The advent and proliferation of streaming platforms has fundamentally changed the way in which we consume television.
Where once people of all ages would spend hours watching new shows aired on a weekly basis on linear platforms, they now consume content in a myriad of different places, including everything from the traditional television screen to mobile phones.
“The media landscape has gone through a shift based around a fundamental transformation in technology and the way content is delivered,” says Simon Crownshaw, director of worldwide media and entertainment strategy at Microsoft. “It’s now a lot easier for new players to impact the industry, because the barriers to entry are relatively low and the pace of innovation is high. You now have more content appearing through a variety of platforms that just isn’t produced in the same way that it was 20 years ago.”
The shift of the media landscape poses an existential question for the traditional broadcasters that had previously dominated the sector. Adapting to the new ways in which people watch requires them to think differently about how they deliver their content.
“It’s posed some really interesting challenges,” says Crownshaw. “The amount of time people spend viewing linear platforms is declining as more they move to new platforms and mobile devices. It’s therefore a challenge just trying to deliver the right content on the right device.”
Furthermore, the life cycle of content has been significantly compressed, limiting the time it can capture the attention of viewers.
“Content is here today, gone tomorrow,” says Crownshaw. “It’s talked about for 24 hours and then it’s already gone, whereas in the past it would have been talked about for weeks or even months. So, there’s a challenge around how quickly you can release content.”
However, the boom in streaming technology has been accompanied by other developments in media production and delivery, which Crownshaw highlights as an asset for broadcasters attempting to adapt.
“We’re lucky today that we’ve got a convergence of new technologies that’s helping both broadcasters and over-the-top platforms transform,” he says. “Broadcasters are going to have to take the step of using technology like artificial intelligence to serve content up to users in the most relevant way. Secondly, you’re going to hear more and more about ATSC 3.0, the latest version of the Advanced Television Systems Committee Standards used in North America.”
ATSC 3.0 will allow live broadcasts to reach up to 4K picture quality in high-dynamic range, at up to 120 frames per second, reaching the picture and sound qualities available from European standards. This is because of an increase in the data in the broadcast signal from 19.4 megabits per second to a variable rate of up to 57 megabits per second with ATSC 3.0. It will also provide broadcasters with more sophisticated metrics on audience data, depending on regulatory limitations, and the possibility of delivering emergency alerts during a crisis.
Another development is the broader use of 5G and 5G devices including TVs, where creators and viewers can leverage those networks across the value chain. “We will see more devices with embedded 5G technologies including standard TVs and cameras, without a doubt,” says Crownshaw.
“Broadcasters are no longer just going to be thinking simply about the content, but also the experience around the delivery of content,” he adds. “I could launch my TV and I’ve got access to different types of experiences, such as ways to interact with family members and enjoy content together. And since it’s a mobile experience, content is no longer confined to the living room.”
While many broadcasters are attempting to straddle the divide between streaming and linear platforms, Crownshaw believes that the industry is reaching a crossroads.
“I foresee a world in which traditional broadcasters realise that linear broadcasting as it exists today just won’t survive in the same way,” he says. “We’re at a tipping point where they are having to decide between fully committing to streaming or keeping their linear platforms. Most organisations are trying to make sure that their streaming platform is where most of their content lives and appear first. There’s no doubt that we are going to be experiencing content beyond just a flat screen.”
Crownshaw envisions Microsoft playing a supportive role in this transformation. He highlights the capabilities offered by Microsoft Azure as a fundamental building block for media companies looking to meet the challenges facing the industry.
“We deliver a reliable and trustworthy cloud experience that enables us to support the vision of our customers and partners,” says Crownshaw. “We’ve thought about the way content is created, and what we’re designing will allow our customers to keep that process entirely within the cloud. They come to Microsoft because we will think through the problems they have and the direction the future is heading in, and then deliver solutions that work for them.”
Among the partners working with Microsoft to make media industry transformation a reality is Support Partners, a system integrator specialised in helping media companies migrate their workflows into the cloud, and streamline them for greater efficiency and faster content creation.
“Support Partners really embody the spirit of the media culture,” says Crownshaw. “The company really understands how solutions need to be delivered, and helps us with a lot of our projects. I’ll happily bring the team in on any engagement, and they continually deliver for us.”
Crownshaw also highlights Microsoft’s collaborations with MediaKind as an example of innovation in media delivery. The two companies expanded their partnership in April 2022, committing to enhancing the integration and optimisation of MediaKind’s video delivery solutions with Microsoft Azure products and services.
“MediaKind is a strategic partner for us,” says Crownshaw. “It has supported our work on Olympic broadcasts and live events for the NBA, and its software and technology consistently perform to deliver the right content at the right time.”
Microsoft has also been working with Harmonic, a provider of virtualised cable access and video delivery solutions, to support broadcast services for customers including Major League Soccer.
“Harmonic brings a wealth of knowledge about live streaming and broadcasts,” says Crownshaw. “The company is able to stream content in the right formats for our customers, dynamically target advertising, and make workflows smarter. When those capabilities are bundled together with Azure, it’s a recipe for success.”
With the capabilities of Azure and its industry partners, Microsoft is positioning itself to help facilitate the transformation of broadcasters as they compete to stay relevant into the future. Crownshaw predicts that the companies that most embrace the concept of delivering an overall experience to viewers will be successful.
“I think a trend that will separate the successful companies will be how they make connections with users,” says Crownshaw. “Winning is not going to be defined by how much content you can throw out the door, it will be about how you connect the dots between those pieces of content to stay relevant in the daily lives of the people consuming it. Technology that can facilitate that relationship, taking advantage of the cloud’s ability to scale anywhere, is what I see as the future.”
A variety of companies also contributed to this feature: IceFire Studios, Infosys, Kollective Technology, Paramount and Sky Sports. Read about their views on the future of broadcasting and how technology is delivering content more efficiently and effectively.
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.