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Predicting the technology of IBC: Multi-platform delivery and more

I write this in August, attempting to predict the buzz at IBC. I must read the runes and see what the magic symbols forecast.about the future. From the advance publicity on IBC, the themes are around multi-platform delivery and its impact on existing broadcasters. On the technology front, there are papers that reflect the engineering developments to support multiple platforms. There are also presentations on the advances necessary to support higher resolutions and possible solutions to meet the insatiable demand for viewing on the move. Subjects include UHDTV and coding; new transmission technology topics cover ways to improve spectrum efficiency and advances from the DVB.

Sitting through a conference like IBC, it is easy to forget not everyone is planning an 8K service. I was just talking to a company that is releasing a product upgrade to add an analog composite input. The demand is very much still there outside North America and Europe. That said, the device can also handle fiber for those leap-frogging SDI connections.

All this reflects the diversity of broadcast engineering. On display at IBC, there is everything from the precision engineering of lenses and the mechanical engineering for camera supports through to the esoteric algorithms of signal processing software. The spread of technologies is akin to the modern automobile with computer-aided lane following and parking assistance, through to comprehensively equipped multimedia and satellite guidance systems, all running on a chassis with the latest mechanical engineering.

The marriage of mechanical, optical, electronic and software engineering all powering a media and entertainment platform brings together a huge mix of skills, but to fund all this technology is the business of television, which is monetizing the provision of entertainment to the masses.

The technology is only there as a means to an end, but technology can deliver two things to a media business. It can lower costs, and it can provide new revenue opportunities through innovative ways to present and deliver content. Some are successful, like HD. Some less so, like stereo 3-D. But it is the underlying technologies where the real advances are made, things like compression and transmission technology. Without improved efficiency in stream delivery, any limited bandwidth system — from over-the-air to cable TV — would have difficulty moving to HD without dropping channels from the line-up. Everything is finite, from spectrum to broadband download speeds. The future introduction of high-frame-rate 4K will only aggravate the situation.

4K may be a headliner at IBC, but most broadcasters are grappling with the business of delivering to multiple devices and platforms in a way that will become a profit center and not an overhead. The more platforms, the smaller the slice of overall revenue per platform, and this is where efficiency is vital. Some broadcasters are outsourcing the problem. It becomes defined in a contract, all neatly wrapped up with known operational costs and no capital spending. Others look to the many vendors in this space for an answer. It is a complex area, where the experience of past linear broadcast operations is not relevant. Outsource or learn yourself? That is a tough question to answer — a balance of risks versus cost.

IBC is a great place to explore the options to such difficult questions. But aside from looking for content delivery platforms, IBC is just as important for the front end, something to light the set and support the camera. It is certainly a diverse business.

David Austerbery, editor