Much has been discussed about the potential for 5G to change the nature of content distribution. End users, particularly of smartphones and tablets are promised much faster download speeds and access to interactivity and compelling entertainment experiences including AR and VR. Some of it is already with us as the networks roll out, although recent concerns by some countries about national security may slow that roll out down.
But 5G will deliver much more than lower network latency and higher data throughput for wireless broadband users. Its impact on fixed broadband, broadcast television and content production – particularly in the sports and live events space as remote production becomes easier and more accessible – has the potential to be just as dramatic. Of course, it will bring improved picture quality through Ultra HD 4K along with better audio and interactive opportunities, but it will also draw over-the-air broadcast, internet and OTT services closer though the introduction of IP based NextGenTV. Satellite, cable and streaming users may not see much of a difference at first, but antenna delivered broadcast services is where the biggest potential impact will be seen, quite literally.
The adoption of a new broadcasting standard for ultra-high definition television, ATSC 3.0 (it was first deployed by South Korea for the 2017 Winter Olympics) has coincided with the increase in over-the-air TV viewing in North America in recent years as cord cutting to cable and satellite platforms has grown and the use of YouTube and SVoD services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu and Apple TV+ has dramatically risen. The new standard holds the prospect of bringing NextGenTV into the mainstream broadcast arena since IP is the backbone of the new technology and 5G delivers the potential for OTT, internet and linear TV to come together as a single platform. What will be key to the success of the new experience will perhaps have as much to do with the way those services are curated as their availability. As ever, content not technology is likely to be the main driver and the availability of 4K programming and events – central to the key offerings of the SVoD platforms – will be crucial to its success.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this new era of 5G enabled TV is the possibility for the disruption and rebalancing of the traditional revenue bases of those involved. The prospect of localised services and far more targeted advertising will be appealing for the largely advertising supported TV broadcasters whose main revenue stream has been under pressure from the internet in recent years; wireless network operators, on the other hand may be fearful that the data most end users currently purchase in order to watch content on mobile devices will become cheaper or even free to use once broadcasters become the gate keepers. Thus, we are likely to see ever increasing partnerships between the content owners and the mobile, wireless and broadband networks. That combination will also present challenges to the traditional television networks as the combined buying power of the new multi-disciplined broadcast operators increases rights costs in much the same way as satellite and cable platforms drove up the cost of television sports rights in the past.
So, undoubtedly, there will be changes to the technology, distribution and how we consume content in the coming years. The speed of change will be determined as much by the consumer and the availability of hardware as by the network operators. After all, mass produced NextGenTV capable televisions from three of the major manufacturers were only seen for the first time at CES in January 2020 so perhaps the status quo will continue for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, 5G will continue its ramp up in the background and steadily improves the end consumer experience, particularly on mobile devices. In the meantime, satellite will continue to dominate channel distribution while IP increases its position as a significant distribution platform partner.