"[At Iowa Public Television], we produce everything in high-definition, including content we know will not be displayed on an HD monitor," Hayes says. "It's a small price to pay to reduce the resolution for lower resolution devices than to create something at a lower resolution and learn later you need it for higher resolution devices.
"The whole idea is that when we create content, we are doing so while aware of the capabilities of smaller devices, like interactivity and things. You do it all on the front end, and if you are doing an interactive part, you collect the necessary metadata to handle the interactivity. Will all that metadata be on every device receiving the programming? No, but it will all be part of the master, and so when it does go out to devices that are interactive, the proper data goes with it."
Resolution is the easier issue to address, Hayes adds, as compared to "the creativity you need to develop to deal with content in a second-screen environment, or how to incorporate it all into a smart TV, where the capabilities for additional ancillary information to be displayed on your screen may exist. I'm talking about content with which the audience will be able to interact. How do you design your workflow to accommodate that? In the next few years, we'll see explosions of technological solutions, or opportunities if you will, to further engage our audiences with this kind of content."
That said, the management layer issue looms as the most vexing. Given economic realities facing broadcasters large and small, he emphasizes manpower won't be the answer to this problem, technology will.
"You need to associate all the data with the primary stream content, and there can only be a technological solution to doing that." "The question is how to manage all this without overburdening the content creator, while giving the consumer whatever device is appropriate for them."
Connected to the management issue is the issue of "the handshake." An increasing concern for content creators is keeping track of all versions and corresponding metadata as their content proliferates to other services and platforms that have different levels of authority to broadcast it in different venues to different kinds of end users. Television stations, for instance, "need to know where stuff is," Hayes suggests, "when we are basically handing content off in an over-the-top environment to another entity that has its own management system and need to conform the content for their own system."
Many organizations have good protocols for this sort of thing. Iowa Public Television, for example, uses its own traffic system and internal databases to manage metadata. Hayes asserts that those protocols are not ubiquitous; there is no industry standard approach in this area. Therefore, at a minimum, he promotes the notion that the industry needs "tighter handshaking," particularly since the interactivity potential of Web-based broadcasting requires content to be periodically refreshed or supplemented from time to time.
"In that exchange between the distributors and other distributors, there probably needs to be some sort of layer whereby the new distributor, for instance, Netflix, can interface with our content through that new layer, and learn that we have added additional features to the content that, perhaps, their system supports. This way, the Netflix customer consuming Iowa Public Television content can access add-on features that were not there a year ago when the content was originally created," Hayes says.
Smarter TV Initiatives
On the same topic of Internet TV, a recent article in Broadcast Engineering details efforts being made by hardware manufacturers to make things work more seamlessly on the consumer side with the next generation of "smart TV's." The piece, by Aldo Cugnini, outlines work being done by various groups to try and standardize protocols for smart TV's receiving interactive content from broadcasters. In particular, Cugnini takes a detailed look at efforts by the European Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) initiative and the Smart TV Alliance. HbbTV is seeking ways for smart TV's to more efficiently integrate broadband content, live content, and apps through a framework for how to download and implement those apps in the receiver. The Smart TV Alliance is working on the proliferation of common functionalities for such receivers from the consumer electronics' side of the equation to allow increased interactivity.
Online Broadcast Leaders
Ironically, despite the freedom provided by the Internet to move away from constricted, old network broadcast models for those seeking to "watch TV" on the Web, recent data suggests that two companies are dominating the online on-demand programming space. A recent "Bits" blog in the New York Times Technology section analyzed the numbers and cited new research suggesting AppleTV is dominating the home video download space, far ahead of Microsoft's Xbox service, while Netflix had a commanding 90% share of the subscription-based market, far ahead of Hulu and Amazon. The subscription-based model used by Netflix, however, was the more popular method of online TV watching, generally; a model Apple does not use, preferring instead to partner with both Netflix and Hulu through its AppleTV portal.
3DTV vs. UltraHD
Analysis pouring in across the Web on the heels of ESPN's announcement this month that it was shutting down its ESPN 3D channel by the end of this year has been pretty uniform. The move indicates the difficulty in getting American consumers to adopt 3DTV viewing, and many experts see 4K UltraHD as having better potential in coming years. This was the conclusion of Harry McCracken in his recent Time Magazine "Technologizer" column, from the CEPro site, and many others. There are, of course, other 3D networks still active and at-home viewing of 3D Blu-rays and such is also moving forward. Manufacturers are plowing ahead with the distribution of 3DTV's, and the concept seems to be more popular overseas in particular countries. But McCracken cites his May interview with Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai in suggesting that major hardware manufacturers and broadcasters have possibly settled in, at least for now, on UltraHD as "the next big thing" for at-home viewing.