VIA SATELLITE: Considering the migration to fiber in your environment, do you see your demands for satellite capacity increasing or decreasing?
Harrison: Our demands for satellite capacity were going down, but they have now stabilized. With the presence of fiber, we now have a lot of satellite usage that has been replaced with fiber. However, we will always need satellite distribution — it will co-exist with fiber. HD has not changed much the demands for satellite capacity, although when we design the new architecture, we will have to take that into consideration. But with compression technologies evolving, it has not had much impact in terms of the design of the new infrastructure.
Leveaux: We are on 33 different satellites. We also broadcast in the HD format and have about 3.5 Mbps of capacity and 11 languages for one video feed.
Schmitt: Our demands for satellite capacity have been pretty stable. Even though we have strong needs for capacity, the use of newer compression technologies means the actual demands for capacity have not increased. With this optimization of the contribution, things have not really changed.
Donovan: In terms of domestic satellite in the United States, we have two transponders that handle our SD and HD. I think that is going to be adequate for the foreseeable future. We made a change two years ago. We moved very quickly into MPEG4 and high order modulation on our HD feeds. That effectively expanded the number of channels we could fit on a transponder from three to five. I think we could go as high as having 10 HD channels on that transponder. Advances like that in compression and modulation have made a big difference. With as much HD as we see in the market today, I think that took the pressure from a capacity standpoint. With MPEG2 and standard modulation, I think we would have seen some capacity problems with the amount of HD that is in the market right now.
VIA SATELLITE: What are your current plans to provide content in different formats and have the ability to push this content out in a more flexible way?
Harrison: The approach is to store at the highest quality possible. We will then repurpose, reformat and adapt quality for a specific platform, in order to have the required quality for the desired platform. We now live in a world where we push our content on TV broadcast, radio broadcast, apps, webcasts, smartphones, connected TV and so on. We have to bring the right quality and the right format to the right platform.
Leveaux: Each customer defines their own format, so this can create real technical challenges. We are on 95 percent of connected TVs, for example, and each platform has its own format. It is important for a broadcaster to define the distribution model. We had DVB 10 years ago, but we need something similar to happen now with these new platforms. If we don’t act now, we won’t survive. We have less distribution revenues and higher distribution costs — it can’t work like that. Each customer has its own platform and formats, so the situation requires a great effort on the broadcasters’ side. This may be an investment for the future, but it is urgent to harmonize platforms and systems.
Schmitt: We are using two different technologies to broadcast our content — streaming (Silverlight) and iOS. So, we use two different formats to broadcast Eurosport in MPEG4 on different devices.
Donovan: From the disaster recovery market’s standpoint, moving broadcast-quality files through networks is really important and becoming easier and easier to do. I think adaptive bit-rate streaming is the game changer in sending content to an end-user. Adaptive bit-rate streaming means that content can be encoded and delivered in many different resolutions and bit-rates depending on the technology that is being consumed. For example, you may have a very high bit-rate version of that content for connected TVs delivered across wired broadband Internet to the home. At the same time, you may have a lower resolution version of that content at a lower bit-rate that is being delivered over a 3G network to iPhones or Android phones. To some degree, this situation presents the same content and viewer experience, but by using adaptive bit-rate streaming, the user’s video player can intelligently decide the connection speed, processing speed, battery life and the various things that are important to that player. That information is then passed to the server, which delivers the appropriate content stream.
VIA SATELLITE: Have you been satisfied with the development of compression technologies? What other technology changes are you looking for?
Harrison: We have migrated most of our network to MPEG4. Compression technology has been a game changer, along with display technology and storage capacity. The three combined have allowed broadcasters to move forward very rapidly. These technical developments play an important role in both the consumer market and the professional market. IT technology is now widely spread in the production environment.
Leveaux: There are two responses to this question. Today, it is very expensive for Euronews to go to HD. For us to have double the amount of capacity on satellites is not a good value equation. For Internet and connected TV, it is another world for us. Today, the technology is good and we are able to distribute effectively in HD format. We have the quality to stream in HD, but for broadcast I think we need to work on compression technologies to reduce costs. I don’t understand the economic model for broadcasters moving to HD. What is the revenue model in return? For us, it is a big problem.
Schmitt: We launched the HD version of Eurosport in 2008. It is true that there were extra costs in terms of contribution. With the opportunity of MPEG4 and the new efficiencies regarding compression, it is clearly a big advantage. We now have roughly the same costs in HD that we used to have in SD in terms of contribution. It has been very useful for us to optimize these costs.
Donovan: I have been very satisfied with the development of compression technologies. I am consistently amazed that you can take a 1.5 GB HD television signal and compress it down to 6 Mbps to 8 Mbps and have high-quality pictures that come out the other end. I think that is a real credit to the people that are writing these algorithms. Can it get better? Absolutely. But, I know the manufacturers that are working in that space, are continually tweaking the algorithms to try and get higher quality with fewer bits. Year-over-year, I see continued incremental improvement in that area.