New Media Challenges: Lessons From the Good Old Broadcast Industry

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Wasn’t it fun back in ‘98 when you’d gotten all seven installs just right and finally saw not just an image but flickering motion too? Indeed, it was so much fun that no one cared that it stopped, nor worried what it looked like. (And no one made any money either.)

In late ‘08 things are different. Quality expectations have been led by technological change and pushed by the innovations that worked. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s keep things in perspective. Forget the obsession with how our bright ideas are going to revolutionise TV: The television industry is orders of magnitude bigger, and it’s been working things out for the last 50 years. It is going to change us.

There are three pulls:
—Advertising standards
—Construction of Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

You may be thinking that streaming media has already learnt from the broadcasting industry with its rapid adoption of a CPM model for linear video ads, but this would ignore the beneficial conventions that underpin broadcasting and are lacking from streaming. Were you to talk with Martin Pavey, digital media director at IMD plc, you’d become aware of two major issues.

First, the broadcast industry has precise standards and specifications for video advertising formats that are adhered to by all involved. Online video advertising is some way off this “ideal world” scenario simply because it has grown so fast with its “you can do anything online” mentality. Whilst this is great in terms of driving innovation and new opportunities for advertisers, it can make it difficult to effectively plan and execute video campaigns at scale simply because of the logistics involved.

The second issue is how online video advertising is bought and sold. To some extent it’s understandable that the first attempts to monetize online video have been taken from display advertising’s CPM model. However, this ignores the fact that online video provides both a much more intrusive and potentially more compelling placement for advertising; it’s easy to dismiss a video banner but much more difficult to ignore an ad slap-bang in front of the content you are about to watch.

Streaming delivery now has to stand comparison with television. Television is a superb product, but it is worth considering that 10 years after it was invented the user experience was awful. That only reinforces the point that streaming technology is still immature.

Quality control comes not just from the monitoring of output but from a mature and extensive process throughout the production cycle. At each stage, standards and bodies exist to check compliance, and this sets expectations even in areas where standards are subjective.

To take one case: When we encode video, we do our best to ensure the output looks the same as the input. But at the end of the day we’re sliding around knobs on filters and making our best efforts. In the broadcast industry people devote their lives to this or fail trying. The Telecine Internet Group describes itself thus:

A professional group of colorists, engineers, facility managers, and others involved with all aspects of color grading for motion picture film and video, and is not affiliated with any commercial entity. It has a 17-year history of discussions on color grading, telecine, and associated subjects.

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