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.”
Rapid Shift to IP TV Supporting ‘Over the Top’ Video Content Streaming
Broadcasting experts at the show said all broadcasting will be IP-based within the next five to 10 years. Yes, CBS, NBC, ABC and Comcast et al. will still be around, but content will be delivered by the Internet. It’s happening already.
Executives from the Disney/ABC Television Group spoke at NAB about how the company is transitioning its broadcast operations to a unified IP cloud architecture using Imagine Communications, a video infrastructure and management provider.
“By leveraging evolving IP and cloud technologies, we are able to move beyond what’s currently possible with traditional proprietary big iron broadcast infrastructures,” Disney/ABC Television Group Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Vince Roberts said.
By invoking the big-iron metaphor, the IP trend in broadcasting is mirroring what has been happening in enterprise IT for the past generation, moving to standards-based protocols running on commodity hardware.
For all of the innovation going on, the NAB community has been historically known for being a little stodgy and set in its ways, a fact acknowledged by NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith in his opening keynote. He recalled his first keynote as head of NAB five years ago: “Back then, our critics were writing us off as yesterday’s technology, foreseeing a diminished future for radio and TV.”
Now, he said, broadcast radio and television are more important today than ever because broadcasters now have a better understanding of “peoples’ consumption of content—where they’re getting it and what they’re getting.”
So, to refer to another famous phrase, it’s about the content, stupid. And the viewers are now in charge. The forward evolution in technology has ways of breaking barriers between the information (entertainment, news, sports, movies, etc.) and the consumer of that information. Broadcasting is no longer about “programming,” where viewers will couch-lock through the CBS Sunday night lineup. I now watch most of my TV on my phone, streaming what’s been recorded on my DVR at home. It’s a brave new world.
Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. He has an extensive background in the technology field. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture, at TechTarget. Before that, he was the director, Editorial Operations, at Ziff Davis Enterprise. While at Ziff Davis Media, he was a writer and editor at eWEEK. No investment advice is offered in his blog. All duties are disclaimed. Scot works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.