IBC: Multi-screen Dominates, but Another Revolution is Brewing

There was a positive mood at IBC this year, based on our conversations with vendors and the amount of business they were doing at the show, and not surprisingly, multi-screen TV was the big theme again. It is becoming clear now how this is a transition almost as big and dramatic as digital TV itself, which is why it keeps rolling on as a subject.

Multi-screen is evolving and the discussion this year was about how platform operators can achieve scale cost-effectively as they move beyond tens of channels to hundreds of channels, and how the early movers can differentiate their services once everyone has content to all screens.

The answer to this second question seems to be an integrated and holistic multi-screen experience, which means companion apps like remote control from the smartphone, and pause-resume between devices. The bottom line is that duplicating content everywhere is not enough; the whole experience has to be enriched so that two plus two equals five.

Multi-screen should keep us all busy for some years yet, but the even better news from IBC is that there is another revolution on the way, eloquently demonstrated by NDS with its ‘Surfaces’ concept. This is the evolution of TV from a rectangular box in our home, and a piece of furniture, to wall-sized display surfaces, which means that all the contextual interactivity you can achieve across TV, smartphones and tablets can actually be replicated in one place, providing you get the balance between lean-back and lean-forward correct.

This demo made it very clear where the future of TV is heading in the home and it was stunning. In a way, convergence has given us such multimedia riches that we can no longer contain them on a 42 inch or 60 inch screen, thus the drive for companion experiences. But it appears that advanced display technology and an accompanying revolution in the TV user interface will give us the option to converge the post-convergence TV experience! That will not remove the need for companion apps but consumers will have more choice about where they have contextual apps and information.

NDS Surfaces

It often happens that the right technologies all come along at the same time, and that is not a coincidence, of course. Thus MPEG-4 AVC, DVB-S2, a new generation of decoders and lower priced flat-screen TVs arrived simultaneously to make the market for HDTV. So with wall-sized screens expected to become affordable, and a user interface that illustrates their potential for video and much more, it is probably time to start looking at ultra high-definition TV in more detail because NDS Surfaces looked to us like the reason mass-market consumers will want ultra high-def.

The HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) next-generation compression standard is progressing well and is expected to halve bit rates compared to MPEG-4 AVC, and we are told the CE industry is looking for something to sell after 3DTVs and video ‘surfaces’ is where they are focused. So we may be set for the next big thing after multi-screen and connected/hybrid TV (including hybrid broadcast broadband).

To sum up a few of the other interesting things we saw and learned:

The connected home: Service providers can exploit new opportunities beyond video including home automation. Enabling whole-home TV and multi-screen is still the big driver today. There is a growing interest in IP thin clients around the home including set-top boxes that support adaptive bit rate streaming for OTT and even service provider STBs that only support adaptive streaming. It is also becoming clear that a major challenge for multi-screen TV at home is getting the cost of customer support down, since operators are going to be held responsible when the tablet stops streaming, whether it is their fault or not.

Social TV: More focus on integrating social media into the TV experience. TV Genius had a nice demo showing how you can populate the EPG with pictures of your Facebook friends who like the programmes. Liberty Global and Virgin Media both outlined the importance of content recommendation, and Think Analytics announced a major deal with Liberty Global to provide the recommendations on the Horizon platform across multiple UPC territories, demonstrating that we are moving into mass roll-out phase for this technology.

Multi-screen video processing: When it comes to video delivery, it is all about scale now and providing a common headend for classic broadcast and multi-screen delivery. There is a trend towards hardware-based transcoding to enable more channels per rack unit. Encoding vendors with a heritage in ‘classic’ broadcast are strengthening their multi-screen offers and vendors who targeted IPTV and multi-screen are looking for opportunities in traditional TV over cable and satellite. The bottom line is that everyone wants an end-to-end solution so they can take care of all video delivery for their customers.

Content security: Pay TV OTT content protection was another important theme for the show. There is a feeling that multi-screen has reached a tipping point where all channels are expected on all screens, and platform operators will expect the same levels of security on smartphones and tablets as they have on the STB. They also want a managed security service and not just a DRM, and that is a role the CA vendors are only too happy to fulfil.

Tablets: Where do you start? They are everywhere in this industry and will eventually be everywhere in homes, and they are already having a notable impact on TV. There is a growing feeling that they will displace the PC and even the second TV in the home because they are so easy to use, the picture quality is so good and they boot up instantly. Tablets are encouraging more linear viewing. There are big opportunities and disruptions ahead because of synchronisation between the tablet and the main TV, with the tablet providing Greenfield advertising inventory. Broadcasters will have to fight third-parties to control the interactive advertising (or engagement) opportunities on synchronised tablets.

By John Moulding, Videonet