x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Media convergence and the smart choices

Rather than settling for standard fare, smartphone and internet users have a huge range of choices for tailor-made entertainment.

The integration of the IT, telecommunications and media industries has created unmatched opportunities for technology providers, telecoms companies and content creators for growth and new revenue streams.
The integration of the IT, telecommunications and media industries has created unmatched opportunities for technology providers, telecoms companies and content creators for growth and new revenue streams.

In the past few years we have witnessed the evolution of so-called "media convergence" because of the integration between the IT, telecommunications and media industries. This integration has created unmatched opportunities for technology providers, telecoms companies and content creators for growth and new revenue streams. The main driver behind this phenomenon is high consumer demand for content. And at the top of the consumer demand list is easy access to personalised content.

Media convergence involves the creation of a single platform that interconnects information technology companies, telecommunication networks and content providers within the worlds of television, radio, film, games, music, newspapers and magazines. In other words, the convergence between IT, telecommunication and media companies has created a single cloud from which to create, manage and distribute content. This convergence has occurred at both the technology and industry levels.

As for the technology level, content must be converted into an industry-standard digital form to be distributed over the cloud. For example, a single content creator can distribute content over television, radio, IP, web, mobile and digital portals. This will enable content creators to capitalise on their assets, given that an industry-standard transcoding and content management system is being deployed. Convergence at the industry level is happening across the spectrum, forming an alliance that will create new business models to address consumer demand for content; for example, the recent strategic alliance between Google, Sony, Intel and Logitech for launching Google TV and the hugely successful alliance between Apple and telecoms operators to launch the iPhone and the iPad.

The mindset for viewing television has changed in the past few years, as the legacy model of pushing television content over satellite is being complemented by the introduction of a new model for pulling content. The pull model is based on downloading content and creating your own playlist on IPTV or web TV. For instance using Apple TV, a user can download in advance the latest episodes and movies from a rich digital library; content can be viewed later that day, the next day or over the weekend. Apple TV can be synchronised with an itune account which is synchronised with an individual's iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac laptop, creating a single personalised platform to access one's content. BBC iPlayer is another example of convergence. Launched in 2007 as a digital platform for BCC Television and Radio, the iPlayer has evolved to become a handy platform for downloads, gaming, online streaming, video on demand and even mobile streaming on compatible handsets. In fact the iPlayer has driven demand for broadband subscriptions.

This would not have been possible without integration across the industry. The same content that goes on satellite can be capitalised on by content creators and distributed by telecoms operators over IPTV or cable TV using the latest technology. The main enabler for the pull model is broadband penetration. Although one could argue that the Middle East is behind Europe and the US in terms of broadband penetration these days, telecoms companies in the region are focusing on the widespread delivery of broadband, which means high-speed internet connection for end-users. This will drive TV content creators to work closely with telecoms operators to distribute high-quality HD content on the web, including video on demand, live streaming and accessing a digital library of series and documentaries. As broadband penetration increases in the region, more content will be streamed, encouraging content distribution networks (CDN) players to look into establishing platforms in the Middle East. Moreover, web streaming will enable broadcasters to expand their reach by introducing their content on the web in most major cities worldwide. It will also enable content creators to offervideo on demand and live events streaming over the web or via mobile handsets. This will also form the base for social networking and interactivity over TV, as well as teleconferencing and online gaming. In the Middle East, content creators have already moved in to this domain. Recently Abu Dhabi Media Company has launched the music, entertainment and gaming digital portals GETMO and Gazillion.

Another way of leveraging content is via mobile applications on smartphones. The number of smartphones is expected to increase by at least 38 per cent annually, and with new players entering the mobile application industry, it is also expected to increase in the next few years. About 7 billion applications were downloaded last year with estimated revenues of US$3.9 billion (Dh14.3bn). The industry is expected to be worth $24.4bn by 2015, according to a Markets and Markets (M&M) report. The trend for creating Arabic applications is also expected to increase, further boosting the mobile application industry in the region.

Media convergence has indeed introduced new opportunities for growth across IT, telecommunications and media companies, and is successfully fulfilling the demand from end-customers for content. The next big thing could even be a personalised TV channel, enabling viewers to create their own channel. For example, at 10am a viewer could watch the news from Abu Dhabi, at 10.30am the weather forecast from MBC, at 11am live horse racing from Dubai Racing, at 5pm connect with friends through social networking on TV and, in the evening, they could enjoy the latest video on demand Hollywood movie. This form of individualised TV channel could well be the future of TV.

Mohamed al Shahi is the senior director of broadcasting technology at du