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MacAvock on the future of DVB – and why it is not ‘DVB-Auto’

Peter MacAvock, DVB Chairman
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The title of the conference session DVB organised for IBC this year to mark its 25th anniversary asked whether it was the end of the line for the Geneva-based standards body – or the start of a new adventure. Alas, the answer to that question seems to be less clear after the event than it was before it.

One thing the organisation’s chairman Peter MacAvock appears to be fairly sure of, however, is that what the future holds is not what – for want of a better name – might be dubbed ‘DVB-Auto’.

Panellist Markus Zumkeller, Director of Technology and Engineering at Sony Europe, told delegates that “autonomous driving will give us one hour per person per day more to do something else in the car than steering it. This is one hour that can be filled up with entertainment, […] can be filled up with what we are basically providing with DVB. […]

“The entire question for me is what can DVB do in that respect to bring AV content into the car. […] This is really a technical challenge and needs standardisation.”

However, speaking to Videonet after the session, MacAvock said: “I personally remain to be convinced.” One reason is that car manufacturers are already being asked to incorporate 3G or 4G modems into cars for telemetry purposes, which already implies them paying hefty licence fees, he points out. Incorporating some new form of car-based tuner for entertainment purposes would cost them even more, he implies, and would require a new value proposition.

Another reason is that he doubts whether the autonomous vehicle of the future will come with “a whopping big screen in the middle, and a steering wheel that you put your hands on. I don’t think it’s going to be as simple as that.”

Finally, he argues, “If I look at the way people consume media currently in autonomous vehicles, like public transportation, it’s all based on mobile. […] If we think that there’s a unique selling proposition around autonomous cars, I think we need to be very clear that it’s got something above and beyond mobile. Because frankly, if it is a Tesla without a steering wheel, I think I’d prefer to use a mobile device: because I’d prefer a personalised media experience.”

So if not ‘DVB-Auto’, then what?

The current direction of the DVB, as demonstrated on its booth at IBC, is DVB-I, points out MacAvock. This is a new suite of specifications that makes the OTT viewing experience similar to that of linear broadcast TV, providing an additional deployment option for broadcasters and operators.

“DVB-I is all about trying to facilitate access for consumers to services that are available on open broadband networks,” explains MacAvock. “The idea is I take my broadband connection at home, I plug it into the TV and I click ‘go’ – and it will find everything that’s available to the TV set at that time directly from the broadcaster or whoever is the guy that does the service list. And the aim of that is to say, at least for the consumer, ‘I’ve got a single way in which I can access all of my services.’”

MacAvock sums up this approach as DVB deciding after 25 years that it has now “sort of done the ‘physical layer’ stuff; let’s move further up the stack.”

However, during the conference session, Dr Ulrich Reimers, one of the driving forces and thinkers behind the DVB Project from its very inception, had taken issue with the idea that the DVB should now ‘move up to the software business’.

“I’m really wondering,” said Reimers, “whether you are ignoring the fact that others are working on the physical layer, and up on the application layer, on the middleware, and whether we shouldn’t discuss the future of DVB in view of the ongoing developments in other quarters.” On the autonomous vehicle front, Reimers also noted that “5G promises, promises, promises (sic) to be able to deliver media services into cars. […] Please don’t forget the environment around us.”

MacAvock interprets Reimers’ slightly cryptic intervention as him saying: “’Hey guys, don’t miss the point. DVB’s expertise lies in physical layers. […] There’s a pile of other stuff we can do to create a more seamless experience for the consumer. […] In particular, 5G is not going to cut it for media delivery […]. It promises to cut it, but actually, there’s no substance behind it’. That was his message.”

MacAvock admits that, despite DVB’s current direction, “I don’t think Reimers is wrong. I just haven’t seen that echoed so much in the DVB Project now.”

This tends to call into question his current strategy as chairman, he admits. “I’m trying to push through a number of changes to help us deal with that top layer [at the top of the stack], and I’m just a little scared that we’ve forgotten something down here [at the physical layer]. And I’m wondering whether the changes I’ve proposed are fit for purpose down here, too. And I think they are, but I’m not sure.”

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