For broadcasters the pressure to innovate is mounting

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In July the Wall Street Journal Digits blog reported that Facebook is debuting its new live event streaming service at Lollapalooza. This follows news in June that Twitter had bid on the right to NFL’s first streaming-only broadcast earlier in the year.

This move of social networks into real-time event coverage is indicative of a wider shake up in the market that I’ve highlighted on this blog before. Gone are the days when broadcasters dictated what people watched, and when. Nothing is going to happen overnight but in the near future live premium content may no longer be purely the domain of the major national broadcasters.

The new media ‘kids’ like Amazon (with Twitch), Facebook, Apple (with forthcoming new service) and Google (with YouTube Gaming) are starting to gather around the ‘live event space.’. Of course, premium sports rights don’t come up for renegotiation very often and prices over the last few years have skyrocketed. But don’t be surprised if some or all of the above start bidding for them in the next few years.

But delivering this kind of service is not easy and consumer expectations are high. Live sport events have traditionally been delivered through linear broadcasts and consumers are used to an uninterrupted, seamless experience. The challenge will be to build these direct-to-consumer platforms with no packet loss or stutter, otherwise the danger is that viewers will simply switch off.

To get this right, any new entrants into this market need to look to their core infrastructure. Investment in connectivity is paramount and getting the right content distribution networks, connectivity and redundancy in place will have to take precedence. On the other hand, national broadcasters like NBC or the BBC have invested a lot of capital and have decades of experience in workflows that support the production and distribution of live events for TV. Ask yourself when the last time was that you can recall an interruption in a live TV broadcast. Linear TV (and the SDI workflows that underpin it) is incredibly reliable and stable.

The new media ‘kids’ infrastructure is based on IP. This makes it much easier to create and launch new services and to try integrations with other services and offerings. IP enables this interoperability. TV consumption is (gradually) moving away from the TV to our mobile devices.

The broadcasters have a big challenge ahead of them. First, they have a dual cost base – an expensive legacy linear TV infrastructure as well a new media offering. Second, their audiences and ad revenue is being reduced by OTT competition. Finally the premium live content cash cow may be under threat in the future.

So is migration from SDI to IP the universal panacea for broadcast? Probably not. But IP is acknowledged to bring a number of benefits:

  • Faster launch of newer channels and services
  • Greater interoperability between workflows and partners
  • Reduced capex (infrastructure can be moved away from expensive broadcast offices into carrier neutral data centres)
  • Easier adoption of cloud services

It’s not going to be an easy migration as it will involve technical, cultural and operational change management but it is starting to happen. And if broadcasters want to stay competitive in this changing market, it will have to.