Television for the New Generation – Dynamic Playout as Creative Art (Part 5)
It’s not art versus engineering, it’s art and engineering
This is Part 5 of a blog series and in the first 4 parts (see Part 1 here) we discussed a potential new way for broadcasters to provide content that could allow them to engage better with younger audiences while still maintaining their older core viewers. In this piece I will focus on some of the potential non-technological, cultural and organizational blockers to these ideas.
One of the basic rules, maybe the basic rule, of broadcast television from a technical perspective is NO BLACK SCREEN! Systems, especially playout and distribution systems, must be as near as possible to 100% robust, literally SLA’s of 99.99999%. Anything that increases risk of loss of transmission is to be avoided at all costs. This extreme risk aversion is at the core of broadcast culture and affects all levels of the people working in television, from management to producers to engineers. To adapt the broadcast mindset to a much more flexible and dynamic (and likely slightly less robust) environment will not be easy. On the other hand, live sports, some reality TV as well as news programs already work dynamically so it should not be insurmountable.
Broadcast engineers tend to be older, often nearing retirement and are often not being replaced by a younger generation. Those working in Playout have been working in a relatively similar fashion for a very long time and many will not want to go back to school. Some of them may consider these proposals as a threat and very many of them will consider them to be at least a bother. But this is precisely one of the groups that will need to be onboard so it will be absolutely essential to convince them.
Another blocking point will be organizational. As discussed previously, the success of these ideas requires closer collaboration, and even integration, of what are currently different parts of the organization. Already, in many broadcasters, this breaking down of silos between some parts is ongoing, especially in terms of broadcast versus online. Content is just content, irrespective of the distribution channel, the difference being largely a question of formatting and transcoding. But other silos and separations still exist, such as marketing and engineering versus creative as well as between channels or “brands”. Creating a dynamic Playout function will require much, much closer alignment between these functions which can often be a source of conflict within an organization.
Creative risk aversion may also be an issue. Many within broadcast organizations believe that, because some past attempts at new genres or formats have not been 100% successful, that they should mainly focus on the tried and true, “what we do best”. But unfortunately, doing what they do best, in the long run, is likely a losing battle. The default place to go for younger audiences for the equivalent of the traditional fare of the broadcasters is no longer the broadcasters, but rather Amazon or Netflix. No matter what, the broadcasters will ultimately change, whether this change is a broadening of formats, ways of working and ways of connecting with the audience, or whether it is downsizing or disappearing, change will come.
A related issue is around other formats and types of content. Can the already standard multi-device/multi-content consumption model be used better? Second screens were an unsuccessful attempt at that but technology has moved on so it may be worth another look. For example device synchronization has vastly improved in the last few years, and AR is becoming mainstream. Are there possibilities there? What about gaming? And broadcast is, by its very nature, inherently a collective experience – many people watching the same thing at exactly the same time. Can ways be found for broadcasters to take better advantage of that?
This blog series has been an attempt to find ways for broadcasters to adapt to the challenges they are facing, especially declining audiences and loss of relevance to younger viewers. Could part of the answer be a more dynamic Playout function and flexible scheduling. This Playout would be adaptable in real time, connecting more directly with the audience, and combining traditional broadcaster content with newer content formats and styles.
“Winter is coming” and the broadcasters need to be prepared.