Covering themes from his NAB session, Brian Levy, the chief technology officer for Red Bee Media, discusses content consumption and dealing with worldwide demographics.

As NAB gets into full swing, the talk is all about the future of the broadcast industry. And rightly so. With the surge in VoD, spread of HD and advent of 3D, things certainly are interesting to say the least.

The two themes that keep coming up again and again with the broadcasters I speak to is the consumption of content across multiple devices, and the move to a worldwide demographic rather than regional and how content is supplied fairly to these people.

Having begun in the broadcast industry four decades ago, it’s a lesson from the past that I believe holds the key to the future of content consumption.

Back in the early to mid-1980s, the minicomputer became the must have gadget much like the iPhone is today.

But as the minicomputer had no comprehensive applications and did not have hardware or software that allowed it to be integrated into a larger network, it became obsolete.

The manufacturers tried to lock us in to their hardware, special cables, plugs, software standards, even networking standards and the public rejected it. But if you said at the time that minicomputers would be dead in 10 years nobody would have believed you.

Parallel situation

I see a parallel in the current situation with the distribution of content, both music and video.

In a world of three screens, consumers have wanted for a long time to consume content on multiple platforms under a single licence and the ability not to get locked on devices. This is something broadcasters need to get right.

But change is afoot. And the broadcast industry can learn from a sister industry.

Three of the major Hollywood studios, Warner, Sony and Paramount, along with Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Sony and Samsung amongst others have formed a new organisation called Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE).

DECE is focused on providing customers with a cross platform experience for the first time through the ability to buy the rights to content and consume it on multiple devices; a value proposition many have been calling for years.

All this is happing at a time when the sales of DVD’s are falling rapidly. Yet the studios still rely on DVD sales for 30% of their revenues.

Enabling the download of digital movies, where the product is not linked physical hardware but to the person, is crucial.

Going global

Furthermore broadcasters are no longer communicating to independent nations. Things have gone global, yet the industry has been slow to react.

For instance, in the 1980’s I worked on the architecture of BBC Radio 1 FM, building a complex infrastructure of expensive transmitters and distribution infrastructure that consumed enormous amounts of power, all at great cost.

Today, just about every broadcaster I know is online and the online world is very different from a geographic and cost prospective. 

We have moved from an audience defined by geographic boundaries to a worldwide audience defined by demographics.

This change is also accompanied by a massive reduction in the barriers to entry to become an internet broadcaster. No longer are big transmitters required, now a few PC servers can create a worldwide service. Brands and owners of all forms of media content can now get in on the action.

Digital media transcends national boundaries and the effects of all this are profound for the industry. It will mean that there will be change but that is not a bad thing.

Death to the regions

Regionality is dead yet despite this when you look at the laws of copyright, there’s a long way to go. The legal framework has probably got the maximum amount of evolution to make.

Today, theoretically in the UK it’s not legal to take a DVD and repurpose it yourself to consume something you’ve already bought. We’ve got this gap between what people perceive is reasonable and what the copyright laws currently reflect.

In this new world the broadcast industry needs to make it much easier, enjoyable and continuous for the public to consume their content. Building that fairness into the system has to be key to the market moving on.

Content across multi-platforms and multiple territories is a challenging issue but as an industry we must learn from the past and build for the future, based on fundamental fairness in the new value chain.

Brian Levy is participating in the ‘Multi-platform: Taking Content to the Next Level’ session at NAB 2010 on Wednesday 14 April.