The two conventional models of free and open TV and Pay TV, whether cable or satellite, are undergoing an enormous transformation marked by the digital convergence between telecommunications and audiovisual.
By Daniel Condeminas
Digital terrestrial signal broadcasts, in any of the three standards adopted in Latin America, allow to offer HD channels. High definition content until recently only available in the Premium packages of satellite pay-TV operators. On the other hand, non-linear access to audiovisual content, which was the great attraction of PCs connected to the internet, has become mobile, and in turn has reached the TV screen of the living room. From this multi-screen hyperconnectivity, the audiovisual experience today is as customizable as it is socializable, and also in real time.
This dichotomy between personalized consumption and interaction shared collectively with them – social TV – gives mobile devices, whether smartphones or tablets, a double role: to be able to be the first screen, the direct consumption of audiovisual content, or to be the "second screen" when you are in front of the TV screen of the dining room or living room. In this article we will mainly address the first role.
The technological advances offered by equipment computing and the digitalization of telecommunications allow us to respond affirmatively to a consumer request that was not possible a decade ago. The demand for what I want here, now and on any (connected) screen has offers that satisfy it, but that demand a great effort from the television and telecommunications operating companies.
And it is a demand that has allowed the entry into play of other companies, native to the internet, which have virtualized the model of video clubs to transfer them to the screens on OTT platforms. This without forgetting the sector of equipment manufacturers, who have seen their business expand by offering their own access to content, such as the proprietary models of Internet access of SmartTVs.
If anything, digital convergence is producing a confluence of business models. For broadcast companies or pay-TV operators, the future is to offer their content on all screens, beyond the traditional terrestrial, satellite or cable distribution broadcasts. For telecommunications operators, investments in new and more powerful connection networks – whether wireless or fiber optic – are profitable if they are associated with subscriptions for services linked to audiovisual content, such as quadruple play, with their IPTV packages and flat rates for Internet browsing.
And in all this revolution, the main protagonists are going to be the mobile screens and the – increasing – TV screen of the living room. The mistake would be to consider them competing or adversarial screens. As we mentioned before, not only do they allow complementary audiovisual consumption, adapted to very different circumstances, but in turn their use can be simultaneous.
The evolution of mobile phone networks, whether 3G and especially 4G based on LTE advanced, together with access to large capacity WiFi networks, have allowed to transfer to smartphones and tablets models of audiovisual consumption until recently reserved for PCs connected to broadband internet. The VOD and the Catch Up allow a commercial exploitation, either via unitary payment, subscription or advertising, in which film and television will have an increasingly important source of income.
Until a few years ago, the dissemination of audio-visual content was directly linked to television programming. And although the internet has blurred administrative boundaries, Europe represents a complex cultural and linguistic mosaic that, despite the unfinished process of the birth of new states, is far more diverse from the current political map. The sum of these and other factors has resulted in a no small list of operators with VOD offers that also cover mobile screens.
From historical ones like Dailymotion to more recent ones like Wuaki or Total Channel, through evolutions of satellite pay TV like Yomvi, all of them show that the future goes through a multiscreen offer. In Latin America, the accelerated deployment of fiber optics and wireless broadband networks is seeing similar services flourish, whether born of leading national channels, as in the case of the Chilean TVN, to foreign multinationals such as Sony with its Crackle, already present in 18 countries.
What about broadcast broadcasts for mobile devices? The answer is not simple, since we are facing two technological possibilities, which are still incipient to be able to forecast their economic exploitation, but which are essential to guarantee massive access and millions of smartphones and tablets to the same content.
Given the growing volume of simultaneous consumption of video in mobility, it requires solutions that are not unitary distribution to each equipment, but of authentic mass emissions, which do not depend on the number of connected receiving equipment but on the territorial coverage of their signals. With a continuous growth in the consumption of Tb per second, 90% of which is caused by transit of audiovisual content, the offer of new broadcast networks is a short-term necessity.
In 2006 I had the opportunity to participate in the pilot tests that were made in the Barcelona area of TV broadcasts for smartphones with the European digital TV standard for mobile equipment born two years earlier, the DVB-H. Technologically they worked well, and the experience of the users was very positive, but they posed two important problems: the energy consumption for the reception and processing of the signal was such that the batteries were discharged at high speed and, much more serious, it required a parallel and even more complex network of transmitters than the one I will use. to DTT for households, at that time already deploying through the European geography at full speed.
The high cost of this second network, added to the low predisposition to pay for this service expressed by the participants in the focus groups, made its commercial implementation rejected. Later experiences, such as the German one of encouraging the sale of smartphones with DVB-T receivers did not have a good result either, due to the difficulties of reception inside buildings.
In Latin America, one of the arguments for the adoption of the Brazilian-Japanese digital TV standard was that its broadcasts would be fully suitable for mobile reception; but the commercialization of smartphones with ISDB-T receiver does not seem to be any resounding success at the moment, despite the efforts of the public administrations of countries such as Argentina, Venezuela or Brazil.
Precisely, a recent study in the latter country showed the fact that only 1% of smartphones on sale were equipped to see these emissions. In any case, the future is yet to be written. In Mexico, Televisa's commitment in 2008 to offer its channels in mobility through broadcasts on ATSC-MH, was not a winner either.
Already thinking about the coming years, the broadcast of TV in mobility has, as we pointed out, two possible alternatives, technologically mature but that respond to two business models and the same structure of the resulting media very different: the LTE broadcast and, in the European case, DVB-T2 Lite signal; much more evolved than the ISDB-T one sec. Both showed their enormous potential at the MWC in Barcelona in 2013.
In the first case, it is that the new mobile phone networks not only allow high streaming speeds or point-to-point downloads, but also offer authentic network broadcasts of audiovisual packages or programs in real time, without streaming. Verizon has already announced its intention to offer a live broadcast of the 2014 Super Bowl.
This is not feasible with current 3G networks, but will only be possible in authentic 4G networks with advanced LTE technology. But just because they are emissions doesn't necessarily mean they're free. On the contrary, we would be talking about a service for the customers of the mobile operator that offers them and, therefore, its implementation would shift the TV business to Telecom companies.
The alternative comes from current digital TV broadcasts. Signals in DVB-T2 Lite can share the same MUX (digital TV channel) that contains a 4K broadcast. A packaging that is not possible in the standards until recently existing, whether they were the European, the Japanese Brazilian or the North American; capable of only sharing in the same MUX one or few channels in HD, but none in UHD TV.
Therefore, it should not be surprising that the deployment of 4K channels coincided with a generalization of TV consumption on mobile phones. A doubly interesting scenario for TV operators, which would continue to pilot – although no longer monopolize – the main drivers of the audiovisual offer, from a telecommunications network that depends directly on them even if it is managed by third parties.
Which model will win? It is difficult to make a forecast, and it could be that they can live together, at least a few years. In any case, what can be said is that if the transition from analog TV to DTT is not completed in Latin America in a few years, free access television would be seriously threatened by the advance of an offer directly linked to telecommunications networks linked to mobile telephony that advance to great speed.
With the risk of being harshly questioned, I am convinced that the future of free-to-air television will depend on the deadlines for the start-up of digital TV station networks being as short as possible, and that the timetables are met without further delay, guaranteeing equal coverage or, if possible, superior to the current analogue ones, supplementary deployment that seems indispensable if what is intended is to approach the universalization of the television service, beyond cities and urban conurbations.
While it is true that the only country on the European continent that is deploying a network of DVB-T2 broadcasts is Colombia, it should be noted that the US is evaluating it as a possible standard in the evolution of its terrestrial emissions, whose consumption has grown by almost 20% since the analog blackout. No one should be surprised that they consider the potential abandonment of their own system, the ATSC, before one that offers all the guarantees of emission in 4K, the digital resolution adopted by the majors of the cinema in substitution, already definitive, of the historical 35mm photochemical.
The OTT offers that arise directly from the current TV channels or new operators, will appreciate, especially those that are typical of a country and not multinationals, that connected or hybrid TVs manage broadband offers in horizontal and non-proprietary environments as defended and vigorously promoted by each of the large screen manufacturers.
SmartTV's proprietary systems favor those OTT contents that are linked shareholdingly or commercially with the business group, while a horizontal hybrid TV standard such as the one promoted in Europe by countries such as France or Germany, the HbbTV, becomes a neutral playing field that allows national channels not to leave with a disadvantage; Of course, if they invest in proposing an attractive OTT platform that goes beyond the classic VOD and Catch up offer of their linear broadcasts. Hence, projects such as the TV-Ring, participated by research organizations, ICT companies and televisions from Belgium, Holland, Germany, Belgium and Catalonia, propose connected TV as a vehicle for participation and interactivity.
But going back to the beginning, broadcast companies should not neglect, under any circumstances, the use of smartphones and tablets as "second screens" that retain the audience by offering personalized experiences to each of the viewers who share the large domestic screen. And if advertising for mobile screens grows significantly every year, and it is expected that in 2015 it will already represent 6% of the world total, all the more reason to link the two screens simultaneously.
If the main reason to interact with the "second screen" is the content that is projected on the first, will we only be interested in loyalty via comments on social networks, or will we go further? From the creation of specific apps not only of channels but of programs, to the offer of specific content outside the first screen, everything is being experienced and here producers and channels have a lot of reef to explore in transmedia projects that give prominence to a viewer, especially young, who wants to interact with the contents.
Competitions and factual programs presented at the recent MIPCOM in Cannes go along these lines. If transmedia storytelling has a guaranteed future, what should already be questioned is the monetization of specific fiction content for mobile screens. The fashion of the moviseries was temporary.
The greater audiovisual consumption does not mean that any new offer will be a business. Moreover, in the face of so much offer, quality and exclusive content from channels or platforms will be the winners, along with live broadcasts of major cultural, sports or social events. The phenomenon of Netflix with "House of cards" is still a logical translation of the success of the great series produced for HBO.
TV has a great future, and it will largely happen on mobile screens.
*Daniel Condeminas i Tejel, consultant in communication and digital TV, @DCondeminas