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EBU Head Says Fragmentation of Broadcasting Systems Creating Standards Issues

By | September 10, 2012

      There has been much talk at IBC about new content formats, particularly surrounding Ultra HD which has been a key buzz term at this year’s event. For an organization like the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), this constant move to new broadcasting standards and hybrid broadcasting systems creates a number of issues. Ingrid Deltenre, Director General of the EBU told IBC E-Daily that there are many obstacles ahead for a new format such as Ultra HD.
         “In distribution, we have worldwide fragmentation of hybrid broadcasting systems, with no resolution in sight. The Ultra HD situation looks better because the basic elements have now been agreed worldwide," Deltenre said. "But, there is still a risk of scuppering when it comes to the outer layers of the broadcasting system itself. Will we ever see a common worldwide broadcasting system for Ultra HD? It is a dream, anyway. In production and contribution, you have the integration of different systems from different manufacturers in digital workflows – particular for news and sports. The EBU-AMWA (Advanced Media Workflow Association) joint FIMS (Framework for Interoperable Media Service) project provides a first specification which is addressing precisely these interoperability challenges in digital workflows.”
         In terms of what impact Ultra HD may have in the overall broadcast market, Deltenre adds, “Ultra-HD is a longer-term activity. NHK is leading here the developments. Market drivers are the consumer industry and gradually the professional industry will follow. A number of technical developments and standards are still needed. Pay-TV operators might use ultra-HD as a premium channel.”
         While the talk of Ultra HD has certainly been at the center of many conversations here, the future of 3-D TV, the poster child of the broadcast industry not that long ago is open to question. Deltenre believes the technology is not a game changer. "There has been a clear content gap, and the need for glasses is still a drawback. But new development in the display market with glasses-less displays will help, as will the possibility for 2-D service compatible distribution. But good content is required and without this it will remain a niche. 3-D TV is not a game changer." 
          The role of an organization like the EBU has become more complex as they try to balance the interests of different broadcasters across the region. The EBU has undergone many organizational changes in recent times, which it is still working on. With broadcasters now operating in economically difficult times, the challenges now are many. “Our Members are still in economies that are not yet out of recession, so the funding issue for public service broadcasting will not be going away any time soon. We are lobbying in a number of areas, including in ‘net neutrality’, copyright and broadcast spectrum,” said Deltenre. “The most relevant developments are the increasing financial difficulties of our members and the political interference in public service media governance. I do not know yet if it is increasing compared to previous times, or not. But I find it quite alarming. Everything else (technical change, audience expectations etc) we can deal with, adapt, innovate as well as embrace technologies.”
         Satellite broadcasting has been pivotal in Europe, and in many of Europe’s major markets, DTH players such as BSkyB, Sky Italia have healthy market shares. One of the big trends recently in broadcasting has been Over-The-Top (OTT) television. Companies such as NetFlix and Hulu are entering into the video space, and could potentially be disruptive technologies to satellite broadcasting. When analyzing the threat to traditional broadcasting, Deltenre says, “Internet based video-on-demand services represent a competitor for the audience’s time, so in a sense they can be regarded as a threat, but how successful they are will depend on how the packages of services compare in cost and convenience. It also depends on the size of the audiences. Satellite broadcasting provides services at zero marginal costs (an additional viewer costs them nothing, but produces income) whereas an Internet service does have a marginal cost. As companies, pay TV operators will provide Internet delivery themselves if it looks profitable. So, Internet delivery will change the shape of the delivery industry and introduce new players, but if needed satellite operators will surely alter their business methods.”
         Europe is likely to remain a vibrant broadcasting market, as the digitalization process continues and there is more proliferation of HDTV and other new services. Deltenre said, “The remaining countries will move forward with digital switchovers, and HDTV services continue to grow across Europe until it ultimately becomes the norm. It looks like more and more countries will adopt and use the HbbTV system. There may be some modest growth in 3-DTV, but I certainly don’t expect anything dramatic.”