LAS VEGAS—It seems that ever since Malcolm Gladwell published his book The Tipping Point, the technology world has seen many, well, tipping points.
I heard the phrase a lot last week at the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) annual conference and expo here—that the broadcasting, news and entertainment industries are at a tipping point. But in this case, it's true.
If you are a member of the Baby Boomer generation, you'll remember when TV consisted of three over-the-air VHF channels for the CBS, NBC and ABC networks, a couple of UHF channels for PBS and local access programming, shown on a black and white cathode-ray tube, all housed in a faux wood-grained plastic box topped by rabbit ears. Today, TV is none of those things. TV is high-definition wherever you are and whenever you want it, in your home, on your phone, with millions (or even billions?) of content options.
But that's not really the tipping point; It's the result. In a session at NAB, panel moderator Deborah McAdams said that until now the business of broadcasting has defined its own technological needs. Now it is the technology defining the business. That technology is IP (Internet Protocol), and that business is now called "over the top."
You are doing over the top (OTT) already if you stream content from Netflix, Amazon Prime Fire TV Stick, Slingbox, ellentube, the recently launched HBO Now and, of course, YouTube. These are just a few examples. OTT content is anything that reaches you, the TV consumer, without being mediated by an operator—a broadcast or cable network provider. Most new TVs today are "smart," Internet-enabled with apps from Netflix, Hulu and several others bundled in. PlayStation, Wii U and most Blu-ray players also can facilitate OTT.
This nirvana presents a conflict for cable service providers such as Comcast and Time Warner, which offer traditional cable programming and the Internet access that is delivering all that entertainment over the Internet.
The NAB show was abuzz with talk of OTT. In McAdams' panel, the point was made that it's IP that is enabling OTT, and there is no going back. "[Traditional] video gear is not really friendly to the IP world; you are going to be confined to certain walls and boundaries," said Al Kovalik, a media consultant. "Once everything is IP based, those walls are down, [content can be] freely distributed, and it's interoperable with the rest of the world. IP is the big gravity. The smaller bodies will fall into the bigger ones."