This Time The (Broadcasting) Revolution Will Not Be Televised

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Next time you're standing waiting for a train or a bus take a look around and see how many people are staring down at their mobile device. Chances are that they are watching a video that increasingly is not just short snippets on Vine or Instagram but longer-duration content. Expanding data caps and the improvements in adaptive video streaming means that even a 30 minute 720p video from YouTube will only use ~ 200 MB of data. These changes are contributing to an increasing move away from passive consumption of content via television to time-shifted or video-on-demand consumption via smart devices.

Power To The (Watching) People

Since the mass adoption of the VCR, consumers have been voting with their record buttons to watch the content they want, when they want (and without commercials if they can help it). Until fairly recently, however, they had little say on where they watched it. If it wasn't on the TV it typically wasn't being watched. While DVDs have transformed how we have bought and watched movies they haven't really changed how we access broadcast content - for most people that was still stuck on the trusty VCR which was attached to the TV.

The rise of standard and high definition tablets led by the iPad has had a substantial impact on how we watch content - we are no longer wedded to the TV in our houses. Apple sealed the loop first with iTunes providing long-format video to buy, but we are now seeing both new content providers (in the US Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant Video amongst others) and traditional broadcasters (in Australia this includes ABC iView, SBS On Demand or one of the commercial offerings) step up and start offering alternative access. Newer generation TVs and PVRs are also offering access to the same sorts of services that are effectively freeing consumers from traditional broadcast schedules.

Kevin Spacey recently gave the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival in which he talked about his critically acclaimed Netflix-first series House of Cards and how their "eat all you want" approach to viewing the show demonstrated how consumers will take (and generally pay for) all they can get when content is engaging and priced right. He says it is a wake up call for TV.  Have a watch of these highlights - it's an engaging talk.

The ex-PayPal guys who started YouTube saw the trend - short-form user generated video content that could be served to the masses (remember their original slogan was "Broadcast Yourself"). Over time YouTube has expanded to serve a bunch of rich, long duration content with support for live streaming. There are a range of other players in this market all aimed at enabling you to broadcast your content.

But, could any of them serve live video as well as 2,300 hours of video on demand from an Olympics? Probably not.

Windows Azure Media Services can and did for the 2012 London Olympics.

And, you could do it too if you wanted to (with an SLA to boot). The same baseline services utilised for the Olympics broadcast are available to Azure subscribers today. The scenarios enabled by this service are pretty mind bending. True, you would need to build out the subscription and access components but you get all the plumbing stuff right there - just plug in your onsite feed (yes, I'm simplifying a bit here 😉).

As Kevin Spacey says in his talk, between USD 300 and 400 million is spent annually by the US TV networks to produce pilots, many of which fail or never see out a single season. That's a lot of money! Now imagine how much lower the bar would be for a TV show's financial viability given you can reduce distribution costs, immediately make your production available globally cross-platform as well as access analytics about the content in real time. Maybe we'd see a lot of more creative and riskier productions "green lighted" and many more content creators having control of the future of their ideas. Again, refer to Kevin Spacey's lecture - he didn't want to do a pilot as he (and his co-creators) wanted their story to play out over time.

We have already seen instances in music where bands are successful online before signing onto more traditional distribution channels (see Arctic Monkeys). Artists in other media are also taking matters into their own hands with US comic Louis CK leading the way in funding the recording of one of his shows before putting it up online and directly controlling the distribution himself - something that ten years ago would have been unthinkable (apparently he's done "OK" out of it...)

You could leverage VAST and VMAP ad serving standards to help fund a production and broadcast (advertising built and sustains Google's billion dollar business remember) and you can apply some control of redistribution by rights management where appropriate (interestingly Louis CK didn't use any). Maybe you want to live stream and then provide that stream as video on demand? You can do that - it's all the same URL too 🙂.

The way we consume content is changing and for future generations (and many of us today) the concept of being wedded to a TV schedule is foreign.  Cloud services such as Azure Media Services offer any number of new players a platform on which to enter the market and to compete in a way that wasn't possible even five years ago.

This Time The (Broadcasting) Revolution Will Not Be Televised.