The Streaming Tsunami: The Necessary Evolution Of The TV (From A Broadcaster Perspective) - Part 3

Here we conclude our discussion of the immense challenges presented by an ecosystem of end user devices that is already at 13K + devices and growing continually.

The first 2 parts of this article described how Streamers, especially national Public Service Broadcasters, must grapple with the TV landscape to deliver Streaming services that fully satisfy the viewers while simultaneously making an efficient investment in technology, how Netflix has set the gold standard, and suggest that as Streaming scales up and broadcasters shift to becoming streaming-first, it’s now time for the PSBs to follow the Netflix way. In this third and final part we consider what Broadcasters and PSBs in particular need to manage in the TV domain and considerations for sustainability.

TVs As A Service

The simple requirement from Broadcasters is to have software-upgradeable Smart TVs. Just like mobile devices, upgradeability will help Streaming Apps to be developed and maintained up to the limits of the on-board hardware.

The developments that Broadcasters want to implement relates both to the user experience of the App itself, as well as the way the App works with commercially important features like ad insertion and third-party e-commerce integrations.

Being able to maximize revenue generating opportunities through Apps that can be more easily updated on a long list of devices would put Broadcasters into a better position to monetize the content they produce and distribute.

TVs have been notoriously fixed in their technical capabilities. Once a TV is purchased, it is rarely upgraded in a significant way to implement new operating systems. It can be supplemented by new external hardware, like Amazon Firesticks or HDMI-connected set top boxes. As a general rule, TVs remain fixed in their capabilities and their configurations.

SmartTV as a Service, meaning the idea that TVs can be leased in a bundle similar to a mobile phone or a set top box, is emerging from companies like Sky and Comcast/Charter. Sky Glass is a good reference point for Streaming broadcasters. Sky Glass is available on a monthly payment, fully supported, with an upgradeable operating system that is content-centric. The list of updates for Sky’s Entertainment OS 1.2 update for May 2024 is impressive, including the ability to add your favorite actors to a playlist, watch in low latency on the Sky Sports Main Event channel, and see Rotten Tomatoes movie ratings on the Show pages as you browse for a film to watch. This content-centric environment works well for viewers and broadcasters alike, as it also enables content publisher Apps to be upgraded alongside the monthly upgrades of the Sky Glass Entertainment OS and feature set.

Testing

Streaming broadcasters have a specific challenge given the number of Smart TVs on the market, and the lack of direct control over each Smart TV – the challenge is to categorically know that new releases of Apps will work on the full suite of Smart TVs in the market. PSBs need to support the majority of the population they serve. So, new App releases need to be tested to ensure they do not cause problems with a significant proportion of the viewers. Testing across thousands of unique devices is a serious burden on Streaming broadcasters. It requires significant investment of resources and time. It is a downside of working in a world where the consumer viewing device is not aligned with specific needs of a PSB.

This subject is so important to PSBs that it will be covered in its own article in the coming months.

Sustainability

The sustainability subject for TVs is important because devices are identified as the primary energy consumer in the Media value chain. The seminal 2022 paper by Carnstone, covered in this Broadcast Bridge article, highlighted that the UK’s energy consumption in 2021 from 47 billion hours of Media Consumption required 4300 GwH. This was split between networks and peripheral equipment that used 1300 GwH, and Devices that used 3000 GwH. The most power-hungry viewing device used was identified as the TV. Modern LED and OLED TVs are known to consume less power than older Plasma and CRT TVs. An LED Smart TV could use 50-100 Watts, while a Plasma TV could use 300-400 Watts.

In addition, we can see that perfectly good TV screens become outdated by weak computing power that cannot be upgraded and that no longer supports a full experience of fast-developing Streaming Apps. We therefore find ourselves in a wasteful position where the second-hand TV market doesn’t warrant selling TVs, and they are disposed of. How do we do better than this? Upgrading the capability of a TV can be achieved by using a peripheral device plugged into the TV’s HDMI socket. But this can complicate the user experience by creating the need to change device inputs to reach different TV channels/apps. The goal is to simplify, not complicate.

But while upgrading to a more modern TV can save energy for the planet and can save energy costs for an individual, the manufacturing cost of a new TV is still to be defined. So, is it worth extending the life of a high-energy consuming TV, or is it best for people to upgrade? This raises more questions, such as: once upgraded, how long should the life of the TV be extended, and what is best from an environmental perspective? If it takes 1000Wh to make and deliver a TV, then a new TV consuming 100Wh that replaces a TV that consumed 300Wh should be functional for at least 5 years to pay back. As long as the 5-year timeframe is supported by the streaming service providers who develop the Apps, then we have a neutral position on energy consumption. To improve on the neutral position, the new TV needs to be in service for 6-10 years. But that means significant software upgrades during the life of the TV in order for the energy consumption and customer experience to coincide.

Not only is this lifespan a consideration but coming back to the point about absolute energy reduction, TVs should be much simpler so that computing can be more centralized and more efficient. Why should we make millions of TVs more intelligent when we can simply make thousands of Edge PoPs more intelligent? Will this not consume less energy? If using Edge Computing to help Apps perform better on TVs is a strategic method to give millions of consumers lower-powered devices, then consolidating some Media Service workloads into fewer Edge compute locations appears to be a sensible step to take alongside optimizing Apps for the web browsers of the future.

To answer this question with real-world data, Greening of Streaming (GoS) is continuing to work on finding out the truth of our energy consumption related to media consumption. GoS has embarked on an initiative of smart metering throughout the streaming media value chain. Starting with TVs as the most numerous device type with the highest energy consumption level, GoS has identified that there is not an effective way to truly understand real-world energy consumption. Today’s data sets are typically extrapolations from lab tests, but data collection on real-world mass usage is lacking. GoS is therefore working to introduce a new smart plug in meter for TVs that will provide very granular data about the device’s energy consumption. In time the plan is to introduce another type of server-grade plug and meter that can do the same thing for servers that are encoding, packaging, originating, storing, caching, and streaming the media industry’s content.

Headline findings from the Greening of Streaming device testing in labs points to why we need to understand real-world usage better, to see the real impact of the technology we are using:

  • Streaming in black uses less energy than displaying an EPG.
  • An HDR signal with full screen brightness consumes almost 100 times more energy than streaming in black.
  • Setting EPG to dark mode could save Megawatts of energy consumption in a country.
The Jevons Paradox

Sustainability leaders know that making the value chain more energy efficient is not necessarily going to reduce total energy consumption. The English economist, William Stanley Jevons, famous for the Jevons Paradox, published a book in 1865 that analyzed the use of coal in England following the introduction of James Watts’ more efficient steam engine. It concluded that the steam engine’s increased efficiency caused an increase in overall coal consumption because it was adopted more widely across multiple industries.

Therefore, when we make streaming more efficient with technology improvements, we need to also avoid causing an increase in total energy consumption. The goal should be to do more with less, or at least to do the same with less, on an absolute aggregate level and not only for single individuals. Nowadays, environmental economists propose that efficiency gains from industry-driven technology improvements should be accompanied by energy conservation policies to help achieve an absolute reduction in total energy consumed.

The Greening of Streaming initiative highlighted above should make important contributions to policy-setting and consumer behavior in future. Knowing our personal energy consumption will help drive better energy use, and it will also provide important industry-wide feedback to set good policies for the future.

The PSB Way Forwards

PSBs have an important perspective and responsibility for how we consume media given the size of their audiences and the types of content they produce and deliver. Their perspectives on TVs, Browsers, App performance, user experience, and sustainability combine to drive their service roadmaps that impact all of us who use these free-to-air services.

As Mark Ison, ITVX Engineering Director, states, “Some leading service providers, like Sky, regularly provide content-centric software updates for the consumer devices they provide. Many TV manufacturers reserve new software features for new physical products. If a software issue is found in a browser on a 5-year-old TV, the manufacturer would typically not release an update. This makes it harder for us to develop Apps, and consumers become stuck on an App version, instead of having the flexibility to update their TV and have a satisfactory user experience for longer. Although software-upgradeability could be a challenging change of business model for TV manufacturers, probably resulting in fewer new TVs produced, it would transition TVs into the SaaS model as so many other hardware-centric industries have already done. From a PSB perspective, we work with a very wide range of consumer devices, and we always look for ways to efficiently and effectively bring our full media experience to every viewer. Combining software development for browsers with new edge computing models while continuing to collaborate closely with device manufacturers is how we control our own destiny to deliver the ultimate viewer experience.”

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