UK broadcasters tackle the future at the DTG Summit
This year's DTG Summit addressed spectrum clearance and the OTT threat
The eleventh DTG Summit was held this week at London's Shaw Theatre and Pullman St. Pancras Hotel.
The DTG was set up by the big UK broadcasters in 1995 to look after the digital television marketplace. The organisation underpins the free-to-air platforms Freeview, Freesat and YouView and supports the development of pay-TV and other platforms. Consequently, the conversation at the DTG Summit tends to adopt a cautious - or even defensive? - tone when talking about the big OTT providers and the great endless ocean of online content.
The DTG first convened to facilitate the transition to digital television in the UK. But some might say, the DTG's future-gazing past has drifted into a past-gazing present. Broadcasters are now in the position of chasing the success of new, more agile technologies, like OTT and mobile, and are trying to reinvent themselves. Once the leaders of the media industry, UK broadcasters are wondering if their conservative outlook and slow pace of change is going to mean their extinction - or if it's the thing that will pull them through in the long term.
The day of presentations and panel discussions was hosted by DTG CEO Richard Lindsay-Davies. It opened with a keynote by Anne Bulford, OBE, deputy director-general of the BBC. Bulford expressed anxieties and hopes experienced by most British broadcasters, but also explored some of the special issues facing this special insitution.
"It has been said that he best way of predicting the future is to create it," Bulford began. She said that the BBC was preparing to venture into "a new, smarter and deeply immersive age of television" in which that "collaboration and thinking collectively will be key."
Ahead on the BBC's agenda is finding new ways to reach and serve new audiences: "That means reinventing iPlayer; making the very most of our world-class audio content; making the most of new technologies like AI, voice recognition, and VR; transforming the BBC’s public services to be more open, more creative, and to be available when and where the public wants them."
She also put a positive spin on the downsizing that has been forced on the Corporation:
"We have already done a lot to make the BBC simpler, leaner, and more efficient. We have brought down overheads to industry-leading levels: just six per cent of our total costs - better than most in the private sector. We have brought down our property bill by approximately £90 million in six years, reduced our enterprise technology spend by 23 per cent in three years, and all but halved the number of senior managers in eight years...Cutting our property bill is a key part of our business strategy and our property footprint is now around 40 per cent smaller - a significant public sector achievement."
She also emphasised the need to streamline workflows: "But above all we are aware that the old way of doing things - working in silos, with big, inflexible project plans and budgets agreed five years out - simply can’t succeed in the future. We need to be more seamless in how we work together across technical and editorial teams, more nimble in how we allocate budgets, and more responsive in how we react to rapid changes across our industry.
You can read Anne Bulford's speech in full here.
Arqiva, an event sponsor, looked into the future with an analysis of the potential for mobile video over 5G in the future. Simon Beresford-Wylie, CEO of Arqiva, saw 5G as being particularly beneficial for enhanced mobile broadband, the Internet of Things, and mission critical services like autonomous driving and medicine.
Arqiva will be part of a 5G trial taking place in London in June. The trail will feature ultra high connectivity to multiple devices. It will use the same 28 GHz spectrum used for 5G in the US, Japan and South Korea.
This year's DTG Summit featured live audience polling
The broadcast industry has a problem
A broadcast panel featuring Thomas Wrede of SES, Jonathan Thompson of Digital UK, and media analyst Ben Keen looked at the future of broadcast technology.
Keen, though he joked that the organiser's warned him against using the "i" word, declared what everyone knows: "The internet is going to be a critical plank of innovation going forward."
Jonathan Thompson was cautious about our blind pursuit of the next technological innovation: "We are in danger of thinking the future is going to be entirely dictated by technology...People get excited about what technology allows without thinking about what the economic and social realities are. We get too fixated on the technology rather than the service and the people to whom the service is provided. People think that just because technology allows something, that’s what viewers will do."
Thomas Wrede came to give a perspective from the satellite industry - SES is putting high frame rate transmission on satellites - but also delivered a broad range of commentary about the state of the industry.
"The broadcast industry has a problem," said Wrede. "It can’t just replace technology in the home every two years, like the mobile industry. If we could change it every two years, wow!...Some home satellite technology has been there for 20 years"
Wrede said he often looks to mobile operators and at innovations in the mobile sector for inspiration and insight.
Wrede also expressed some skepticism about HDR: "I'm fascinated by the HDR demos. But I think it is slightly overhyped. I think consumers will have to struggle to understand the intent and wonder why they have to darken the room to fully enjoy it. I think a lot has to happen to make HDR mainstream."
He saw a hybrid approach as the future of broadcast: "In the next five to ten years the definition of a what a broadcast channel is will change. If it's sports, it may come via a transponder. If it's a film it may come via OTT. But we will need full IP - we have to prepare for an all IP future."
700 MHz clearance
As a guardian of digital terrestrial television, the DTG has been a key participant in the redistribution of the UK's broadcast spectrum. Philip Marnick, group director of spectrum at Ofcom, delivered an overview of the imminent clearance of the 700 MHz spectrum in the UK for mobile servies.
The clearance will take place region by region between now and Q2 of 2020 and will mean that channels 49 to 60 will be cleared. 14-20 million UK homes will need to retune their TV equipment. Viewers replacing their aerials are advised to opt for a wideband (Group-T) model. Aerial group C/D channels will no longer be in use after the 700 MHz clearance.
Clearing the 700 MHz band will require coordination between a host of European countries, who will all be carrying out the same exercise. The first 700 MHz retune events will be carried out from July to October 2017 in Scotland. The transition will be a laborious feat. Around 30 large transmitters will need to be replaced and nearly 90% of the main transmitters will need to be upgraded. Half of the UK's 1100 relay transmitters will need some retuning work.
Marnick noted that audio PMSE (programme-making and special events) users will also be affected by the clearing of the 700 MHz band. The UK will be making new spectrum available for the PMSE market to share.
This week Ofcom published a new consultation "Coexistence of new services in the 700 MHz band with digital terrestrial television", which presents a technical analysis of the coexistence issues between future mobile services in the MHz band and digital terrestrial television (DTT) in the adjacent band.
One year later
Last year, I criticised the DTG for the lack of female representation at the DTG Annual General Meeting, held in conjunction with the Summit. I didn't attend the AGM this year, but to attendance was a look back at a long lost past run by the usual white European suspects. The broadcast industry has been a stable force over the decades, but stable doesn't have to means static, reliable doesn't have to mean reactionary.