Stefano Ciccotti, Chief Technology Officer, Radiotelevisione Italiana
To shape a strategic view of media technology innovation, we must consider our likely future challenges in content production and distribution. All the trends that had been emerging in recent years have, in fact, strengthened because of the COVID-19 crisis.
First, it’s now clear that moving audiovisual content to OTT is not merely about making linear channels available over IP. In fact, the share of linear consumption has been continuously shrinking, whereas the VOD share has increased (24% linear vs 76% VOD, according to the latest State of Streaming Report from Conviva).
Furthermore, it’s important to note the correlation and mutual influence between the development of content and the evolution of platforms. Especially with regard to long-form content, we have recently seen outstanding growth of consumption on big screens (via smart TVs and games consoles), globally reaching 73% of overall viewing time on a multitude of platforms and ecosystems, both horizontal and vertical. If big screens are fit for the so-called ‘long forms’, on the other side smartphones have proved themselves to be suited to the delivery of extremely short content. For example, China has seen the emergence of a new genre known as ‘vertical dramas’, television series designed for mobile only. They are shot vertically, and episodes range from one to four minutes. Their success is set to drive the roll-out of 5G networks.
I also believe that traditional content providers should push forward the edge of innovation by distributing their services in still unexplored, emerging environments, such as connected cars and augmented, virtual and mixed reality (AR/VR/MR) ecosystems. Connected cars, that will average a daily internet traffic of 25 GB (as against 25 GB/ month for mobiles), already provide the opportunity to offer mobility-tailored content (traffic info, weather forecasts, podcasts). However, in the future – when autonomous driving becomes a reality – the driver will be able to enjoy audiovisual shows as if in the living room. Alongside this, VR/AR/MR, that proved to be powerful tools for staying in touch during the lockdown, will enable the evolution of new formats, especially educational and entertainment ones.
This proliferation of platforms and content leads to two main challenges: the need for future-proof IP delivery networks and the centrality of data management.
The overall growth of long-form and high audiovisual quality content over smart TVs, combined with the increasing pressure on mobile traffic for short-form content, have been already putting an almost unaffordable burden on existing IP networks, especially in terms of performance. The rise of services and platforms that may either cooperate (e.g., connected cars) or compete (e.g., gaming) with audiovisual content providers, will demand not just higher throughput for end-user devices, but also extremely low latency and smarter management of peak-hour traffic. This can be achieved by moving the computing functions as near as possible to the end user: the edge cloud-computing approach. This strategy requires tight interaction between all players along the value chain, with special regard to ISPs and technology providers.
Last but not least, in such a fragmented scenario, data management will play a central role in guiding users to the best experience. The demise of third- party cookies (with modern browsers severely limiting data-gathering possibilities) and the conflictual relationships between Chinese and American big tech companies and the European institutions are driving traditional content providers to look for alliances aimed at developing AI tools for business intelligence purposes and for fairer recommendation systems. As public broadcasters, we feel the responsibility to prevent ‘echo chamber’ or ‘filter bubble’ effects, especially when it comes to information services.