The broadcast industry’s past decade presents a complicated picture: the astronomical rise of OTT streaming; upheaval across the competitive vendor landscape; digitization of over the air broadcast; 4G networks provoking a complete re-shuffle of spectrum usage. Throughout these tumultuous changes, one thing has remained stubbornly constant: content remains king. The next ten years will offer a similar blend of the complex, the ground-breaking, and the familiar.
A singular market force will shape the next decade and has already started to accelerate - the democratisation of delivery infrastructure is saturating the digital media landscape, and squeezing margins in an unprecedented fashion. Set against the backdrop of a content arms race, this economic pressure will have a direct effect on technology procurement. We anticipate that price sensitivity, and the urgency of cost control, will catalyze three processes: the near-total abandonment of broadcast distribution mediums in some markets; the adoption of automation technology; the adoption of sophisticated monetization solutions.
First, we expect OTT to become the media industry’s primary distribution platform, and to shed fully its side-project mantle. Cloud architectures paired with CDN infrastructures will combine to form the backbone of distribution, eviscerating reliance on traditional delivery platforms such as DTT and DTH. The advent of more resilient forms of storage, optical computing, and faster processing will make data centres cheaper to run, more reliable, and more mobile in their deployment. Combined with the increased speed and bandwidth of 5G, the DTT and DTH business case will fast become redundant, and unable to match the global reach and instant scalability of an OTT platform. In more mature media markets, the swing toward OTT will be so pronounced that terrestrial television will cease altogether, and will allow spectrum to be reclaimed for mobile usage.
In turn, the predominance of OTT will put CDNs under the spotlight. Their decentralised networks and expertise in deploying quality-sensitive services globally will place them in a better position than even the traditional Cloud providers to offer solutions that define the next decade of technology. As standards coalesce around IP, production and broadcast facilities will find the increased capacity, flexibility and interactivity of the technology irresistible. As a result, CDNs may be the only networks able to incorporate these latency-sensitive workflows into cloud architectures. Doing so will require CDNs to deploy programmable compute capabilities throughout their global networks, but will allow them to entice business away from centralised cloud providers, and promise services that are location independent, and closer to the final user. AWS, Azure and Google will not sit idly by and will bolster their own CDN offerings, leading to the interesting prospect that these same firms embark on an acquisition spree.
As the battle for eyeballs plays out over OTT, budgets will continue to shift away from technology and toward content, placing video processing and delivery spend under intense scrutiny. In the drive to reduce costs, economies of scale and commoditised technology will not be enough. The industry will have to rely heavily on automation. Demand will coalesce around machine learning, computer vision, audio intelligence and other applications of AI. These applications will automate production, contribution, localisation, delivery and user experience workflows. Automation will save costs, reduce human error, and accelerate global rollouts of workflows. These gains will be underpinned by ML and AI, and the massive datasets they are reliant upon. The most effective use of these technologies will be combining them with low-latency connections to flexible, powerful computer processing facilities. The essentiality of low-latency connection will, too, place CDNs and Cloud service providers under the spotlight.
In response to the media landscape’s economic challenges, new and advanced forms of advertising will emerge to revolutionise business models. Maximising ad revenues will be the only answer when users refuse to fork out for yet another monthly subscription. It has already become clear that OTT needs advertising. Advertising will need to be smarter…and thanks to the upcoming rollout of low latency edge compute, it will be.
First, we will see personalised advertising take on a whole new dimension. Data will go beyond merely finding an advertiser’s relevant demographic, but will be used to customise aspects of the ad at the network edge, in order to match a particular demographic’s tastes. This will involve keeping a master file of the advertisement within a post-production asset management system at the network edge to ensure the premiership football ad being served to the user is rendered with the likeness of their favourite player.
Second, product placement is likely to be revolutionised in the same way. Instead of deals being struck in preproduction - where consumer goods firms decide, for example, whose beer gets to be held by the protagonist - product placement inventory will be sold on the fly and then rendered and served just-in-time, in much the same way that banner advertising is sold on websites today. Streaming services will further monetize their most popular shows by allowing firms to bid by territory on who’s beer gets to be the protagonists’ tipple of choice. The ‘House of Cards’ equivalent of the 2020s will have Francis Underwood drinking Guinness to viewers in Ireland and Cobra beer in India; the branding of the respective beer brands rendered into the asset on the fly using edge compute facilities with the viewer none the wiser their favourite show has been customised for them.
Many other technologies will make an appearance over the coming decade, including augmented reality, virtual reality, 8K, HDR, and new, anti-piracy technologies. AR, VR, 8K and HDR will be consumer led technologies that rely on a healthy ecosystem of compatible devices and a pool of purpose-made content. In this context, it is difficult to avoid comparisons to 3D, a technology which failed to find a home in broadcast despite a concerted push by content producers, broadcasters and TV manufacturers. The new crop of consumer technologies may find a third way. While 3D relied on the economics of multicast and a high audience threshold to break even, new simulcast OTT networks will be able to unite thin, globally-dispersed AR,VR, 8K and HDR enthusiasts, and in so doing, cumulatively aggregate sufficiently-large audiences.
And what of content, the stubbornly consistent hallmark and bedrock of broadcast? Broadcasters will jealousy protect their assets with equal vigour in the next decade as they do now, but of equal importance may be their data assets in 2030. Data will unlock new monetization opportunities and may come to change the content itself; whether in making it interactive to create a new source of data or to create more real estate for just in time product placements. In ten years’ time, however, we will appreciate how the broadcast landscape of 2030 will be bigger, bolder and much smarter than in 2020.