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Digital radio and TV marching onward, NAB convention discusses future of television

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Digital radio and TV marching onward, NAB convention discusses future of television

This year’s National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Convention at Las Vegas kicked off the global exhibit and convention season. Traditionally, NAB is the venue for the roll out of the first broadcast related equipment the new year.

The exhibit had around 80,000 visitors, spread over two venues, and an international conference. The conference discussed broadcast engineering, business, law and regulation, television and radio management. There were special themes as well, including one on Digital Cinema, and another on news, organised by The Radio and TV Director’s Association.

At the convention, there were clear indications that digital radio and TV were marching onward. In the US, The National Radio Standards Committee has completed an evaluation of in-band on-channel (IBOC) technology for AM and FM bands. According to experts, the IBOC technology is superior to FM. It is ironic that while America, which leads the way will move towards IBOC soon, India in 2002 hasn’t crossed the earlier technological divide. It hasn’t allowed independent FM radio stations nation-wide. The first IBOC radio equipment saw it’s rollout at the exhibit, and consumer receivers are likely to launch at next year’s Consumer Electronic Show.

Simultaneously, Digital Audio Broadcasting is making steady progress in the UK. However, although industry body DRDB was initiated to invigorate the market, receiver prices haven’t reached the acceptance level yet. Subsidised digital radios were sold at 99 pounds sterling on Marconi’s birthday, selling out in 30 minutes. This attractive price level is likely to be reached commercially by end 2002, say market sources.

Many routes are being taken globally to grow digital television, based on social, cultural, economic and political pulls. While smaller US stations have failed to meet the digital conversion deadline, several integrated digital TV set brands with High Definition TV capability are being marketed at prices below US$ 1200. Subscription digital service have penetrated 40 percent UK homes, including 1.5 million terrestrial homes. UK based sources concede, that the accelerated growth rate is because of supplying subsidised set top boxes to pay TV subscribers.

The recent introduction of a vanilla service digital free-to-air device priced at 99 pounds sterling is being seen as a positive development. The bad news is that ITV Digital, which broadcasts a range of subscription services, has applied for bankruptcy protection. This, say market watchers, is not because of digital tech costs, but acquiring major sport events rights with huge payouts. In Japan, 2.5 million subscribers receive digital satellite, including those served by cable. Terrestrial digital is expected in 2003 in that market.

On future of television, a range of speakers described the scenario for Interactive TV, Broadband, and Broadcasting on the Internet. BSKYB was dubbed the most successful Interactive operation, with sports, as it’s most potent driver. However, most speakers were reticent about discussing Interactive TV’s immediate money making possibilities, although some did mention invisible and intangible benefits, without detailing specifics.

The personal video recorder with a simple return path is an example of new applications attempted successfully. Several speakers mentioned the need for a new programming strategy with Interactive TV, including reducing the duration of the program, with short duration experience rather than long haul programming.

This concept is in consonance with UTV Chairman Ronnie Screwvalla’s comment about initiating a similar strategy for UTV’s streaming Video on demand service at Singapore, in the program provider’s money losing short lived experiment. He had said that research had proven that programming was required to be short, and visually and aurally engaging. Another speaker felt that with the seismic shift of children’s viewing from television to the web, Interactive service would be on demand.

AOL Time Warner CEO designate Richard Parsons was the keynote speaker on Convergence. He spoke of Content as King and it’s role in convergence. Although he conceded that the impact of convergence was somewhere in the smoky, unsure future, he sought co-operation from all consenting adults in the convergence market place to seek the hidden treasures of the digital future. Speakers pointed to the need for digital television invading the PCs, a subject of immense concern earlier for IT professionals. Microsoft, almost on cue announced shipping a huge quantity of “freestyle” Windows PCs with a remote control interface soon. This device will allow consumers to experience a “lean back “ experience on the PC.

It is well known that while the TV experience is a lean back experience, analysts have argued that the PC experience can only be called a lean forward experience. Moving to web - casting, research indicated that US based Internet radio stations have reduced from 5500 in 2001 to 4,600 currently. This is largely because of concerns of hackers continuing to lift content (a la Napster) for their personal or commercial use. Broadband is currently a niche market with most consumers exposed to it only at their workplace.

But eventually, after the glitches of high technology cost and affordable consumer price are sorted out, it will take broadcasting space from scarcity to abundance. Content production, with the rapid switch from analog to digital transition was another area of worry among NAB speakers and participants. One suggestion was to create content for inter-operation: for either television or the Internet, and support the legacy of formats. Some speakers en-visoned a digital path to cinema, for which the technology is available.

Equipment Manufacturers i.e. Panasonic have displayed in India, the use of a e-projector beaming to a satellite, and received directly by cinema halls across the world. The manufacturers felt that this would put to rest concerns of video piracy. Besides, speakers also touched on e-Home, a consumer controlled environment of connected digital devices. Among exhibits, digital cinematography-rapidly gaining acceptance with 24P cameras, and streaming technology were impressive. AV/IT integration is on a robust path as well, with productions seamlessly shifting from the broadcast to the IT hemisphere.

Sony’s Anycast range of products is a first as well. It will help program providers originate and deliver state of the art digital content over several distribution channels, from TV to PC to hand held devices, to anyone, anytime, anywhere. This multi format strategy has led to the development of e-VTR, connecting to a network much like a PC. Compressed video, audio, and metadata are converted to computer files and transmitted over networks using standardised protocol. NAB trends are interesting and good pointers to how technology will effect the world of broadcasting and entertainment in future. Are u ready for them?


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