Yep, this is one of those “what to expect in the year ahead” pieces, which have become a December ritual, like the airing of 50-year-old kids TV shows that nobody under 50 watches anymore or the compilation of self-improvement resolutions that are long forgotten by February.
End-of-year prognostications remain a popular pastime, though, because the only thing we like less than holiday fruitcake is to be caught off guard by what the future might bring. And as we sit at the precipice of 2016, the media industry is confronted by several simultaneous technology transitions and challenges to traditional business models.
Media professionals are no strangers to managing technology transitions. The gradual assimilation of next-gen technologies — whether SD-to-HD or analog-to-digital — is pretty much standard operating procedure in the media and entertainment industry. But 2016 is shaping up to be a pivotal year when it comes to putting your business on the optimal path to future success. No year, in recent memory, has presented quite the number or level of complexity of technical crossroads that 2016 will bring.
So, in the spirit of getting an early glimpse of what’s around the corner, here’s a list of the top five technology trends to watch in 2016, as well as a summary of key issues that will influence their impact on the future of the media industry.
Transition to IP
Nearly every broadcaster or media company has converted some portion of their operations to an IP, file-based environment. The big question looming in 2016 is how aggressively to proceed with the next phase of your transition. A number of factors will play into this decision, including your comfort level with moving critical production, processing and playout operations on to IT-based infrastructures, your ability to leverage existing investments in SDI and, of course, how quickly your competitors are moving to a more agile and cost-efficient environment.
Media professionals will also need to do an accounting of the potential benefits of transitioning to a generic computing and networking environment versus the challenges and risks. On one side of the ledger are the potential concerns, such as quality degradations, operational disruptions or the retraining of existing workforce. That assessment, though, must be balanced with an examination of the possible benefits, including the added agility and flexibility to introduce new services and sources of revenue, the ease of adoption of new technologies and standards, and the ability to reduce operational expenses.
Cloud and Virtualized Environments
Rather than continuing to rack and stack specialized hardware to scale resources, media companies are increasingly turning toward software-centric solutions to deliver the agility, scale and elasticity required to meet today’s shifting consumer demands and to remain relevant in an intensely competitive environment. Severing dependency on specialized hardware frees up broadcasters to move operations to generic, industry-standard computing resources, a catalyst for introducing an array of cost-savings and agility improving benefits.
Media companies around the world are beginning to transition channel origination, processing and playout, including master control, to virtualized environments. Progress toward moving your operations to generic computing and networking resources in 2016 will likely be influenced by several factors, including your level of confidence in a software-only solution’s ability to provide adequate security, reliability and operational transparency. And if you do decide to make the move, your next assignment will be to prioritize the order in which you transition operations, including encoding/transcoding, editing, master control, playout or distribution to a private or even public cloud environment.
UHD and HEVC
On the surface, the transition from HD to Ultra HD seems like the most pedestrian of all the technology transitions confronting media professionals. The broadcast industry, after all, is marked by continuous advancements in resolution and picture quality, part of a never-ending quest to deliver consumers as-if-you-were-there experiences over the display device of their choice. But when and how to move to higher resolutions and adopt advanced compression schemes may turn out to be the most difficult riddles for media companies to solve in 2016.
The major complication is that the move to UHD and HEVC is gated by a number of variables. For starters, there’s the penetration issue. Exactly how many consumers have the display devices, set-top boxes and bandwidth to view UHD content or decode HEVC streams? Most confounding of all is reconciling the relationship between UHD and IP. Should media companies synchronize their transition to UHD with a move to IP and generic computing and networking resources or is SDI still the preferred technology for UHD?
By this time next year, content distributors and aggregators could be in the prime position to deliver consumers the unified experience they crave. As much as the industry portrays PayTV operators and OTT services as being locked in a winner-take-all death match for the hearts and wallets of viewers, the reality is that video consumers of all ages prefer a mix of live/linear and on-demand services. When all is said and done, service providers are well positioned to deliver all of a consumer’s content — live/linear, VoD, recorded — from a single, simple interface, regardless of time of day or display device.
To make this happen, though, cable operators and other content distributors need to embrace the latest generation of cloud-based DVR (cDVR), as well as dynamic ad insertion technologies. Decisions facing service providers in 2016 include when and how to migrate content recording capabilities to a datacenter environment and how to best navigate legal and storage optimization barriers that must be overcome in order to deliver fully personalized, cost-efficient and compelling video consumption experiences.
Omniplatform Ad Management
The great paradox confounding the media and entertainment industry over the past few years is that while video consumption is exploding in popularity, the ability to monetize all of that content has been hampered by viewership fragmentation. The ad world, simply put, has been unable to keep up with the steady migration of eyeballs to alternative viewing platforms and nonlinear content distribution models. 2016, however, is shaping up to be the year that media companies and brands get a grasp on monetizing content regardless of where or when it’s viewed.
To make a mark in this omniplatform environment, though, media companies will need to settle on a strategy for migrating to integrated solutions that place and monetize ads across multiple video consumption environments, including linear television, on-demand, DVR, multiscreen, radio, and digital. They will also need to carefully consider their level of engagement with programmatic technology. Still in its early stages of adoption in the television realm, programmatic advertising continues to raise concerns among media companies about how a programmatic approach will fit into an existing business structure and potentially impact the value of high-end inventory.
Your Path, Your Pace
... 2016 will be a watershed year in deciding the long-term success of thousands of media companies.
Even this small sampling of technology challenges validates the industry consensus that 2016 will be a watershed year in deciding the long-term success of thousands of media companies. Now, more than ever, it’s critical to partner with a solution supplier offering a transition strategy that’s customized to your needs and your timeframe and one that will fully protect any investment you made yesterday or today — or will make sometime in the future.
The timetable and approach to tackling the above technology challenges are unique to every media company. But it’s also helpful to know what your peers are planning. That’s why we’ve reached out to the media and entertainment community to collect their insights on the trending technology issues of the coming year. Staying on top of technology trends and keeping tabs on the direction and pace of change among competitors and partners.
Now that’s a New Year’s resolution with some staying power.