Driven by the rise of broadband, the era of linear television broadcasting will draw to a rapid close in the next decade. New media empires will be built on the back of this change. Established broadcasters that don’t adapt will crumble. A revolution is at hand — a revolution that is going to be televised.
Broadcasting is going to be transformed fundamentally in the next 10 years. Consumers will have access to a wide array of on-demand content that they’ll watch when they want and where they want. It will upend and sometimes break traditional broadcasters’ business models.
In South Africa, even with its broadband challenges, on-demand television, delivered over the Internet, will change the broadcasting industry more fundamentally than moves by communications regulator Icasa to license new terrestrial and satellite free-to-air and subscription broadcasters.
You can bet that MultiChoice, which dominates South Africa’s pay-TV landscape, is much more worried about the threat of the Internet — and companies with names like Netflix and Hulu — than it is about StarSat or any of the companies recently granted pay-TV licences by the regulator. Content providers that use the Internet to deliver their services don’t have to wait months or years and endure a public grilling to be licensed. Heck, they don’t need broadcast licences.
We’re already seeing the first attempts by South African media companies to take advantage of broadband to deliver these on-demand services. Times Media Group has entered the race with Vidi. Its catalogue is fairly narrow for now, but that should change. And although the Node from technology group Altech is not a broadband-based on-demand solution — it pushes content over satellite to a decoder for later viewing — it provides clues as to where the industry is going.
MultiChoice isn’t standing still. It is acutely aware of how broadband is going to transform its industry.
DStv Digital Media CEO John Kotsaftis eats, sleeps and breathes this on-demand future. Among many other online projects, he’s involved in one to open a data pipe on MultiChoice’s top-end decoder, the Explora, paving the way for consumers to be able to watch video-on-demand (VOD) services via the Internet.
Already, Explora users have access to offline on-demand services called Catch Up and BoxOffice. Similar to Altech’s Node, this content is pushed to the device via satellite, simulating an on-demand environment. The problem is that the catalogue of content is severely limited by the capacity of the hard drive in the decoder. Delivering this content from a data centre eliminates that problem.
So, from the middle of next month, Explora owners will be able to buy a Wi-Fi device — the DStv WiFi Connector — that they plug into the Ethernet port on their decoders. This will provide Internet access via users’ home broadband networks. Those who have wired their homes with Ethernet — a project well worth doing, by the way, to prepare not only for the on-demand future but also for the advent of smart home technologies — won’t need the connector.
At launch, consumers will be able to store up to 25 VOD titles downloaded from the Internet, but the number of titles available in the cloud will be far larger. They won’t be able to stream the content for now — instead having to download content fully before viewing it — but MultiChoice’s plan is to offer streaming from the second quarter of 2015.
It hopes that by opening its decoder in this way it will push back the advance of VOD competitors. It will help. But a growing number of consumers are discovering that a broadband-connected PC makes more sense as the centrepiece technology in the living room than a proprietary box.
Indeed, as more VOD service providers enter the market — and as consumers discover it’s technically fairly trivial to get access to international services like Netflix — it makes sense to invest in some sort of Internet-connected PC that can be hooked up to a big-screen TV.
A Windows-powered Intel NUC ultracompact PC or an Apple Mac Mini with wireless keyboard and mouse are both good solutions. Both offer consumers access to a wide range of services with no vendor lock-in.
- Duncan McLeod is founder and editor of TechCentral. Find him on Twitter
- This column was first published in the Sunday Times