We are watching a revolution

This last month saw more new camera releases, and there has never been more choice. Image quality is increasing as prices drop. It is no coincidence that the manufacture of film cameras has ceased. The image quality from CMOS sensors stands up to, or even exceeds, color negative, and lab costs vanish with digital cinematography. Last week, I attended an imaging show, and it was evident that many still camera users have accepted video as just another medium they can play with to serve their creative and business needs.

Many areas of TV production stand to benefit from the improved quality of this latest round of cameras, and the digital workflows promise lower costs and more efficient operations.

This revolution in image capture is just one sign of the technology revolution that is changing the broadcast business. The demise of film and videotape has not only changed the traditional broadcast and film industries, but also it has opened the gates to that pool of talent that was once restricted to 16mm film, and latterly to miniDV. One only has to browse the Vimeo website to see what is going on outside straight broadcast program production.

Just as Photoshop and desktop publishing revolutionized graphics and print two decades ago with the provision of low-cost desktop tools, video has reached a similar tipping point. Sure, we have had nonlinear editing for years, but it existed as a silo in the production chain. It is only recently that the workflow from camera to the consumer has become a mix of just files and streams.

The performance of computer platforms has reached the point where video can be treated as any other data. Sure it's challenging for networks and storage to pump uncompressed HD or 4K around, but technological evolution is fast. The key is that once video becomes data, the broadcast business can look to the architectures that have long been used in other verticals. Program production and distribution is collaborative, but the old strictures of videotape imposed a workflow that suited the technology, not the business.

For broadcasters, the new acquisition tools may have some impact, but it is the delivery side that looks set be the most disrupted. It is the steady advance of the Internet-connected TV that allows independent producers to connect directly with viewers, outside the walled garden of networks, state broadcasters, and the cable and satellite operators.

As I puzzle over scenarios for the evolution of the media and entertainment sector, many questions remain. Will the young people of today become passive viewers of conventional channels as they move into middle age? Or has social networking and the camera-equipped smart phone broken the mold?

The programs with high ratings look set to carry on regardless — prime sports, reality shows, drama — but what of all the schlock that fills the nether regions of the EPG, daytime drivel and nighttime reruns? My guess is the latter stands most vulnerable to OTT programming. Just like the retail industry, you have to sell luxury or cheap. Don't get stuck in the middle; there's no profit to be had.

A disparate group of influences — the DSLR, cell phones, SOA, social networking, the tablet — have all had a huge impact on program production, broadcasting and distribution in just a couple of years. Who knows what the next five years will add to that list? And what is notable is that none of these developments were for broadcasters; they have been taken up and adapted. The days of broadcast-specific equipment look numbered as so much technology becomes a commodity. The big switchers, the lighting and the studio cameras are not going to go away, but what of the rest?

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