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Digital experts seek innovation for video entertainment industry

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A cross section of discussants

Stakeholders and professionals in the digital space converged at the fifth edition of the digital dialogue conference in Dubai recently, insisting that the future of video entertainment industry lies in countries that are ready to innovate and also harness opportunities for content exploration among African audiences.

The event addressed issues relating to transition to digital terrestrial television broadcasting in Africa, ranging from international coordination, standardisation, regulation, harmonisation and broader economics of spectrum management and digital migration.

In his view, Futurist and Innovation expert, Paul Papadimitriou, noted that the third industrial revolution has changed lives and businesses from how learning is done to how business transactions are done – and how the speed of change can overwhelm, distract and excite in equal measure.

According to him, “what separates us as humankind is the fact that we create tools and stories; the tools (technology) have always been with us. Technology affects us, our behaviors, how we transact, communicate ideas, gather ideas, love, and consider the world.  To prosper in a world that moves and change so fast, we need to get back to our basics; the fire around which we gather and tell stories.”

He said the current challenge for pay-TV companies is to shift the focus from content delivery systems to understanding its consumers through primary data such as, when, how and the duration content is consumed.

He added that the way consumers watch TV has evolved. “With the advent of 5G, African consumers will be able to watch TV on all platforms simultaneously”.

Speaking extensively on the influence of technology on the digital space, he argued that technology not only goes faster, but becomes smarter with increased processing power, like how Whatsapp has overtaken the entire SMS industry in five years, as well as, shared platforms and networks connecting people.

“The end-user experience is becoming the key differentiator. What the acceleration of technology actually means is the acceleration of better experiences with tools that make our lives better. As such, behavioral data is the differentiator allowing an experience of choice; whether it’s faster automation, faster insights, faster networks, faster reality or faster intelligence.

“It is critical for companies to understand the new consumption behaviors and mindsets of consumers.  The new consumer is nomadic- being everywhere and anywhere; tribal- gathering around similarities and singular- entrepreneurial, be who they want to be.”

Conclusively, he said there were many opportunities for emerging countries, which should capitalise on the window to innovate.  “The best innovators are like the best travelers – they’re not afraid of unknown territories. They understand who they are and the journeys they are on. They just do it. Let’s jump”.

David Abraham of Wonderhood Studios, who ran TV channels in the UK and the US between 2001 and 2017, explained how the environment for content and channel providers evolved from the early days of digital TV to the much more complex internet-based distribution environment that is prevalent today.

According to him, the past used to be all about a battle between free TV and service providers’ intent on building pay-walls and maintaining exclusivity over key content. Then came broadband as an additional service to lock in customer loyalty, followed by mobile. “The old walls of traditional pay TV are now tumbling down and what’s coming next is infinitely more fragmented, and messy.”

He reasoned that telecoms providers compete with content platforms to build customer loyalty with original content and rights in a world where global digital competition is intensifying traditional competitive boundaries yet further. “The question remains whether consumers will be able to navigate between so many different providers to find the best content in this more crowded forest of choice,” he stated.

He rounded off by stating that although the future is uncertain: “The African continent, with its younger populations and progressive use of mobile, can both build on and leapfrog Western markets in terms of future models of content creation and distribution”.

The Digital Dialogue Conference 2018 facilitated by MultiChoice concluded with a panel discussion.

The expert panel consisted of Gerhard Petrick, Deputy Chairperson of the Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association (SADIBA), Michèle Coat, Radio Communication Engineer at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Peter Barnet, Chair of CM-WiB at Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) and Greg Bensbert, MBE, General Manager of Digital 3&4 at ITV.

Gerhard Petrick, who spoke on Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) said good progress had been made in selecting and implementing advanced and spectrum efficient technology for terrestrial broadcasting, but mentioned, “significant work remains in yielding the digital dividend, with only a few SADC countries having cleared the dividend bands.”

From a consumer value proposition, Petrick confirmed that the digital networks offer better video quality and audio in the interest of the consumers, although most deployments are Standard Definition (SD) instead of High Definition (HD).  “There is still potential for more services to be accommodated for the networks that are currently on-air,” he said.

On International Telecommunication Union (ITU) transition to digital broadcasting Michele Coat stated that ITU facilitated the planning of the migration to digital and the co-ordinating spectrum requirements.  This included a follow-up to the Geneva 2006 (GE-06) conference to plan the digitisation of broadcasting and associated frequency use for 119 countries in Europe, Africa, Middle East, Central Asia.

She confirmed that the remainder of the UHF band (470-694 MHz) is earmarked for broadcasting for the foreseeable future whilst the digital dividend (694-862 MHz) bands to be released in the switchover from analogue to digital TV will play a critical role in delivering broadband wireless access.

Peter Barnett on his part, gave a review of new developments in DVB – the industry-led consortium of about 160 of the world’s leading digital TV and technology companies, drawn from broadcasters; telecommunications network operators; regulators and manufacturers who collectively draft the satellite system standards.

Peter also shared an update of the DVB including DVB-S2X, which offers Extended SNR (C/N) range, finer granularity from additional MODCODs, additional roll-off values and channel bonding all of which will be available in early 2019. He also mentioned DVB-SIS – Single Illumination System- a cost efficient delivery of DVB broadcasts onto IP networks that will use one transponder to feed both terrestrial transmitters and DTH receivers. The new offering was originally developed for satellite; however, it can also handle terrestrial and cable formats. Also in the new development pipeline is DVB-I (terms of reference approved in Feb 2018), which is set to provide a user perception of a linear TV channel, discovered and consumed over the open internet. Further developments in this space include updates on RCS2 (Return Channel on Satellite); satellite beam hopping; low latency IP delivery, updates on simulcrypt headend, emergency warning system, targeted advertising and more which are available on www.dvb.org/about/process for the full work plan.

Has the transition to digital been a success for broadcasters? Using the UK’s 2005 Analogue Switchover (Digital Migration) as a case study, Peter shared that after migrating to digital, all public service channels in the UK became available to all viewers with more than 20 other new channels created. The government cost-benefit analysis (in 2005) of these migrations revealed a net benefit of around £2bn to the UK.

Gerhard Petrick concluded the panel discussions by stating that digital migration is a vital natural resource and any delay would have long-term consequences on the economy. “The opportunity cost of not yielding dividend bands has a significant negative impact on countries which haven’t implemented digital migration.

These bands will play a critical role in providing broadband wireless access and allowing citizens to participate in the economy,” he said.


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