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What is the future of broadcasting?


"In 2000 the average attention span was 12 seconds, but this has now fallen to just 8. The goldfish is believed to be able to maintain a solid 9" - The Independent, covering research from a Microsoft 2015 consumer study on the impact of digital lifestyles on attention span.

The way we choose and view television has undergone a lot of change since the days of watching traditional linear TV where we had a limited number of channels and had to synch our schedules with the TV guide. As more channels became available, so did other forms of content and ways to consume them. Music television, history and nature channels, sports and more. Then came the VCR age, time-shifting our favourite shows and watching them on your terms; then more channels, more advertising, more of everything along with the switch to digital and broadband.

Fast forward and we see the change continuing. The last few years has seen a trend favouring OTT channels such as YouTube, Netflix, and the BBC iPlayer taking over not only our viewing habits but having to adapt to our digital lifestyles and the way we want to consume our content; and as with any trend, the winners will be the ones who can adapt.

Adapting and finding new audiences

It might seem like a tough ask finding and getting to this new audience, whilst at the same time getting the most out of your investment, competing with other OTT players from every angle, and then trying to build a closer connection to your new found audience, but it's doable.

Microsoft might not be a name synonymous with television, but its been working behind the scenes to help transform broadcast and media firms who want to adapt in step with the audience. Its Azure Media Services allows everything from content acquisition, to ingestion, storage, editing, encoding, and finally packaging it all to be delivered on-demand and live, streamed to TVs, PCs, consoles, and mobile devices. All from the cloud.

 Fuji TV is an example of a major broadcaster that has adapted. It has achieved availability 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and has found that it can reach a much wider audience by delivering content on a number of devices, all thanks to the Azure Cloud.

How about the ROI of such endeavours? The Sochi Winter Olympics broadcasters wanted to better capitalise on existing rights, so Microsoft worked with five broadcasters across 22 counties to ensure it got a proper return on that investment. Working with Azure Cloud helped it to deliver:

  • 61 million unique viewers
  • 6000 hours of HD streaming
  • 204 concurrent live streaming channels
  • 100 terabytes of online cloud storage
  • 500 billion storage transactions
  • 2.1 million viewers for the U.S. versus Canada semi-final hockey game
  • 20 Gbps of bandwidth
  • no outages affecting service

This is an impressive set of numbers, in which data and the networks delivering it, work flawlessly and remain invisible. This is Microsoft's current platform but the Seattle firm isn't stopping there, it's looking into its crystal ball and coming up with exciting new ideas.

tony-emerson Tony Emerson, Managing Director of Worldwide Media & Cable at Microsoft

The future of broadcasting

 "The next technology that we're working on is media analytics and cognitive services," says Tony Emerson, Managing Director of Worldwide Media & Cable at Microsoft. "A partner we work with is GreyMeta and its one of the larger metadata consolidation firms for media and studios. There's a certain amount of metadata that people have created over the last 30-years but often in today's environment it falls far short of what you need to provide good recommendations, and good analysis, and better monetisation. It's using Azure Cognitive Services to enhance existing metadata and to understand for example which scenes certain actors appear in, or giving you a way to search directly when certain phrases are spoken, or when certain logos are shown. The idea behind that is that that is much more valuable to monetise than if you're just giving a one-page summary."

Doing this across all your content you can start to see the benefit of linking characters and storylines. If you did this across sports content, football matches for example, you could link all the goals linked to a particular player, across games, clubs, national and international games. Tie that into where sponsors on player shirts are front and centre and already you can see new ways to monetise content whilst giving the viewer what they want. Highlights packages become very attractive and are cheaper to put together. Apply this to Formula 1, or the Olympics and every piece of footage in its vast archive, and you can see further examples of how one can create new and compelling experiences. All on demand, on any device, 24-hours a day.

Tony adds that: "One of the other things I 'll show at Broadband Asia is an application in Azure that takes a 30-minute programme and provides a 30-second summary. For example, if you were the owner of the Coronation Street catalogue and wanted to monetise the entire box set of 50-years, you might want to give customers a 30-second summary of the episode, so that they can look at the thumbnail, hover over it and recognise it. Rather than get an editor, which costs a lot of money, to check it out and create clips, this would automatically summarise the characters and create clips, it's not perfect, but it's enough to essentially tell you what's going on."

 Want more? How about monitoring social media sentiment? If you monitor social media you can see what people are talking about most, what they like and dislike, and this too can influence how you package content in real time or afterwards. Imagine where you can decide on the fly where to insert an ad break, and the fluctuating rate it might attract from the advertiser.

Some examples of what Azure Cognitive Services can do are on show at Video Breakdown. This is a great example of where machine learning can help reduce costs and bring content to market a lot faster.

In turn, applications like this will help to keep existing audiences, as well as help find a new one. You might argue that the most trafficked sites, such as YouTube, are going to be where your audience is, but the problem with that is that the bulk of ad revenue flows back to YouTube. It then makes the recommendations, so your audience stays on YouTube and at any moment could be steered away from your content.

Steering them towards what you want to show them on your platform would be a better way to keep them and earn the lion share of revenue, so long as you're smart about it.

Cloud machine learning, content analysis, facial recognition, and voice recognition are just a few aspects of what's going on right now to connect more content to grow and engage the audience, which creates more opportunities to recommend, personalise, and monetise existing and future content libraries. Those that adapt now will be the one’s which stay ahead of the curve. 

 Tony Emerson, Managing Director of Worldwide Media & Cable at Microsoft will be speaking at and demonstrating the future of broadcasting at Broadband TV Connect, 11-12 April in Hong Kong. Limited tickets are still available here

Asia-Pacific operators go free: register here 

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