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The application of digital technology to the production, distribution, and consumption of media has ushered in the ability to consume content anywhere, anytime, on any device over more delivery channels than any broadcaster or consumer knows what to do with. In order to compete in the diversified twenty-first century media universe, television broadcasters must produce and repurpose content for all possible delivery channels and reception devices.
As if television broadcasters didn't have enough of a challenge converting to digital production and distribution, now they are faced with the reality that this new media universe requires content to be available to on any platform. By 2008, television production companies, national networks, local broadcasters, and cable TV services realized they had no choice but to distribute content over the Web and to cell phones and other mobile reception devices. Yet ways to derive revenue, much less profits, from "new media" have been elusive.
Just take a quick inventory of all the "new media" channels that have become available in the last few years: cell phones, BlackBerries, PlayStations, media center PCs, personal digital assistants (PDAs), digital cinema, digital signage, the World Wide Web, taxi TV, elevator TV, gas station TV, and good ol' print!!! And just to add to the distribution options: Wi-Fi, WiMAX, mobile TV, iPods, iPhones, and don't forget the Internet!
Television distribution also continues to diversify. For more than a decade, over the air, cable, and satellite were the only TV delivery options for consumers. But now, telcos and new media are getting into the act. The acronyms are plentiful—HDTV, RFoG, IPTV, FiOS PC, SDV, VoIP, VoD—even if few consumers know what they all mean.
For broadcast engineers and media technologists adapting to the new technologies and expertise required to design, install, commission, and maintain systems that support producing and distributing content over multiple distribution channels, a new level of complexity has been added to existing broadcast infrastructures. New fields of technology, the integration of IT, and software development have created an infrastructure that is a system of systems. Each area of expertise requires a career's worth of professional competence.
Lost in the need to master esoteric technical details is the big picture, the 50,000foot view of how all the pieces—the equipment, the production workflow, and the techniques that support the repurposing of content—fit together. This book aims to put together all the pieces of this system-of-systems engineering puzzle.
ONE FOR ALL
Repurposing broadcast TV programming is really nothing new. Retransmission of terrestrial network content over cable and satellite systems has been happening for decades.
Many a television broadcast company owns radio stations as well. And newspaper and magazine publishers have owned TV and radio stations for years. Every media company has consumer-oriented Internet sites; these microsites are often tied to a specific show, magazine, or other niche audience. But things are different now. Rather than having individual business units and separate production departments for each distribution channel, new computer-based systems and a profit-conscious business environment have enabled and necessitated integration of systems and given rise to a mantra of "produce once, distribute everywhere."
Adding to the increasing mass of content is user-generated media. Thanks to the abundance of personal computing power and the proliferation of easy-to-use authoring tools, content consumers have become content producers. Cell phones feature digital cameras and the ability to capture short video clips. Inexpensive production applications format and upload personal productions to social Web sites with a click, and voila, everyone is instantly a publisher with the entire world as the potential audience.
Such is life in the digital media universe.
Digitized audio and video can be reformatted, converted, and repurposed for any possible delivery channel at a quality level beyond the capability of analog technology. Couple this capability with the rapid deployment and consumer uptake of each new delivery channel, and 2009 marks not only the end of analog over-the-air television in the United States, but also the birth of a new multiplatform global broadcasting paradigm.
Content is now targeted for global distribution. For the Internet, the multiplatform capability already exists. For digital television (DTV) it involves reformatting content, and the 25/50Hz vs. 29.97/59.94Hz video frame rate issue has been augmented by compression codec transcoding requirements.
There are two technology variables that enter into the digital universe transformation equation. The first is the transmission of digital audio and video content over a limited data capacity delivery channel. The other is the development of digital production processes and workflows. This book will delve into both and demonstrate that there are many solutions to this system of equations.
Digital television: the ultimate digital challenge
The doorway to this new universe began with the ability to digitize television, or more specifically, video content. Conventional wisdom in the late 1980s said that the ability to digitize a high-resolution TV image so that it could be transmitted over a standard 6, 7, or 8MHz channel (depending on the national TV system) was probably a decade in the future.
For many decades television was the only "show" that could be enjoyed in the home. Over-the-air distribution, typically referred to as terrestrial television, and the advertiser-supported business model had remained largely unchanged since the first broadcasts. There were no VCRs and few reruns; networks could count on a by-appointment-viewing audience. Television was magic!
Terrestrial television's success was its own undoing, as those in areas with poor reception wanted better TV audio and video quality. By the 1970s, a threat loomed on the horizon, just out of the range of terrestrial transmission.
What began as community antenna systems (CATV) in the 1980s to solve reception problems now began to offer nationally distributed programming. Cable networks (more correctly called "services") distributed content across the country via satellite to local cable companies for distribution. Little by little, cable TV distribution and penetration steadily eroded terrestrial audience numbers.
Direct-to-consumer satellite broadcast services were virtually nonexistent in the early 1980s, with the exception of technology pioneers who installed 6 C-band dishes in their yards. But by the mid-1990s, new digital technology spurred a resurgence of the delivery channel. By then, terrestrial networks and local broadcasters had faded to a third in the percentage of households for each distribution channel.
But terrestrial broadcasters as early as the mid-1980s realized the potential cable TV had for reducing their audiences. In response the U.S. TV industry and government supported an analog high-definition television (HDTV) proposal for a system based on the work of NHK, a Japanese corporation. One motivation was to slow terrestrial viewer erosion by offering something that would be technologically unappealing to cable operators but highly appealing to audiences. Interested in channel quantity rather than picture quality, cable operators liked the fact that DTV allowed them to offer "500 channels" and maximize use of their installed delivery channel capacity, rather than "waste" bandwidth on HDTV.
Another threat in the United States was the growth of cellular services. Although the use of cell phones had not grown to mass acceptance, Motorola and others lobbied for access to radio spectrum frequencies that were not in use by TV broadcasters. TV was threatened and didn't take well to the idea of losing its "sacred" spectrum. HDTV became a rallying cry to fend off the attack.
Just as this threat was turned back another appeared, but few could foresee just how big a threat this technology would really be. By 1995 the "consumerization" of the previously academic and commercial Internet had just taken off with the introduction of Netscape and Windows 95. Conventional wisdom proclaimed that real-time audio and—surely you jest—video could never be delivered over the Internet to personal computers (PCs).
Still, there were a few enlightened technologists in the TV engineering biz. So when the Grand Alliance (a consortium of corporations and institutions) developed a digital HDTV prototype, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) mandated the ability to packetize the bit stream for transmission over a computer network: The emerging Information Highway had to include DTV.
In the end, the FCC adopted this prototype DTV technology, documented by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) standard, in 1996. Few envisioned then how the transition to DTV broadcasting would become the technological catalyst that would transform the entire content distribution and consumer electronics industry.
NEW UNIVERSE, NEW AGE, NEW MEDIA
At the turn of the millennium, consumer content delivery channel categories—TV, Internet, and cellular—were independent of each other. Distribution channel capacity and content data volume prohibited cross-platform exchange. There was no way to get broadcast TV over the Internet;the technology simply couldn't do it.
In the new millennium, low-quality audio and video streamed from servers began to proliferate in cyberspace. There was just enough bandwidth to download short video clips to a PC. It was possible to fit 2Mbps video over a 56kbps modem. One minute of video would (ideally) take 2,143 seconds—close to 36 minutes!
At the same time, PBS and others began to use the gift of a second channel for HDTV as a means to distribute more than the primary digital TV program. They started by adding a multicast channel to a terrestrial broadcast, most often a weather forecast.
Cell phones were still in their infancy and used for making calls or text messaging. Advanced audio and video and even access to the Internet were still in R&D.
Fast-forward to 2008. The repurposing of TV programming is rapidly expanding to Web sites, cell phones, and soon to mobile DTV. Digital technology also enables interactive entertainment, targeted advertising, and personalization of the media experience on all platforms. In the end, the distinction between devices will become increasingly blurred. Television is not just television anymore.
A numbers game
All distribution platforms are dependent on audience numbers for generating revenue streams. This makes business life difficult in the contemporary, multiplatform universe where audiences are fragmented and in control of when and where they consume content.
The migration of terrestrial TV audiences to other delivery channels can serve as a lesson. Unchallenged for over the first 30 years of their existence, terrestrial broadcasters have seen a complete realignment of TV audience distribution over distribution channels that have emerged since about 1980.
Consider present-day TV audience segmentation. Terrestrial television viewers make up less than 15% of the total TV audience. Cable distribution is dominant at over 60% but experiencing churn to direct broadcast satellite (DBS). Telcos are in the TV game now, with fiber optic service (FiOS) and Internet protocol television (IPTV) services, and are gaining subscribers at a slow but steady rate. Figure 1.1 tracks the growth of TV audiences in the United States since 1970 by distribution channel.
In other nations the delivery channel mix varies, but the important point is that TV content is available over a variety of delivery channels. The only similarity among most countries is the progressive disappearance of radio frequency (RF)-based terrestrial television broadcasting.
This is bad enough for TV networks and local broadcasters, but matters have gotten worse. While networks were busy battling with cable and satellite challenges, cyberspace delivery channel capacity grew exponentially. And one day the fledgling, text-based Internet came of content delivery age. By 2007, the rich media Web had become a contender for television audiences.
There are many that will tell you that eventually all TV will come over the Internet. This may not come to pass. But one way or another, consumers will get their content at any time, in any place, on any device.
Excerpted from Technology and Workflows for Multiple Channel Content Distribution by Philip J. Cianci Copyright © 2009 by Elsevier Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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