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What to Expect at NAB 2018: The Year of Convergence of Content

Every year as NAB approaches I’m asked to provide my thoughts on the biggest stories or trends we’re going to be seeing emerge from the convention; what conversations should attendees be leaning into as they walk the floor?

And every year the buzz builds weeks in advance as anticipation of the next ‘big thing’ is about to be introduced at NAB (as it should). But just because a new product or service will be the shiny new thing on the trade show floor doesn’t mean it’s going to be a hit with consumers.

This year, I see 5 trends emerging that I anticipate we’ll be hearing a lot about, including Ultra High Def, VR, End-to-End IP, ATSC-3.0 and the one I’m most excited about, Content – and while there’s a lot of talk, the question is, can they deliver?

Here’s a quick primer on where I think those trends will take us, into and after NAB:

1. Ultra Definition

Several years ago, 3D television was a big deal. Many vendors were encouraging broadcasters to rebuild their systems to adapt to what they thought would be an onslaught of demand for 3D programming. Consumers didn’t respond anywhere near the projections that were being made for this exciting new way to view programming. Why?

While some people may upgrade their phone every time a new version comes out, most tend not to do the same when they already have a perfectly good, high-definition television. Technology-purchasing patterns are not equal or even consistent. Television buyer behavior suggests that consumers don’t find it necessary to upgrade continually, and except for a few early adopters, the turnover in TVs is never that quick….and then there were the glasses.

With the emergence of ultra-definition and 4K television, the industry is looking to create a push for consumers into a renewal cycle for something bigger and supposedly better, but one that the consumer didn’t ask for. The difference between 4K and 2K is not that dramatic as SD to HD was, and most won’t see any measurable difference on their home screens. While it dazzles on a big screen, it’s not a compelling model for consumers who buy household-sized televisions.

Consumers are demanding simplicity and integration, they want a simplified household with smart TVs, eliminating external boxes and cables, compressing everything down to a single remote.

2. Immersive Storytelling / Virtual Reality

You will find that many in the industry are using the words virtual reality and immersive storytelling interchangeably. It’s an imaginative name for the viewer experience of VR, one a consumer can relate to. When you take a look at the recent Winter Olympics, you saw various broadcasters offering different VR apps, and approaching content and content creation in a different way, moving it further into the mainstream.

I don’t think VR is going to drive massive billion dollar purchases by consumers yet, but it’s emerging. Every year is touted as the year of this and the year of that; people used to call it ‘the year of networking’ in 1985, and then 1986 was also ‘the year of networking’, and then again 1987 was the ‘year of networking’ - it took years for ‘networking’ to mature, and I think that’s what we’re going see with VR. It’s gaining momentum and working its way into mainstream, but it’s not at the point of maturity yet.

Overall, immersive storytelling is changing the way we view and experience content, through VR.

3. End to end IP workflows

IP has really taken a hold of the broadcast environment. For years, analog output was the standard generated for many different pieces of equipment. This eventually grew into a digital output stream, often referred to as SDI. Broadcast equipment needed to work to that standard in order for a broadcaster to be on-air and output a stream to a transmitter or satellite. Broadcast equipment became increasingly more digital and communicated to (and to each other) via IP, yet the broadcast stream output remained SDI.

Recently, there has been a strong push to move this last, and perhaps most important piece, to IP. AIMS Alliance (The Alliance for IP Media Solutions) has pushed for a move away from SDI to delivering video over IP through the entire broadcast ecosystem. This change will help drive innovation, standardization and definitely lower the cost to broadcast as IP begins to ubiquitously replace SDI and other forms of digital output.

Broadcasters will no longer need proprietary equipment for much of the ecosystem, rather, standard IP-based equipment used in other industries will work just fine here, thus driving down cost. Much like the ‘Year Of’ scenario we discussed in immersive storytelling, end-to-end IP workflows will help drive the equipment refresh cycles many vendors in our industry are dependent on. For the consumer, though, there won’t be a change as this is a backend, behind-the-scenes technology change.

4. ATSC-3.0

I think the other big story that we’re going see at NAB is ATSC 3.0, a new over-the-air broadcast standard that allows delivery of higher definition signals, better sound quality, in smaller packages, and some interesting IP offerings. Its benefits are far reaching and provide a tremendous amount of new technology and new opportunities for broadcasters. Broadcasters are expanding their adoption of technology and this is the one that will affect most of them. The challenge is, I don’t know how applicable it is to most consumers.

The majority of consumers get their content today via a distribution platform, whether it be over satellite, like Direct TV or Dish Network, or via cable, like AT&T, Verizon, Charter Communications or Comcast. Currently, over 80% of U.S. consumers get their content either through wired or alternate delivery mechanisms (satellite delivery) and under 20% that are getting it over the air (antenna). The ATSC 3.0 spec will have little effect on the 80% who still use legacy distributor platforms, and primarily impact those consumers transitioning to over-the-air.

I anticipate that adoption rates by most broadcasters are going to be a bit slower as well. Barely a decade ago, broadcasters spent millions of dollars on transmitters to go from analog to digital and then again into the HD world, with little return on investment (since these upgrades don’t have direct monetization value). If those weren’t future-proof transmitters, some broadcasters might wait to invest in upgrading them to be ATSC 3.0 compliant, while they assess the transition and wait for capital cycles to catch up.

So, while it is an important standard, I don’t know that it is going to drive business as wholesale as people want it to be.

5. The continued convergence of content

As technology improves and simplifies consumers lives, content will continue to merge and compress, what I like to call the convergence of content. consumers want access to it whenever, and wherever, they want it. It’s this expectation that is driving the demand for and expansion of all things OnDemand and OTT. The future of linear broadcasting will primarily be found in current events and live sports. The rest is evolving as consumers have demonstrated their desire for more programming across both traditional and non-traditional channels but want to bypass restrictions on viewing times.

While that world continues to grow, we are seeing that cord cutters continue to cut, and traditional subscription to linear television continues to shrink and decrease, making the importance of content, and valuing that content, crucial for maintaining a traditional audience base through a non-traditional distribution platform.


About Michael Atkin, founder and CEO, BroadView Software

Michael Atkin founded BroadView Software over 25 years ago to offer media management and scheduling solutions to the broadcast industry. Michael launched BroadView by developing pay-per-view systems in the 1980s, a precursor to today’s burgeoning OnDemand market. Under Atkin's leadership, BroadView pioneered the unified database architecture for the IT-based broadcast infrastructure. This enables enormous efficiencies through workflow innovation.

In 2005, Atkin, along with partner Sean Leyne, he turned his focus to the emerging OnDemand ecosystem. Thanks to their early development and investment in this sphere, BroadView is now best known as a leading worldwide provider of information-management solutions for today's multiplatform media environment. When he’s not in the office, Michael likes to spend his free time exploring land, sea and air, taking up his hobbies of motorcycling, scuba diving, and gliding.

Connect with Michael: LinkedIN