Broadcasting the Future at IBC 2022

This year’s show saw a range of themes covering the entire media and broadcast industry, with a few major through lines: sustainability, interoperability, open access and platform convergence. There were some interesting hardware concepts from Rohde & Schwarz, as well as a notable software announcement from Grass Valley.

Sustainability was omnipresent on the show floor; almost every major announcement had at least one reference to it, be that reducing carbon footprint, increasing hardware efficiency or offsetting carbon emissions. Increased regulatory pressure became more evident, with the European Green Deal’s target of a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030 heavily referenced. However, a cynic might argue this was an example of “greenwashing” rather than real commitment to environmental progress.

Long equipment life cycles have been a consistent strain on the industry, with kit expected to last at least 10 to 15 years. Although the next generation of transmitters seems promising, long development cycles combined with a global chip shortage means that nothing is likely to be implemented until the end of 2023 at the earliest.

For example, Rohde & Schwarz announced its latest UHF transmitter, the TH1. The design incorporates more efficient components throughout the device alongside liquid cooling. The company claims it’s 15% more efficient than anything on the market right now, but scepticism about this figure wouldn’t be unfounded. Furthermore, the manufacturer’s own data acknowledges the long return on investment — the product has a life cycle of over a decade.

The consumer experience was another big topic at IBC. Finding ways to keep viewers engaged on video streaming platforms is a constant battle; Netflix says a typical subscriber spends 60 to 90 seconds looking for interesting content before abandoning the search. With the number of streaming services exploding over the past few years, companies are fighting to offer users not only the best content, but the best experience. And with the economic downturn recession putting entertainment services on the chopping block for many households, that fight is only set to become fiercer.

IBC witnessed an interesting discussion about the rise of ad-supported services, although the unique content each service offers remains more significant. Enhanced personalization is becoming a vital selling point, with all major players attempting to integrate the feature more comprehensively on their platforms. At an IBC round table session, representatives from the digital TV advertising space agreed that the way advertising is targeted needs to change.

Following Apple’s move to make IDFA an opt-in service, dubbed the “adpocalypse” by some, the industry is being forced to rethink personalization. One proposed idea is to use data from network service providers, allegedly sitting on a “gold mine” of data. But this is only the ideal scenario for advertisers. When pushed on user privacy being more valued in Europe, speakers at the round table suggested that users would be willing to share their data if there was a tangible reward, like hyper-personalized content, virtual coins or vouchers.

I find this view a little rose-tinted; it could easily turn into a Black Mirror-style society where everything people do is tracked and data must be shared to access basic services. A careful balance will have to be struck between using data for content and for profit, with advertisers remaining mindful of transparency and keeping people informed about what their data is being used for.

Hard boundaries between competitors seem to be eroding throughout the broadcast space. There were multiple announcements about new open standards, with interoperability and increased flexibility to work across all workflows being hot topics. Grass Valley announced improvements to its Agile Media Processing Platform, built from the ground up to be cloud-native. It includes 24 new applications from over 14 alliance partners, alongside deeper integration with the SMPTE 2022 and 2110 standards, reinforcing Grass Valley’s leading market position.

Audinate, creator of the audio-over-IP protocol Dante, showed off its latest video-over-IP technology Dante AV-H. The company touts its work with manufacturers to integrate the service into current hardware, as well the technology’s compatibility with existing network infrastructure; Audinate explained that Dante AV-H has the same base as the audio protocol, which the firm was using to its advantage to encourage adoption.

Overall, companies appear to be playing to their strengths while better understanding their pitfalls. Momentum for integration between solutions, especially for APIs and open standards, is a sign that the landscape is becoming less “one company to rule them all” and more “best of breed”.

Another major talking point at the show was 5G. Rohde & Schwarz partnered with Qualcomm to present a new use for wireless spectrum; developments in the Snapdragon 888 chipset enable it to use multicast transmission rather than traditional IP streaming, allowing up to five network channels to be broadcast to an almost unlimited audience — as long as the device can receive the signal.

This could prove useful in spaces that traditionally struggle for network capacity, such as stadiums. This isn’t the first time that multicast transmission has been tried on mobile. The DVB-H standard was ratified in 2004 and had a similar objective. It ultimately failed, owing to a lack of supporting devices combined with few subsidies from content providers. Frankly, I remain sceptical of the entire business model, as the investment fails to justify the reward.

I also don’t see how it’ll take off in the short term, as Qualcomm’s initiative relies on specific chipset requirements at a time when people are keeping their mobile devices for longer and increasingly turning to pre-owned phones for replacements. Ultimately, this venture may only find success as a “slow burn” project. But one advantage is that 5G technology continues to rise in adoption, and Qualcomm’s significant share of the smartphone chip market may push the technology forward.

Overall, IBC 2022 brought the industry back together after a two-year hiatus and showed innovation in several areas. It’s an exciting time to be observing the market, and the event clearly has an important role to play in shaping the future of broadcasting.

For more about some of the topics mentioned above, tune into our Predictions event from 18 to 20 October. More details and free registration below.

A version of this blog was originally published on LinkedIn by Wren.