CLEVELAND, August 11, 2014: As the television broadcast industry increases in complexity with producers churning out more content than any other time in history, where and how consumers view content has become anything but predictable. This has put strain and uncertainty on broadcast professionals, who are constantly building and adapting new content distribution models and working methodologies where no precedents currently exist. There is a lot at stake for broadcasters, since their function is critical to both the content producers and consumers.
Linear Acoustic, part of the Telos Alliance, continues to play an active role not only in helping define this new broadcast distribution landscape, but also in helping its international customer base understand and overcome these new challenges. Tim Carroll, founder of Linear Acoustic and Chief Technology Officer of the Telos Alliance, discusses the changes taking place and how Telos and Linear Acoustic are positioned to help customers navigate and overcome these challenges in the first of a three-part interview.
What are some of the primary issues the television broadcast industry has faced over recent years? What has changed and what has remained the same?
When we consider television broadcast as we know it today, we can safely say that the loudness and surround problems have largely been solved. As an industry we have been at this for over 20 years, and it's mostly done. More recently, the way we are consuming television has dramatically changed. For example, I have a surround system, but I primarily listen to content in stereo. Many people in younger generations are consuming television online. Everyone is doing it differently; there are financial reasons for this, and the technology is making it easier to do so.
Has this made the 'traditional' delivery method of television less relevant?
Well, most of the media says that it is still the terrestrial delivery of television that generates the most revenue per second out of any content. But this is rapidly becoming an incorrect perception, because nowadays it is so difficult to measure exactly how many people are watching television let alone the methods they are using to watch it. We see many more people watching television on mobile devices in the middle of the day, for example.
What changed for the broadcasters? How does this affect them and how do they now think about broadcast delivery differently?
To start with, the normal tool set that broadcasters have in a linear broadcast chain is now completely different. The processes used to deliver broadcast content second over second have changed completely. Now, much of the produced content is chopped up, jammed onto a server and oftentimes played back from multiple servers. Additionally, commercials now are inserted on your portable device as part of an app. In the past, we used to know where to put the loudness correction, but where do we put it now?
This means the content has been more difficult to contain since the 'central point of origin' is not as easy to identify, right?
Yes. The industry has always had its eyes on the middle of the pie, because the middle is where traditional technology business is done at a television facility day in and day out — it’s where all the servers have traditionally been located. You put a processor in there, and at prime time, it affects every sample of audio. But as soon as this center is fractured and audio is coming out from multiple places outside the edge of the pie, it becomes much more complicated and less predictable. We can control that content coming out of the middle of the pie where the central server is located, but we have no idea where the content goes after that. In some cases, broadcasters are making 8, 10 different versions of a single program to hit all kinds of mobile devices, to hit larger mobile devices, large and small. All of this has pushed us to accelerate our thinking at Telos and Linear Acoustic.
Can you give me an example of how broadcasting is now less location dependent?
Sure. Let’s say I am making a program — a police drama. After it is produced, what happens is not necessarily up to the production people — it’s up to the broadcasters who say, "Hey, thanks for the content, we have to get this through our linear paths without touching it. We’ve also got to send it out to all these other destinations, and we better get it onto YouTube before somebody rips it or sells it." Yesterday, you could often go to whoever owned the television station as a single point. But today, that producer's broadcast content could be housed in servers across multiple locations and therefore becomes much more difficult to manage.
Can anything be done to remedy this?
We can help the broadcasters get the loudness or the 5.1 correct, but eventually the garden hose turns into a firehose before the content is sprayed out across the universe. And if nobody was touching it, our job would be done. But with Internet, it is essentially the Wild West. So with our normal tools, we have to start thinking outside the box. We need to look at the guts of our products and say to our customers, "Hey, we are happy to help you integrate our technology in your server hardware instead of selling you boxes that might not fit your workflow."
Is technological innovation helping resolve these issues or exacerbating them?
It's a bit of cat and mouse. If you go and see a movie today, you might be lucky enough to find a theater and a piece of content that is being played back in Immersive Sound. Now, program producers are saying, ‘Wow — we can do a 360 degree immersive audio experience. But then the questions start coming out: “Hey, can we get this same experience to consumers?” Then the broadcast industry says, "We just delivered 5.1 and now you want us to carry 128 channels to consumers?" But that’s what ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) 3.0 is all about: how do we deliver an entertainment experience like consumers have in a movie theater? If we are able to deliver an immersive experience to the home, how do we then ensure mobile device users can enjoy it to a similar degree? So there is no finite end point, because consumers always want more content and want to access it more conveniently. Consumers see the end and Hollywood sees the beginning. It is the middle that has to catch up, yet this is the part that nobody sees.