By Paul Divall, Managing Director: Broadcast and Managed Solutions, Jasco
Convergence has revolutionised the ICT space, enabling new technologies to be offered more affordably over IP, and the broadcasting space is no different. Where tapes once had to be physically sent to locations for rebroadcasting, files can now be sent over the Internet quickly, to anywhere in the world. Smaller television stations can also broadcast faster and more easily, and post-production becomes a more intuitive and richer environment. However, as digital content has become more mainstream, the convergence of ICT and broadcasting also presents something of a challenge. A skills gap has emerged within the broadcasting space, with the old broadcast engineers’ role being replaced by computer-savvy individuals who do not necessarily have any background in media production. This, in combination with viewer demand for ever more content, has in turn created a quality control issue within broadcasting, and is something which is only now beginning to be addressed.
One of the biggest changes brought about by convergence is the move from BNC towards Ethernet or IP cables. This has simplified the broadcasting environment, as IP cables do not require any special video connectors, and one cable can take the place of multiple BNCs. Broadcasting equipment has also become more accessible, recording to memory cards or hard drives rather than tape, with high quality cameras available at far lower prices. The post-production environment is also more accessible, as editing software can be loaded onto a computer to replace highly specialised and expensive purpose-built editing equipment.
As a result of digital broadcasting technology, the traditional skill sets of the broadcast engineer have for the most part fallen away, replaced by the need for computer literacy and the ability to understand IP networks. It is no longer sufficient for resources working in the broadcasting space to have specific broadcasting knowledge, they also need to have ICT and technology skills on top of this. ICT resources in the broadcast space also need to gain skills in broadcasting, as the technologies have increasingly converged. The challenge here is that there are very few people who have the skills needed on both sides, and this is proving problematic for the broadcasting industry as a whole.
In order to air a video today, whether via traditional television channels or newer media such as Internet-based stations and even YouTube, all you need is some sort of camera and an Internet connection. Broadcasting is now available to a far wider scope of people, and the net result of this is that content creation has exploded. Consumer demand is also driving the need for more and more content, available 24×7 on multiple different channels. The broadcasting business model has had to adapt to this demand, and one of the problems that has arisen because of this is a decline in standards. In the past, broadcasters had to adhere to strict broadcast standards, but increasing volume and velocity of content, along with the emerging skills gap and the sheer number of channels, means that this has become difficult to police.
Today entire videos are created from start to finish in a file-based environment, with nobody having to listen to the end product before it is broadcast. The evolution of the equipment itself has made this unnecessary. In contrast, in a tape-based environment, a broadcast engineer would check that video and audio quality were up to standard before any footage was broadcast. Viewers themselves will notice this quality control issue in what has become known as ‘loudness’. When watching a show, and switching to an advert break, the difference in sound quality and the volumes between the two is often noticeable. This problem has a direct correlation to the amount of content produced, and a lack of media skill within the broadcast space.
Ultimately, broadcasting has moved from a professional career that requires a university degree, to something anyone with a camera can do. This mobility has made the environment more flexible and consumer-based, but at what cost? There needs to be some balance between the old skills involved in broadcasting, and the new need for computer literacy, in order to ensure quality broadcasts. The phenomenon of quality control issues is not local, but is a challenge faced globally, directly resulting from a skills gap. The only solution is an improvement in the education of broadcasters, and a blend of the old skills and the new, as well as increased attention to the quality of broadcasts transmitted across the world.