitter.

Live TV is the unique selling point of broadcasting, and that needs broadcast engineering, not IT.

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