Broadcasting has proved resilient, but preserving the essence of what it represents in an era of personalised app-delivered media is exercising the minds of heavyweight industry authorities. The ITU has corralled a wide range of these into a series of investigations into the future of television, the most recent meeting taking place in Geneva in June.
Top of the agenda were ways in which broadcasters can lobby governments and work with device manufacturers to shape the future media landscape to be open, interoperable and to enshrine principals such as accessibility.
“The TV industry is not driven by traditional economics anymore, which raises concerns about public access, local culture and privacy,” warned Tom Morrod, Research Director, Consumer Services and Technology at IHS Markit. “The traditional industry should be supported by governments in order to compete with these companies.”
Taking heart from statistics showing that the TV set is becoming the main screen for streaming as opposed to the laptop or PC, the starting assumption is that the media landscape may be shifting but old patterns remain. “Traditional broadcasters will have to adapt but are well-placed to do so,” said Peter Siebert, Head of Technology at the digital TV standards development group, DVB. “OTT have challenges too, in terms of establishing a trusted brand and providing the same quality of experience.”
The EBU claims that European broadcasting is the driving force of the European creative sector. Sarah Turnbull, Senior Legal Counsel at EBU, said: “There are concerns in terms of safeguarding national culture, social cohesion and democracy through public service media content. As the European media ecosystem goes online, it is important that Public Service Media have their role in online spaces and enable citizens to access high-quality content.”
Initiatives here include revising the Audio Visual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) to level the playing field for broadcasters and on-demand services. Proposals include reinforced obligations for on-demand services such as the protection of minors and a rule that 30% of catalogues must be dedicated to European audiovisual works.
Pascal Chevallier, Director, Technical Affairs at Digital Europe renewed calls to complete the European digital single market “in order to counteract protectionist forces and proceed towards an inclusive world digital single market.” He added, “Product interoperability is becoming very complex [which] may result in 27 different flavours of the same rules and raises concerns for the industry.
“To achieve a real single market, and therefore to compete with the U.S. and China, European stakeholders should engage to ensure that implementation does not have hidden technical impacts or that the various regulations do not overlap or [have a] disproportionate burden.”
Interoperability, or lack of it, between broadcast and broadband, is a concern in Spain where a third of TVs sold annually are HbbTV-enabled. “Manufacturers are often not interested in updating the software of devices they sold recently and this creates frictions with broadcasters who want to get new services to market,” claimed Xavier Redon Hernandez, Senior Product Manager at Cellnex Telecom, the technology provider behind the LOVEStv hybrid broadcast broadband platform operated in Spain by RTVE, Mediaset and Atresmedia. His prescription to ensure interoperability across systems and devices was for constant conversation with manufacturers.
Harmonisation is the driver behind the DVB Project’s DVB-I (see previous story on DVB-I). Since OTT services are typically deployed through apps, and problems arise when users have to install many of them – while broadcasters need to maintain apps on multiple platforms – DVB-I is an attempt to do for IP services what DVB-T/C/S did for the passage from analogue to digital.
It appears that China is experiencing similar issues. “In China, there is a big problem of fragmentation within the terminals, as middleware or hardware specifications are not harmonised,” explained Haifeng Yan, Principal Engineer at chip maker Hisilicon. “This means that it is costly to develop new services and difficult to deploy them, and there is no unified security scheme.”
An initiative called TV Operating System (TVOS) aims to build a ‘smart media terminal operating system’ that delivers UX consistency, development efficiency, cross-hardware platform, security and sustainability. It has 120 members including operators and chip vendors and has the backing of the Chinese government. TVOS is also pushing for recognition as an international standard through ITU-T SG9 (Study Group 9) and can apparently be made compatible with other standards such as DVB-I and HbbTV.
Can TVOS be implemented in Europe? “It is up to the manufacturers to find an agreement on the delivery arrangements, but as long as receivers comply with recommendations there wouldn’t be problems,” Yan said.
ITU-T SG9 is further developing a new recommendation that defines the basic requirements and interfaces between cable TV operators and OTT providers. The group is examining Gigaband networks and aims to evolve to what it calls the era of extreme TV/video and ultra-fast broadband. This standard may also embrace AI for use in scheduling, leveraging archives or text-to-speech accessibility.
Andy Quested, Chair of ITU-R Working Party 6C highlighted the importance of accessibility, pointing out, “Access to media is a right, not an inconvenience.” An aging population across Europe makes accessibility systems ever more necessary.
The UK’s DTG, not part of the ITU meeting but an underwriter of its ambition, argues that if we are going to start mapping a future for TV across devices, we need an ordered framework. The organisation divides this into Quality of Interoperability (does something work and does it do what it should?), Quality of Experience (which emphasises the value of attributes like HDR and pushes the industry to deliver the very best for the consumer), and Quality of Security (looking ahead to Smart TV vulnerabilities of the IoT home).
Focusing on the last point, the DTG endorses the UK government’s Code of Practice, which shifts the onus for secure Internet-connected devices and apps from consumers to manufacturers, designers and suppliers.
“Innovation in consumer electronics devices, in partnership with service providers, will shape the future television experience,” declared DTG Chief Executive Richard Lindsey-Davies. “Understanding emerging developments, together with a view on how these might be implemented are critical if the viewer experience is to be protected, and industry and government are to derive the maximum economic and social value of the unique opportunity that lies ahead.”