Written by Laurie Patten, Director of Strategy and Ventures for Terrestrial Broadcast at Arqiva
This year’s DTG Summit explored the transformative changes impacting the broadcasting world today, envisaging how TV is set to evolve over the next 10 to 20 years.
When picturing this future, many people’s minds jump straight to IP – i.e. web-powered and delivered content channels and subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services – and quickly discount the more established platforms that have served us well for so long and remain the mainstay of modern television for many segments of viewers.
Digital Terrestrial Television – or DTT – is the prime example of this.
While IP delivery has undoubtedly started to have a real impact on the television industry (offering viewers unrivalled choice and flexibility in response to their growing appetite for content), the less noticed and discussed trend is that DTT continues to evolve and perform very well in the market.
The movement towards a ‘pay-lite’ model
The move to a Hybrid DTT and IP combined offer has meant that DTT is now very well placed to underpin the market as we move towards a “pay-lite” model. This is where viewers adopt to take a free base of content delivered via DTT and overlay an IP-delivered offer or catch-up and Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) services from a range of providers (e.g. the PSBs, Netflix and Amazon).
And that is indeed what has been happening in the market. DTT has grown its overall number of TV households over the past few years and now stands at around 11.4m primary households and over 19m total households using the service in some form. Last year, DTT’s audience share of viewers aged 4+ grew to 46.8% (up 2.4% on the previous year) – an increase that has been further improved in the first three months of 2018. The platform’s performance is even more impressive when looking at Commercial Impacts which is of primary relevance to the commercial channels on DTT – its share of Adults 16+ has grown from 44.5% in 2013 to 50.2% in the first quarter of 2018 (*see FEH Media Insight for details – http://www.feh-mi.com/blog/the-dtt-platform-succeeding-in-the-face-of-the-svod-challenge/).
The success and appetite from viewers for the Hybrid model suggest that an IP-only future (as often envisaged by some in our industry) is still a very long way off. Instead, continuing to blend the best of IP and DTT into a workable Hybrid offer that meets the needs of today’s consumer is a model which is set to remain relevant for many years to come.
The growth of the Hybrid DTT/IP Platform
Over the past few years, we have seen a growing range of platforms (beyond Freeview and Freeview Play) using DTT to power a hybrid offering, including BT TV, TalkTalk TV, YouView, EE TV, some versions of Sky’s Now TV and all connected TVs in the UK market. The success of these services and their popularity with viewers speaks volumes – they now reach millions of households across the UK.
Their strength lies in combining DTT with OTT (over-the-top) IP-delivered services, rather than forcing viewers to choose one over the other – most still value and want the option of both. The result for audiences is a very reliable service built around a core broadcast service with an enriched set of IP-delivered services. This offers additional content and flexible ways of viewing, including a more interactive and increasingly personalised viewing experience.
The Economics of a Hybrid platform
For broadcasters, the benefits of a Hybrid future present themselves through economics. DTT and satellite distribution methods remain phenomenally efficient means of distributing content quickly, reliably and cost-effectively to a broad, universal audience (handling huge amounts of traffic and serving the viewing needs of the nation couldn’t be simpler). In comparison, the cost of delivery via IP increases as the volume of usage goes up and there remain issues with the overall performance of IP networks, the speed of individual broadband connections to and within viewer’s homes and, at a higher level, the willingness and ability to pay of many households to sign up for a broadband service.
DTT also delivers significant value to the PSBs through the prominence it provides for their content. The platform is built around the established rules for PSB prominence, and it is fully regulated by Ofcom. As discussed at the conference, it is not clear that those protections for prominence can hope to be replicated within IP-only platforms although, I am sure, this will be a key area of debate over the next few years and the PSBs will put forward a strong case.
Offering a simple and intuitive experience
The ultimate aim for those of us in the industry is to provide a simple and intuitive viewing experience for audiences – regardless of whether they’re watching live or on-demand. For me, that means bringing DTT and IP-delivered services as close together as possible, and that services are built around the strengths of each delivery method.
The ideal situation is a single environment that covers all bases – linear DTT and IP-delivered catch-up and OTT – with seamless transitioning from one to the other. In offering this, we ensure the viewer has what they want, when they want it, with minimal fuss. This is exactly what Arqiva and our partners aim to provide with the Freeview Play and YouView platforms. Both are proving to be very successful, with Freeview Play recently surpassing 3.5m devices sold since its launch in 2015 – we believe this growth demonstrates the appetite in the market for Hybrid DTT/IP services and highlights why the model will endure for many years to come. The new five-year DUK agreement announced on 11th June provides the funding, commitment and ambition to continue the development of Freeview Play as a hybrid platform. Over the coming years, we are aiming to deliver a more enriched Freeview Play service with better content discovery, functionality and range of content that will complement ‘pay-lite’ services in the market to give UK viewers a world-class hybrid experience.
If I were to make predictions following this year’s Summit, I’d stake my claim that Hybrid TV will be the future of this industry for well beyond the next decade. Within this, DTT and satellite distributed content will remain the predominant delivery mechanism for in-home viewing, alongside a growing role for IP broadband delivery. This reflects the broadcast platform’s compelling economics, reliability, growing installed base and the quality of the experience and content they offer to viewers.
Director of Strategy and Ventures for Terrestrial Broadcast
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