IBC 2012: Moving into a post-revolutionary period

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    There was no ‘big new thing’ at IBC 2012 and we should not be surprised, given the size of the task that Pay TV operators and broadcasters have faced over the last few years in understanding the threats and opportunities presented by OTT, multi-screen TV and connected TV, then responding to them. The industry is taking a collective pause for breath. Everyone is getting on with the job of deploying the next-generation TV platforms and services that have already been ‘invented’.

    Second screen, in the sense of interactive programme enhancements on tablets and phones, is an emerging theme, more in conversation than on the show floor, and people are starting to talk about ultra high-definition TV (UHDTV) seriously, but usually with their gaze set firmly towards the horizon. Home management solutions like energy monitoring are starting to appear at what remains a 99% television show for the simple reason that some Pay TV operators are starting to wonder where the future ARPU growth is coming from when video revenues top out.

    The new 6000sqm Hall 14 was built outside the main entrance.

    The ‘operator as an app’ concept, much talked about at Connected TV Summit earlier this year, got some attention thanks to theTeliaSonera announcement that the IPTV provider will use Samsung Smart TVs to deliver its service to three markets using an app as a virtual set-top box. The service was being demonstrated on the Samsung stand. What is especially significant about this app is that if a TeliaSonera broadband customer hooks the TV to the web, it automatically launches the IPTV app and then subsequently whenever they turn on their TV it goes directly into the TeliaSonera user interface, bypassing the Samsung UI and so acting as if there was a set-top box attached.

    Probably the most important emerging theme, in terms of services, was network PVR for multi-screen TV. Judging by our conversations with the leading vendors, start-over (the ability to rewind a live stream) and personally determined recordings (stored either once per person or shared between users depending on local rights agreements) will be an important driver next year. This has implications for how multi-screen TV is delivered and it looks like it could lead to streams being packaged (i.e. prepared into the Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, etc.) formats only when they are requested, rather than pre-packaged.

    As this all illustrates, there were emerging services and concepts at IBC 2012 but you had to look closely for them. Ironically, every one of those listed here will probably have a bigger impact than 3DTV, which was so visibly presented as the ‘next big thing’ in 2009-10 and which has been largely absent since, especially across halls 1-5 where the focus is on the delivery end of the business. 3D could return once multi-screen and Pay TV OTT has been mastered but that is assuming ultra-HD does not overtake it as a priority by then, which would be our bet.

    Emerging services were not the big theme of IBC 2012 anyway. This year’s show was more about demonstrating the service-enablers that we knew were coming and which are now fully formed (or which are getting close to being fully formed), and it was about the next generation of enabling technologies.

    Examples of service enablers we knew were coming and which are now fully formed include :
    •    Next-generation middleware that converges broadcast and IP and wraps up a richer entertainment experience in a dramatically improved user interface.
    •    Multi-screen Pay TV ‘apps’ that extend the set-top box experience to tablet and smartphone for remote control and content discovery, with a unified look-and-feel.
    •    Home multimedia gateways that enable multi-room DVR (including to thin client IP set-tops or Smart TVs) and in-home streaming to tablets and phones, with live tablet TV among the applications.

    The most obvious examples of the emerging technologies are HEVC (the next-generation compression standard, also being referred to as H.265), MPEG-DASH (the streaming standard that could help reduce the number of multi-screen formats) and HTML5, which has wide backing as a way to make user interface and apps development easier, cheaper and faster. In-home media sharing seems to be coming of age as well, boosted by DLNA Premium Video, which gives content owners and platform operators confidence that the best content can be shared among devices safely.

    There is widespread confidence that HEVC will achieve the 50% bit rate efficiencies expected of it. There is no shortage of potential uses including more HD, better HD reach for IPTV, broadcast 1080p HD, lower bandwidth demands for video on mobile networks and improved video quality for multi-screen TV. The codec requires new set-top box silicon but one major European IPTV provider told us they will deploy HEVC based services with new set-tops in 2014, with the aim of achieving near-100% reach for HDTV.

    That leaves three other things that we thought were noteworthy at this year’s show:
    •    First, there is a trend towards more pre-integrated ecosystems for multi-screen TV, partly reflecting the fact that smaller Pay TV operators with less internal resources or know-how are starting to deploy multi-screen services.
    •    Second, more companies are starting to offer hosted and managed multi-screen TV platforms, taking responsibility for ingesting, managing and then delivering content on behalf of platform operators or content providers.
    •    Finally, cloud-based video processing, storage and data processing is being taken seriously, with the Amazon Web Services type of scale-on-demand processing viewed as one way to reduce CAPEX and scale services quickly.

    Amidst all this, IBC provided a nice demonstration of just how far the TV industry has advanced in a short space of time. Three years ago everyone was fearful about the threat of new OTT aggregators and cord cutting, major brand CE companies and their deepening engagement with consumers, and the arrival of Internet connected devices that could put rival services onto TV screens traditionally dominated by the platform operator and channel owner. Compared to IBC in 2009 and 2010, when those fears were probably at their height, this industry is in a better place.

    We should remember that few broadcasters or Pay TV operators were being materially hurt by OTT, Connected TV or multi-screen TV back then but it was clear that they could be if they did not respond to those threats. This industry did respond and it has done so robustly, turning all three into big opportunities. Whether you visited the stands of middleware providers, set-top box vendors or the operators themselves (like Liberty Global showing off its Horizon platform), it was evident how the TV user experience (UEX) has been dramatically improved and in some cases, revolutionised.

    From the core design of the TV platform (now hybrid by default, with access to online video and apps and backwards EPGs, offering everything in one place) to the look-and-feel of the UI (fast and colourful, with 3D effects, transparency, neat transformations, easy navigation and plentiful content-related artwork) to the extension of services to companions (tablet remote control, multi-screen programme guide, enriched programme and actor information, remote DVR functionality, etc.) to the provision of multi-screen viewing, we have just witnessed the biggest change in TV since the advent of digital.

    This process is ongoing, and we are only part way into the deployment phase for next-generation platforms and multi-screen TV – especially when you consider it on a global scale. But we are now in the post-revolutionary period. Convergence has happened and we may not have anything quite as big again for a while. Still, the history of this industry suggests there will be another big service and technology disruption along fairly soon. There is still a good deal of change, but the pace of change has certainly slowed, judging by this IBC and last year.

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