Raymond Snoddy on Media: Why History Assures TV's Future

Article excerpt

You can identify broadcasters these days with a single look. The hang-dog expression and the nervous glance over the shoulder give them away as the apparently inevitable loss of audience share has fed quickly into equal declines of revenue and confidence.

So at the 40th IBC exhibition and conference in Amsterdam at the weekend, where broadcasting geeks, nerds and engineers traditionally meet, you would have expected the outlook to be worse. After all, they have a better handle than most on the latest devices capable of fragmenting the audience even further as they looked forward to the next 40 years of communications technology.

However, a very strange thing happened. One after another, serious technology players forecast, at least the potential of, a bright future for broadcasters. Everyone from Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the powerful US Consumer Electronics Association, to Vincent Dureau, Google's director of technology, to Steve Wozniak, the man who invented the personal computer, had upbeat things to say about the future of television.

There is, of course, one big caveat to such an optimistic vision. As former monopolists there was a terrible temptation to rest on old technology. But, as Shapiro emphasised, if broadcasters fail to innovate, it could lead to the possible death of an industry.

So assuming that broadcasters manage to stay awake, where is the possible path to a prosperous 'future' despite all the obvious 'challenges' the industry faces?

They start with a number of huge advantages. There are billions of TV sets everywhere, operated by simple 'on' and 'off' buttons, and not only do broadcasters sit on the best-quality spectrum, it gives them near universal, inexpensive coverage.

As Dureau emphasised, through their archives, broadcasters have the longest of long tails to be turned into revenue. Social-networking sites also provide one of the cheapest and easiest ways of identifying new talent.

HDTV, too, provides an obvious way of tying the audience down to sit in front of the TV set, discouraging them from wandering off to consume content on others' tiny screens. In the US, HDTV is a big success, and the latest forecast is that more than 170m sets will be installed by 2010. It is hard to see, then, why broadcasters in Europe, and the UK in particular, are lagging so far behind in this vital development. …