TV as we know it will soon become a thing of the past. Our viewing experiences will transform into a combination of voice activation, customization, and virtual and augmented reality.
At ITU headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland last week, a workshop on “The Future of Cable TV” brought together experts and leaders in the field from around the globe to discuss the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead – and what’s next for Cable TV?
In his opening remarks, Matthias Kurth, Executive Chairman of Cable Europe, posed the following question to all participants: “Is [the competitive environment] a danger for the cable industry and companies, or an [opportunity] because cable infrastructure is still good and can be used?”
As infrastructure and connectivity will be key features for the future of digital TV services, it is essential that the technical standards, such as those developed by ITU, ensure seamless interoperability.
Current state of play
The global pay TV industry may be experiencing a period of disruption and competition, but ‘cord-cutting,’ to the surprise of many, has not spread, said Maria Rua Aguete, Executive Director of global information company IHS Markit. Traditional pay TV is still growing in all regions except North America, mainly due to high costs.
Over-the-top (OTT) media services such as Netflix and Amazon are spending billions to offer consumers unique content that complement pay TV and now affect the growth of Cable TV, especially in North America, said experts at the workshop. Still, Cable TV is growing in most other regions of the world, particularly in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, according to data presented by telecommunications operator KDDI Japan.
In Europe, cable operators reach more than half of European households as it is the technology most able to connect a large base of the population with high-speed access. Data presented by Mr. Kurth of Cable Europe shows that 26 markets in Europe have passed 119 million homes, with 56 million subscribers accessing TV via cable and 32 million subscribers connecting to the internet via cable.
What is ITU’s role?
The workshop is itself a response to the request made by ITU Membership under the Europe Regional Initiative approved by The World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-17) on “Broadband Infrastructure, Broadcasting and Spectrum Management,” whereby assistance is to be provided to countries in need on the assessment of dynamics, challenges and opportunities of diverse broadband technologies across Europe, including Cable TV.
Core activities of ITU related to Cable TV include technical standardization and assistance in the development of Cable TV markets. In this regard, ITU-T Study Group 9 has been developing international standards on cable television technology for over 20 years. The efficient collaboration of relevant standards bodies and responsible regulatory authorities will be a key determinant of the Cable TV industry’s success in introducing new and innovative services, agreed workshop participants.
Other study groups of ITU-D and ITU-R relevant to the Future Cable TV include: ITU-D Study Group 1 ‘Enabling Environment for the Development of Telecommunications/ICTs’ which supports National telecommunication/ICT policy, regulatory, technical and strategy development to best enable countries to benefit from the impetus of telecommunications/ICTs; ITU-D Study Group 2 ‘ICT Services and Applications for the Promotion of Sustainable Development’ which supports the implementation of conformance and interoperability testing for telecommunication/ICT devices and equipment and supporting sustainable development; and ITU IRG-IBB ‘Intersector Rapporteur Group on Integrated Broadcast Broadband’ which is responsible for the coordination of the standardization work of the ITU-T and ITU-R groups.
The workshop called for ITU to leverage its diverse membership to encourage collaboration among all Cable TV stakeholders, across the public and private sector, as well as developed and developing countries.
“ITU is the most suitable environment where discussion about future of Cable TV can take place” – Sorin Mihai Grindeanu, President, ANCOM Romania
What’s next for Cable TV?
As Cable TV technologies continue to evolve, trends in the near future will focus on 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT).
Nicolas Fortineau, Director of Product Development at international cable company Liberty Global, indicated that augmented and virtual reality, voice activation and smart homes will soon make their way into our daily lives and so it will become increasingly important to meet the different needs of every consumer and build an ecosystem around them in which everything works.
Even though the emergence of new offerings from content providers – such as ITU member Disney’s recently announced streaming service set to launch in 2019 – will undoubtedly present challenges for Cable TV, there will still be plenty of opportunities.
The European Broadcasting Union, along with all other participants, concluded that with a move from network-centric to more consumer-centric thinking, the creation of relevant local content, co-investment and working together to leverage existing infrastructure, the future of Cable TV looks promising.
By Carolina Euceda, ITU News