At IBC, Cloud and Software as a Service dominate

For all the talk of pioneering technology like virtual reality, AI, blockchain and 5G, IBC 2018 illustrated the profound trajectory of the industry from broadcast to unicast. It’s one in which channels will pop-up or pop-down at the click of a button with the cloud playing an increasingly prominent role.

Traditional hardware innovators, outside of those making production kit like cameras, continue to shift their business into software. Several of these companies were at pains to show how they can add value by offering access to their services in the cloud. This barely conceals the reality that the real power and value today is beginning to shift to the likes of Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

Google’s designs on the TV space though, including the rapid rise of Android TV, might be more about the universality of its advertising business, while Amazon’s core interest remains retail. One message from the IBC conference was that broadcasters need not fear them, but work with them – much like the partner ethos which has developed between pay TV and pureplay OTT providers.

Indeed, the relationship between TV and OTT is symbiotic and highly valued by both sides. In order to grow its 130 million subscriber-base, Netflix wants carriage deals with pay TV operators particularly outside the U.S. This may change if Netflix gets into live sports, a property which remains the lifeblood of many pay TV players, but at IBC Netflix executive Maria Ferreras denied the company had plans in this area.

YouTube also revealed that viewing on the main household TV is growing fastest. In Europe alone, the time spent watching YouTube on the TV set has grown 45 percent year-on-year.

“As the app has become more and more prevalent across devices, users are getting trained to easily find YouTube,” chief product officer Neal Mohan told IBC. “My four-year-old can turn on the TV and find the YouTube Kids app. That is the modality kids are used to.”

The complexity of reaching audiences on multi-platform and multi-devices is why partnering with those with expertise in cloud encoding, rights management or content protection is a very attractive proposition for pay TV operators.

Global IT players were out in force at IBC too. Intel is selling chips into the rising number of cloud-based playout centres ready for the day when channels will be pay as you go. IBM, taking a large footprint in hall 7 – which is IBC’s traditional seat of content creation – explained how machine learning will automate the more mundane parts of production.

The barriers to entry are lower than ever, with the cost of kit delivering professional results becoming increasingly accessible, serving a pro AV, mobile and global video communications market that is much bigger than broadcasting.

As the dust from IBC 2018 settles, it’s clear that the major preoccupation for the industry over the next year could be the efficiencies of scale that can come from cloud services and the best approach to working with the tech behemoths, who are developing a position of increasing strength in the pay TV landscape.