Television for the New Generation – Dynamic Playout as Creative Art (Part 3)
Technology Can’t Resolve Everything But…
In Parts 1 and 2 of this series I discussed some of the issues plaguing the broadcast industry and a possible way out. In Part 1 we saw that the television experience that older viewers want, and they currently form the core of the traditional broadcasters audience, is fundamentally different in some ways to what younger viewers are looking for. In Part 2 a solution to this has been presented, where a revolution in how broadcasters deliver content could provide a television experience that satisfies both demographics.
In this instalment we will look at what would be some of the technology requirements for what is being proposed. It should be stressed that most of these technologies, or at least very similar technologies, already exist and are largely mature. The technological hurdles are more about integration. The more difficult issues will be organizational and cultural, getting the staff, especially the broadcast engineers, onboard for these changes. This will be the topic for one of the next instalments of the series.
The basic idea is to make the distribution of content into a dynamic, flexible system that is better able to respond in near real time to changing circumstances. Therefore situational awareness is key, such as feedback through social media and audience statistics and content and network availability. In live television this is sometimes already the case. In an extreme example, in reality TV the director is constantly changing between feeds, adapting the output in function of both what is happening on the set AND what is being observed on social media.
Newsrooms also work in a similar way. While social feedback or audience ratings (hopefully!) don’t influence content selection or segment order in real or near real time, the availability of content often does. Because of the nature of news, content is being prepared right up to and even during the airing of the show. There is a pre-arranged schedule or running order but often the availability of new content such as breaking news, or the unavailability of planned content, can alter the flow.
In both of these cases we are talking about far shorter segments than that required for general program playout and the human resource requirements for this sort of reality TV or news production are quite heavy and go beyond what could be available for regular linear distribution. That is why these new systems will need to provide a high level of automation to facilitate the real time labor of the channel or brand director.
At the core of this, a simple, easy to use network control system will be needed such as Atos BNCS (see here). This allows a single pane of glass control over all video and channel streams, all integrated with a flexible scheduling system and CMS (content management system). At the same time the director will need access to viewer and social stats, provided in a way that allows for near instant identification of trends and breaking events. Analytics and visualization tools are the key.
Other technologies that need to come into play here include “the move to IP”, i.e. the replacement of the SDI protocol in studios and control rooms with IP based protocols. While very few broadcasters have really made the move to IP, over the next 5 years or so almost all will need to make the jump. The current SDI protocol is simply not up to the task of 4k and especially 8k video. The broadcasters will be forced to make the move because they have to for this reason, but it will also mean far more flexible and open systems in the studios and master control rooms, thus enabling the kind of distribution models that is being discussed here.
Explicit second screens have clearly become passé but some of the more advanced technology created for second screens, especially for synchronizing multiple screens, might find a new use, enabling multi-screen experiences for the user, even if in a less captive way than was originally envisioned for second screens a few years ago.
Towards the future, another technology area that may come into play with this is OBM - Object Based Media (see here for a description). OBM is initially designed mostly for greater flexibility and interactivity for the end user but it is also could be used to provide similarly enhanced flexibility and interactivity to the playout function. At the same time OBM would allow personalized variations of the original broadcast to be accessible online.
The schedule, controlled by a static playout function is dead. Long live the hybrid engineer/artist for dynamic playout!
The two biggest blockers for this are about “broadcaster culture” and access to content. That is, are broadcast staff and engineers ready for this? Is there access to sufficient content for this to make sense? Do broadcasters have sufficient content? Is this content easily findable or discoverable and can it be in a format that is easily, rapidly usable? These will be the topics of the two next blogs.