Each year, I buckle-in and get myself set for all the new and wondrous technological innovations that will materialize – and each year, I am not disappointed! There can be no doubt that technology makes the world go ‘round, as it has in all its previous years as well as in the years to come. As the years march on, tech develops along with it, staying one step ahead of the times – at all times! In broadcasting terms, the industry has come a long way since kinescopes and even video tape! And I marvel at the showcase of the ever-changing pace.
While the industry continues to deal with the proliferation of non-linear television, the needs of consumers continue turning toward their newly-forming habit of being able to receive content anywhere - expecting content to be available at all times, on any device and at any location. I’m afraid that this topic – any content everywhere at any time - is going to be with us for quite a while, as the world adjusts to this new form of non-platform-specific content and delivery.
While cable is still dominating, more and more people are straying away from the costly cable option and turning more often to OTT – streaming television watched on home computers equipped with the internet and other devices so capable. Newer OTT options have allowed many consumers to break-away from traditional cable packages… but one thing OTT just can’t offer is access to live television – you know, like evening newscasts and live sporting events (granted, there are some ways to obtain these streaming, but you really have to be a computer aficionado to be able to find them through your browser).
The downside is, of course, that many of these programs are not available immediately – that is, you have to wait for them to become available… and sometimes, that’s a long, long wait. Network producers still hold the reins on when their programs are cast-off to the “internet graveyard,” destined for consumption by the “anywhere/anytime/any platform” crowd. But they won’t wait forever – and consumer demand is driving technology to allow for quicker transitions and availability.
Another area of technology that is fast becoming a contender is satellites and satellite technology. Today, 80 million European households get information and entertainment directly via satellite TV, with an additional 66 million households receiving cable that is fed by satellites; this is due to the fact that satellite transmission is both cost and spectrum efficient for getting data and media to larger audiences. Not only are Internet connections on planes, cruise ships and oil platforms delivered via satellite, satellites offer Internet connectivity to people in rural and remote areas in Europe (and other places around the world) quickly – typically in days. In addition, satellites can provide critical communications for rescue operations and relief efforts during emergency and disaster situations, especially when ground-based communications lines could be cut/severed or unavailable.
Satellite communications have extended human communications into outer space as well as vastly increase connectivity here on earth. As satellite technology improves and prices drop, still further companies and governments as well as co-operative organizations are able to enter a field of technology that was once only open to certain governments and the largest of corporations. Low cost micro-satellites are expanding the availability of satellites even further, allowing even small companies a place among the stars, as well as offering an interesting new avenue for experimentation in science and media, the potential uses of micro-satellite swarms.
The first single-source global signal provider is scheduled to go online; many speculate global operations will begin in a matter of a few months, likely before the end of this year. Companies are building and launching more satellites every year, and more companies are generating their own networks, and/or forming even larger networks by partnering with other corporations. With this occurring more and more, layers of satellite networks are blanketing the earth. How long can it be before truly global channels of streaming communications and internet become available on a truly planet-wide scale? Soon multiple channels will be available from multiple providers 24 hours a day 7 days a week, worldwide.
Media and broadcasting will shift to meet new paradigms. Cabling and fiber optics will only endure in those circumstances in which, for whatever reason, they are more advantageous or cost effective than the multi-layered global net/web/blanket. With backpack satellite uplinks, and backpack satellite dishes now available from a number of different manufacturers, cellular communications are spreading like wildfire, with many people in developed countries having access to multiple different personal phone numbers. More global networks means more access more access means more freedom and more freedom leads to more innovation.
As Abraham Lincoln said in 1861: “The struggle of today is not just for today - it is for a vast future, also.” Many legal and ethical issues revolve around our ever-expanding communications capabilities. No governance is anarchy, and excessive governance stifles industry. Those in government and the media industry need to carefully consider the national and global implications that our evolving technologies allow us. We need to look forward to advance, but we must advance responsibly. Responsible government, industry, and corporations must ensure that public concerns of privacy, access, and affordability all be seriously addressed.
All in all, technology and innovations will continue to seed the future – and we’ll all be there for the harvest. Nobody could foresee the advent (so quickly) of being able to view content on any device, anywhere and at any time; sure, everyone dreamed about it, but remember: a couple decades ago, they saw the people of today all in personal flying cars with robot servants in every home. And while many advances still may seem futuristic even now, they, too, will transcend upon us swiftly and without warning – let’s just hope that our personal broadcast streams (from our personal satellites) give us the lowdown of the tech upon its arrival.