By Tony Jones, Principal Technologist

Media technology often undergoes rapid evolution periods unlike any other industry, spurred by growing consumer demands and exciting new technological breakthroughs. Cloud technology has been one of the primary drivers of change within media and entertainment, not just helping companies adapt to the challenges of a pandemic but opening up an entirely new ecosystem of opportunities for broadcasters, content owners, and service providers alike.

2020 proved to be fertile ground for media technology innovation, and we can expect many of the emerging trends to continue to grow as we enter the New Year. In this blog, I look at some of our industry’s key focus areas in 2021.

Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) will prosper

As OTT delivery progressively becomes a more standard means of delivery, rivaling broadcast as the preferred mechanism in many cases, it offers an easier path to start delivering new content. There is currently a massive amount of valuable content, such as many mid-tier sports events, studios’ libraries, and a whole host of other events that are today not reaching the viewers. As such, there is likely to be a rapid increase in the amount of content using a D2C path, whether it is sports federations, content owners, or events.

The next question to address is: how to build it? For much of the traditional content routes, there is a comprehensive set of on-premises infrastructure available, along with the means for delivery in many cases. This new D2C content is starting from a different place, where the infrastructure needs to be created. This, in turn, means it is likely to be more innovative, adopting remote, automated, and cloud production, playout, and distribution. This is partly driven out of necessity because of the pandemic, but the effect has been to increase the pace of a change that would happen anyway. As D2C inevitably expands rapidly, in common with many other areas, it will adopt SaaS (Software as a Service) deployments to enable the agility and simplicity that will become increasingly important.

Content owners will find greater personalization through the ABR ecosystem

Personalization provides a means to tailor content or advertising for a specific individual or group. The ABR ecosystem’s maturing has brought with it an update to the mechanisms used for personalizing content. Since targeted advertising increases the value per impression materially compared to non-targeted advertising, the ability to introduce personalization is a means to improve profitability and to provide better exposure for advertisers. The same mechanisms are now starting to be used for not just ABR personalization, but for linear personalization too – with the decision-making process being brought up to date to use the ABR decision-making systems.

The existing linear advertising decision mechanisms are likely to be phased out over time, although national advertising is expected to remain a mainstay for the foreseeable future. In 2021, we can expect the scope of use cases addressed by the mechanisms introduced by ABR personalization to expand – with standardization efforts likely to define some ways they can be used in a traditional broadcast environment. These are probably going to evolve as the wider considerations of operators are added to those of the broadcasters, so there may be some revisions of the details along the way.

Broadcasting will continue to transition to the cloud

As broadcasters look at the rapidly evolving media ecosystem, with new formats, delivery means, and technologies, the ability to move quickly has never been more important. We see already that many new features, UHD HDR being an example, can be rolled out more quickly to viewers using new, cloud-based techniques. However, the scale of delivery possible using broadcast makes it very efficient for large audiences. How does a broadcaster deal with both the need to provide traditional channels and move more rapidly?

Cloud technology is a major part of the answer, removing the existing fixed-function infrastructure lock-in and allowing new infrastructure to be created much more quickly. One concern for many broadcasters is that the new cloud environments are very different from traditional on-premises product-based broadcast systems, so the transition to the cloud raises many questions about integration, cloud skills, and so on. Despite this, we expect to see broadcasters increasingly move their operational capabilities (playout, compression, and multiplexing) to co-exist with the streaming systems in the public cloud. The systems will inevitably look a bit different, with cloud-native functionality deployed as more comprehensive sub-systems becoming the norm.