Ally or Die European Broadcasters Told

Broadcasters must ally over platform development and in some cases over content creation if they are to survive the ever-strengthening assault from the OTT giants under the acronym of FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google).

This message issuing from the recent Videoscape Europe conference organized by Mediatel resonated with warnings circulating around IBC 2018 a month earlier. Peter MacAvock, Head of Delivery, Platforms and Services in the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) Technology & Innovation Department, called at IBC for national media boundaries to be torn down to stimulate and lubricate the necessary collaboration. Although the focus of these messages was on Europe they apply just as much elsewhere, especially the US where cord cutting has been particularly deep.

MacAvock called at IBC for a change in mindset among European broadcasters, which must focus more clearly on competing on content and services while aligning themselves with common underlying technology. It was ludicrous and counterproductive, he argued, for broadcasters still to be developing their own individual web media players for example, especially when they all share the same characteristics. By the same token it was crazy to have one country accessing hybrid HbbTV services through a red button and another through a blue button. So broadcasters needed to recognize that only by breaking down all technical barriers between their respective territories could they hope to drive the technical synergies necessary to harmonize their user experience across all platforms as well as geographies.

MacAvock pointed out that the EBU, as well as the DVB of which he is also chair, were working on the underlying common technical standards and urged broadcasters to concentrate themselves on content, services and delivering a consistent high-quality user experience operate. This baton was picked by various speakers at Videoscape Europe with an emphasis on establishing common platforms shared between broadcasters to achieve scale and synergy so that could then do as MacAvock advocated and zoom in on content and services.

One such common platform is 7TV, a joint-venture between ProSiebenSat.1 Media and Discovery, established as an open stage other broadcasters are invited to join. So far Axel Springer and the private German sports broadcaster SPORT1 have accepted this invitation, with Eurosport Player, owned by Discovery, and German SVoD service Maxdome, which is part of ProSiebenSat.1 Media, both set to come on board in 2019.

 Peter MacAvock from the DVB and EBU believes that through collaboration with industry the broadcast community can best develop the backbone for the necessary much closer collaboration.

Peter MacAvock from the DVB and EBU believes that through collaboration with industry the broadcast community can best develop the backbone for the necessary much closer collaboration.

At Videoscape Europe, Alexander von Woikowsky, Managing Director at 7TV, warned that without pursuing alliances aggressively broadcasters risked being overrun by FAANG. This slightly alarmist note was picked up by another delegate, Alex DeGroote, owner of DeGroote Consulting, who suggested that efforts by broadcasters to stave off FAANG would prove futile and that these tech giants would strengthen their hold over global media markets over the next five to 10 years. He pointed to the disparity in content budgets with Amazon set to spend $5 billion in 2018 and Netflix $8 billion, compared say to about $1.3 billion for the UK’s biggest commercial broadcaster ITV.

DeGroote did agree that alliances offered broadcasters their only lifeline, coupled with intelligent choices over content production, since there was less margin for error given limited budgets. He suggested that outmoded regulatory constraints such as limits over how much advertising a broadcaster can carry or requirements to air regular news bulletins should be annulled and that governments should be more supportive.

One glimmer of hope lay in local content where the big global players were weakest despite some efforts, according to ProSiebenSat.1 Media’s Chief Distribution Officer Nicole Agudo Berbel. Confirming that ProSiebenSat.1 Media was looking to invest more heavily in local content, she suggested that the global players were still weaker in that area. There was scope for generating loyalty and keeping hold of younger audiences through local content.

Collaboration over common platforms would also be crucial. Apart from 7TV, Spanish public broadcaster RTVE in March 2018 announced a partnership with commercial broadcasters Atresmedia and Mediaset to launch a joint OTT TV platform with not just FAANG in its sites but also competitors from other pay TV or Telco groups such as Telefonica and Sky.

The initial plan was to launch an interactive TV platform based on HbbTV to complement the country’s digital terrestrial offering open to all DTT broadcasters. This would consolidate content from the three broadcasters with the aim of improving the diversity and quality of the free TV through HbbTV functionality. This involved extending RTVE’s existing red-button service, bringing the commercial players on board to develop a joint interactive platform with more up to date functions such as ability to restart programmes airing on linear TV from the beginning. Then in the second phase the plan was to launch a common OTT platform through which all three would distribute their own programming which could be in competition.

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