The Future of Television

On the latest episode of AVWeek, Episode 115, we began talking about the new Sony camcorder that records in 4K. This was the kernel that lead to a discussion about broadcast and the future of television. I made the comment that traditional broadcasters will be left behind because their infrastructure, over the air transmissions, cannot keep up with what will ultimately replace it; the Internet.

The Internet is the next “stick”. A “stick” in traditional broadcast is what we call the transmitter tower. In ten years you won’t need one. You may not need one in five. Even now traditional broadcast stations are beginning to stream and make available on demand the content they create such as the news and specialty programming. These programs are made available via  apps on smart devices, Internet-enabled boxes such as Roku, or just plain old computers with an Internet connection. We are quickly reaching the point where “channel number” doesn’t matter as much as website or call letters. This is actually something the National Association of Broadcasters warned their membership about when the switch was made from analog to digital transmission. It goes much deeper than that.

It is a shift from making each local broadcaster an Internet content creator with ties to a U.S.-based network. Meaning, the content they create can be seen by anyone with an Internet connection. This is the part of their broadcast day they control. Whether that is their morning news cycle, lunch-time news, afternoon local feature program or evening news. The rest of their broadcast day is given between syndicated programs such as Ellen and the programming offered by their respective networks. This is where they lose control as well as revenue.

To watch a show on NBC in the evening, you can switch on your local NBC affiliate. However, if we are talking about the switch to net-based broadcasting, you would have to switch to the NBC app or go to their website. This is where the local stations lose, and why they need to be more cutting edge than the networks. When you go from one app or site to another your “clicks” go with you. When you visit any site they can tell that you are a unique visitor and most likely how long you stayed on their site. When we leave those local sites to go to the “mother network” site, the locals lose those numbers. One way to keep visitors glued to your site is to have creative compelling content. This is where our discussion comes in.

Just like with HD, 4K is just another evolution in content and display technology. It isn’t the last iteration. It’s true that current U.S. transmitters cannot handle 4K. However, this doesn’t mean the local stations should shy away from it. It is their lever to keep viewers coming back to them and to prefer them over the networks. As 4K becomes more prevalent in retail spaces thanks to digital signage, classrooms, and boardrooms, viewers will begin noticing the disparity between what is available “on TV” when compared to what they experience everyday. This will lead to a migration to those sites that can produce higher resolution images. It will be the Internet broadcasters who will deliver it. Not just YouTube with their cat videos. YouTube has come a long way from dancing geeks shot in 280. You can now stream in HD, or download 4K content from YouTube. Eventually you will be able to stream 4K from them. When this happens the IT professionals will begin taking over the role of the broadcast/transmitter engineer in those stations.

We are in the midst of an exciting time. Our parents, let alone our grandparents, could not have imagined what was in store for us. Let’s not be frightened, but embrace the new technologies and challenges that come with them. As AV professionals, we will have to design the infrastructure and devices that deliver this evolving content to the various screens and systems. Broadcast is about to mean something entirely different than it did 15 or 20 years ago. As the AV industry, we are already putting audio and video over networks. We are situated at a great place to help this transition happen.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Have a great week.

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