This year at IBC in Amsterdam I had an interesting conversation with a vendor about the difference between innovators and operators.
Where innovators rely on personal characteristics such as imagination, persistence, creativity and entrepreneurial ambition, operators draw success and strength from traits, such as attention to detail, consistency and an affinity for processes and method, he said.
Look no further than the earliest days of broadcasting where pioneers not only grasped how fledgling technologies could be combined to build radio –and later television- stations and networks to deliver news, sports, entertainment and public service programming and emergency messaging to Americans, but also how to use those technologies to deliver commercials that would pay for it all, he said.
A quick survey of the TV industry today reveals that success is found by station, group and network operators who have what seems like an innate instinct for finding new efficiencies in operations and maximizing returns from a well-understood business model, he said.
Both orientations, each with its unique set of skills and tendencies, are important and necessary, he added, but it’s the rare individual who possesses both.
The television industry has found itself at a point where the operator-oriented professional has risen to the top of the heap, but innovators –who existed in a technical environment where the boundaries of the possible were well-defined- were largely left to direct their entrepreneurial zeal and creativity towards achieving small, incremental improvements and successes, he said.
However, there’s nothing to knock someone out of the comfort zone like stiff, new competition, and that’s exactly what TV broadcasters have on their hands from digital platforms, mobile and social media. Researchers have begun projecting the catch-all category of “digital” will soon overtake television broadcasting in ad spending.
But rather than wring its collective hands over the finding, TV innovators from various walks –broadcast engineers and managers, researchers at universities and institutes, the brightest minds at broadcast vendors and many others—have responded by creating a next generation standard –actually a suite of standards- for television broadcasting.
Rather than simply developing a static replacement for the existing DTV standard, these TV innovators have created a television broadcasting platform that is flexible enough to adapt to and adopt, if desired, new technologies that undoubtedly will come along as time goes by –even down to and including such fundamental broadcast components as modulation.
Equally as important, they have created a next-generation TV standard that is IP-based, a huge advantage that opens TV to benefit from the vibrant community of World Wide Web Consortium innovators and provides a mechanism to leverage smart TV IP connectivity along with broadcasting to offer new services and –perhaps most importantly- target specific commercials to individuals in the television audience and thus grow revenue.
Suddenly, TV is back in the game, positioned to go toe-to-toe with “digital” in the battle for ad dollars. (In fact, I wonder if the distinction between “digital” and TV ad spending will even be valid once television is IP, but that is a discussion for a different time.)
That’s a good thing for TV and the American public, because unlike other “digital” platforms television plays several important roles in local communities. Some of the hats worn by TV stations include local news organization, conveyor of emergency messages, public service organizer, chief community booster and many others. A financially sound future for local television made possible by the next-gen standard means TV can continue to play these important roles well into the future.
A few weeks ago at the TV2020 Conference in New York City, I looked around the audience several times and was struck by how the event brought together innovators and operators. At the back of the room were seated some of those who are most responsible for the technical innovation that is ATSC 3.0. Closer to the dais sat many of operators who make television a successful enterprise on a daily basis.
They were there to learn how the next-generation TV standard can be used as a catalyst to enhance their existing business models and create new, rewarding opportunities. Similarly, many of the innovators were present to gauge the response of operators to the new standard and help shine a light on what ATSC 3.0 can do.
On this Thanksgiving Day while we pause to give thanks for our families, friends, and material blessings, take out a second to remember and be thankful for the innovators and operators of the TV industry. The former have given us a path forward in a changing competitive environment, and the latter are sharpening the pencils looking for how best to deploy the next-gen standard and keep television broadcasting viable.