How Project Canvas's user experience might work
There is a real feeling within the TV business that the year ahead looks set to become something of a milestone for our industry. The long-heralded convergence of television, video, broadcast and the internet is reaching a tipping point. But why are things about to change dramatically and what is this likely to mean for programme-making, post production – editing, sound, special effects – and delivery of TV content?
Looking back at the past decade, highlights that will change the trajectory of the industry in the next 10 years include the steady migration to digital media at all points from acquisition to consumption, the emergence of an increasingly universal transport medium built around the internet protocol (IP) and the ever-expanding reach, capacity and performance of the public internet as a viable platform for rich media distribution, including video.
But the most significant recent innovations have actually happened away from television sets and the broadcast networks that serve them. They have taken place on the PC via the internet. The huge success of iPlayer and similar catchup TV services – as well as Hulu, YouTube and many others – have changed the expectations of PC-savvy TV viewers. But the next major evolution of the TV experience is only just beginning and the action is moving back from the PC to the big-screen TV.
Project Canvas – the joint venture with backers including the BBC, ITV and BT planning to bring video-on-demand content to the TV sets of Freeview and Freesat viewers, in the first instance – could be a significant milestone, not just because it has so much potential but because it is representative of a new model of the television experience that is gaining common currency around the world. This is the bringing together of broadcast television, online media (on-demand, streaming, linear and non-linear), communications and applications in a highly integrated "hybrid" manner.
While the hybrid model has been discussed for some time, this year is when it is actually going to meet the public. Analysts are predicting that 20% of televisions sold in Europe in 2010 will be internet enabled. Combine this with the fast-growing range of digital receivers and games consoles that are starting to offer television and video content delivered via broadband and it becomes clear that a new model is emerging.
What then are the implications of this trend for programme-making, post production and delivery?
One fundamental difference is that a hybrid model provides virtually infinite channel capacity as the broadband connection is augmenting the traditional digital receiver. More than this though, it should dramatically lower the cost of entry for content and channel owners as platforms such as Project Canvas are intended to be open.
The use of internet rather than broadcast economics will allow much more specialised content and channels to become viable. Expect to see a large number of "brand channels" coming to these new platforms. Content will also become more fluid across devices and platforms as IP-delivered sessions now reach the TV, PC and mobile device, driving a "three-screen strategy" for channel owners.
In summary, the long tail of television and video can be fully realised in this new environment both technically and commercially. The relationship between linear broadcast content and non-linear media is likely to converge and both will change because of it.
This in turn will both drive new demand and encourage new innovation all the way along the programme-making, post production and delivery chains. History has shown us that periods of disruptive innovation can be very exciting and rewarding for those who try to understand, anticipate and influence what's next.
Here's to an interesting new decade for what used to be called television.
Steve Plunkett is director of customer innovation at Red Bee Media, the TV and web branding and channel management agency, which is attending the Broadcast Video Expo conference this week