Sep 10th 2019

Eyes are the prize at IBC2019

Friday nights in the Bradshaw household followed a very familiar pattern when I was growing up. We’d come together after a long week of work or school, order an Indian (lamb tikka dopiaza for me if you were wondering), and settle down to watch the tele as a family. This is where the evening would take a turn…

I, being a perfect judge of mood and occasion, would propose a light entertainment show. A comedy panel, a sitcom, something of that nature that was ideally suited to unwinding and having a little laugh into the weekend. Dad, on the other hand, would tentatively suggest flicking the sports channels on. Fearne, my younger sister, leant more towards the soaps, and Mum’s preference was always a crime drama.

Discussion would become very fierce and the atmosphere in the room suddenly became spicier than anything on the menu at Curry Palace. Mum would inevitably always win because “this is my house and I pay the bills”. So, we’d end up watching a forensic scientist chisel away at a burns victim on CSI Miami, which is exactly what you want to see when half-way through an onion bhaji…

Telling that anecdote makes it sound as if growing up in the Bradshaw household took place decades ago, when in reality (and despite my unfortunate hairline) I’m only twenty-five. Arguing over the remote was a right of passage for families everywhere until just a few years ago. I’m sure you’re reading this thinking it sounds like something that happened in your household too. The Indian might be a Chinese and you might end up watching something a little less dead-people-oriented (lucky you), but it’s just how things were!

Now though, Friday nights are very different. CSI is still on the tele, but nobody is really watching. I’m on the laptop streaming season 847 of a US sitcom on Netflix; Dad is watching highlights of the U23s away trip to Leicester via the (unnamed) club app on his phone; Fearne has the iPad and is watching someone else watch a TV show on YouTube; and Mum, the biggest advocate of bringing TV perps to justice, is on her phone watching 30-second clips of grown men and women falling over or being hit in the face with footballs on Facebook.

Content is now everywhere, and our insatiable appetite for…everything, has seen a decline in linear TV viewing and the rapid rise of the streamers taking their place.

So, as we approach the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) in Amsterdam this weekend, I ask: what do our changing viewing habits mean for those providing the content we’ve become glued to?

IBC2019 – what remains to be seen?

The tagline for the annual trade show this year is ‘See it differently’. I would argue the biggest priority for OTT streamers is actually making sure their content can be seen at all.

And I don’t mean by chucking loads of money at their marketing department to make more noise than the rest of the pack, I mean always seen – by ensuring their service is reliable.

There is nothing worse than having a service you’re paying a monthly subscription for drop out because its servers can’t handle peaks in traffic. The buffering wheel has colloquially become known as ‘the wheel of death’, which is a pretty clear way of summing up consumer sentiment towards being made to wait to watch content.

Or there’s my personal pet peeve – when the stream skips back a few seconds and repeats something you’ve just seen because the service can’t keep up with requests. It’s incredibly frustrating and is more likely than anything else to make me switch off.

Or there’s my personal pet peeve – when the stream skips back a few seconds and repeats….oh wait.

The bottom line is that our expectations have risen exponentially to the point where we expect the reliability of linear TV when streaming, no matter where we are, what device we’re using and how we’re connecting to the service. Amongst so much choice, and in an age of social media ‘slaying’ and #EpicFails, reliability is the key to streaming survival. Any platform hoping to stay in the race for eyeballs needs to be thinking about building out a low latency content delivery network.

Looking ahead

But IBC isn’t going to be dominated just by talk of the back-end and how to reliably deliver content. A trade show wouldn’t be a trade show without future-gazing fantastical use cases and concepts, and there’ll be plenty of those on the agenda in Amsterdam as well.

Personally, I’m excited to see where Object-Based Media, or OBM goes. The BBC have been quietly going about experimenting with the technology and dedicated the 1,000th episode of their tech show Click to demonstrating how it works.

OBM means each component of a programme (like a packaged story, presenter link, titles, scenes etc.), are treated as individual objects and then re-packaged as a personalised programme. We’re a little way off it being perfected, but there’s talk that OBM will be used to deliver a tailor-made content experience in the future for each individual viewer. For Dad Bradshaw, it might mean that (unnamed) club’s highlights always appear first on Match of the Day, for example.

Similarly, there’s a lot of talk in the industry about how streaming services can maintain revenue now the market is saturated. Consumers can’t keep stumping up £9.99 for each new service that launches, so OTT platforms are going to have to look at advertising to make up more of the share of their revenues. The trouble is though, nobody likes being advertised to!

The solution looks like a greater move towards dynamic product placement ads, where, similarly to OBM, each individual viewer might be targeted with a different ad within a programme. Product placement is nothing new in TV, but technology that can enable more specific targeting of these ads within the shows themselves will take off in the near future. (PS. If you’re a company that does this already, I’d love to say hi – get in touch with us!)

Then there’s 5G, a dear friend of Babel. 5G has become a daily news topic and the media industry is one of the best, tangible use cases for how next-gen networks can unlock new services. IBC is undoubtably going to involve more talk about how 5G is going to revolutionise production workflows in the broadcast sector and enable us as consumers to consume even more content than we already do.

The media industry has seen such rapid change over the last decade, and these technologies will disrupt it further still. There’s a generation who don’t know anything pre-YouTube, and Netflix has become such a monster that it’s on the cusp of joining Google and Xerox in the ‘transitive verb club’. Families might not gather together and argue over the remote like they used to, but regardless of who grabs the headlines when IBC wraps up next week, the streaming services that stick around will be the ones that focus on delivering content reliably, in the blink of an eye.