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The shift is real: here’s how traditional broadcasters can stay relevant in a digital age

As debate around the future of traditional broadcasters continues to rage, it’s time for the industry to embrace a radical cultural and mindset shift – or risk becoming irrelevant.

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The way audiences consume content has evolved. At a bare minimum, we expect to be able to consume video on-demand, anywhere, on any device. But amid the growth of platforms like Twitch and TikTok, there’s also appetite for brand-new content formats – which are hyper responsive, personalised and even interactive.

For traditional TV broadcasters to excel in this brave new world, what’s needed is a complete mindset shift – from focusing on content, to focusing on viewers. This isn’t just about providing video on-demand, anyone can do that. Instead, it’s about creating new, innovative and interactive TV formats that take the best elements digital platforms and combine them with the quality and originality for which traditional broadcasters are renowned.

Sveriges Television (SVT) – Sweden’s public service television company – is one broadcaster who understands this shift and is taking concrete steps to overhaul its operations and mindset.

Taking the bull moose by the horns antlers

The Nordic countries are renowned for their unique ‘slow TV’ formats. Designed as a relaxing antidote to our increasingly fast-paced world, slow TV hinges on filming an activity in real-time, with no edits, music or commentary – whether it’s a train ride or fire burning.

A popular slow TV concept is the Great Moose Migration. Over several weeks, viewers can watch moose slowly moving through Sweden’s forests, filmed on ten different cameras. Initially broadcast on live TV, the programme typically garnered around half a million, primarily older viewers.

But what does all this have to do with experimental, cutting-edge TV formats? In 2022, the Great Moose Migration went live on Twitch – a platform known more for video games than wildlife. Surprisingly – or unsurprisingly, depending on who you ask – it was an overnight success, with viewership increasing tenfold from 0.5 to 5 million.

SVT made a few important changes to the Great Moose Migration when it moved to Twitch. Rather than watching a single stream from one of ten cameras, viewers could select which camera they wanted to watch. What’s more, they added an alert system to let viewers know when moose were visible. It’s important to point out that despite the name, moose were a relatively uncommon feature in the Great Moose Migration, with most viewer time spent watching the empty Swedish forest in all its beauty. Hence the value of an alert system!

As the days went by and the popularity of the Great Moose Migration grew, there was a significant increase in viewer conversations on Twitch. Viewers from all over the world were connecting with each other, sharing their excitement and moose-related knowledge. In fact, the chat functionality became almost as much of a draw as the content itself.

What does this mean for broadcasters?

This isn’t just a heart-warming story about moose (but they are really cool!). Broadcasters are learning several valuable lessons from the Great Moose Migration experiment which will go on to shape their digital strategy.

Firstly, based on the success of the Twitch chat they can now implement chat functionality on own platforms. So, if you fire up Apple TV to watch the latest Nordic noir hit, you’ll be able to connect with fellow murder mystery fans.

Secondly, they can now broadcast more content on Twitch. But in addition to using Twitch as an additional distribution channel broadcasters are also looking into creating TV formats specifically designed for the platform. This might mean giving users control of how the programme develops – whether it’s ‘choose your own adventure’ style, or physical control of the cameras.

Wider impact on broadcasters

The success of forward-thinking content formats, like those planned by SVT, hinges on moving content production and distribution closer together. For example, if broadcasters know they’re aiming for a Twitch-optimised user experience from the start, they can build content to fit Twitch from the ground-up.

For this to succeed, broadcasters will have to rethink how they define quality. This means forgetting standardised broadcast quality metrics and tailoring quality to content. For instance, those that produce a morning TV programme for kids broadcast on TikTok, we know that is recorded in a default quality broadcast camera format – even though it’s watched almost exclusively on smartphones and tablets. In this instance, it would make far more sense to opt for lower quality metrics, saving costs and resources.

The tech behind it all

Of course, all these changes will depend on broadcasters having the right technology in place to significantly lower production costs, simplify operations, and improve flexibility, as well as speed when introducing both ingest and distribution in the same environment.

Currently, the gap between upstream and downstream technologies – how live video is created and transmitted – is a major issue. Thanks to the ongoing use of physical connections, it’s difficult to add new feeds or ‘non-standard’ devices. This limits broadcasters’ ability to be agile and create new material.

Similarly, when broadcasters create a live programme, the production pipeline tends to be pre-defined by existing SDI infrastructure. They can only employ sources and cameras that have been plugged into the environment hours previously, whether attached to the SDI switch in the newsroom or remotely connected via satellite links. Spontaneously adding new cameras to the production pipeline is prohibitively complex – limiting output to certain cameras and feeds.

The answer? Replacing traditional tech stacks with cloud or data centre-based solutions. This has several benefits. Firstly, virtualised cloud solutions give broadcasters the freedom to become truly distributed and remote – mixing and producing programmes from anywhere. Secondly, they enable broadcasters to automate more areas of production. For instance, if a producer wants to create a new workflow, they can do so instantly from their iPhone – no configuration engineers, no time wasted.

Last but certainly not least, moving to the cloud enables broadcasters to utilise only the computing resources they need. Cloud eliminates the need for broadcasters to guess how much capacity they will use – so no expensive idle resources, and no struggles with limited capacity. In the long run, this will create immense cost savings for broadcasters.

Moose are the way…

The bottom line? The moose example above is an element of this shift in the broadcast space. Broadcasters are on the cusp of a monumental cultural and mindset shift that will shake up the industry. The act of consuming video is no longer a passive process, but one of hundreds of possible active interactions, real-live engagement between communities. In this new adaptable environment, personalisation and interactivity will play a key role. The challenge this presents is enormous, but the opportunities are even greater. The broadcasters who understand this and can adapt quickly will emerge as the winners. Those that do not, will remain filming the same moose in the same forest. Broadcasters, take note, as now’s the time for a real change in the industry.

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