The opening session of the SMPTE/EBU forum was a panel discussion to develop a vision of the future. Chaired by Ruurd Bierman of Dutch public broadcaster Nederlandse Publieke Omroep, the panel was Brigitta Nickelsen of Radio Bremen, Gilles Marchand of SRG and Ingrid Deltenre, director-general of the EBU.
Birgitta Nickelson set out five theses which might guide our visionary thinking:
- anyone who claims to understand the future is either a multimillionaire or a charlatan
- we do not over-rate the rapidity of innovations, we under-rate it
- public service broadcasting will continue to exist, but only if it develops from programme production to multimedia content production
- necessary change is not dependent on technical facilities but on the ability of change management
- we as the decision-making group risk underestimate the impact of innovations because we are out of touch with the next generation.
Ingrid Deltenre reminded the audience – perhaps a little controversially – that the purpose of television is to overcome boredom. In a comfortable society you want to spend the evening being entertained. That has to be set against the power of television for change, she suggested, citing as an example the events of the Arab Spring last year.
From there she looked at the effects of a fragmented audience, using multiple devices over various delivery networks. Consumers do not care about the delivery platform: they just want to get to the content they want. The result is that audiences are watching more television than ever before – even if some of it is not from conventional television channels.
Live sports and big entertainment will always be watched live. If you have more live content then you will keep more viewers on your channel. That has to be balanced with the cost of live content, particularly newsgathering which is a very expensive process. News is not readily susceptible to pay TV, Deltenre suggested: as newspapers have found there is always an alternative free source of content.
Gilles Marchand felt that, five years out, PSB would still be independent and stand for quality, although it will develop using new technologies through interactivity. Linear programming will still be important, but content will be more thematically organised and bi-media in nature.
In 10 years, less money will mean PSBs will have to make more distinct, focused content. 15 years will see only thematic media models, with screens everywhere. Deltenre saw a risk in PSBs only addressing content that could not be commercially justified.
The discussion was then opened out to the floor, and an interesting debate sprung up about the challenges of accessing content across multiple platforms. One delegate suggested that smart TVs are dauntingly complex for the majority of users. There are always geeks in the home who will find ways of interacting with technology, but without mass acceptance it will be difficult.
The counter-argument was put forward that user interface design is continually developing, and techniques like voice recognition and gesture recognition will drive change in the next few years. And another delegate reminded the forum that the audience is increasingly comfortable with technology – the people who have grown up with the digital revolution are not kids any more.
But Marchand warned that the interface has to be television-like: it should be lean back not lean forward, and delegates raised the question of multiple user interfaces, one suggesting that this was a ripe area for standardisation.
Finally a US broadcaster suggested the 500lb gorilla in the room is rights management. “I hate putting in passwords, and being blocked from content because I am not in the right place,” he said. Rights issues are really complex and have to be simplified in a uniform world, but they spring from conflicting business models. The result is a disrupted home environment. Technologically it can be solved, but rights issues could ultimately drive up costs to unacceptable levels.
Concluding the session, Ingrid Deltenre felt that television will continue to be an important social focus in the family room, not least because screens are getting bigger. Alongside the social experience is the individual experience from the iPad on the lap. And, as she said earlier, the future is all about being less bored.