by Malcolm Johnson, ITU Deputy Secretary-General
For the last 71 years, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has led global standardization across the broadcasting value chain.
Broadcasting and multimedia-related standards, from advanced sound systems to video compression, are as crucial as ever in today’s digital world.
In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, new technical standards will underpin global efforts to build back better and create a more sustainable and prosperous future.
ITU study groups and working parties – despite radically curtailed in-person interaction – continue their work to enable news, entertainment, and education. Common technical standards support openness and interoperability, helping to reduce costs through economies of scale.
Yet increasingly stringent video and audio requirements, combined with competing demand over naturally limited spectrum, pose a dual challenge for today’s broadcasting industry.
In Europe, television reaches 800 million viewers, accounts for annual turnover of EUR 84 billion and employs 1 million people. Even so, the upper 700 MHz band and 3400-3800 MHz C-Band downlink are gradually becoming less available for use in broadcasting.
This double bind has spurred the industry to adopt more efficient distribution standards, such as DVB-T2 and DVB-SX2. A new task group is set to review the spectrum needs of radio services in the UHF band in Region 1 (Europe, Middle East and Africa), assessing service compatibility in the 470-694 MHz range ahead of the next World Radiocommunication Conference, WRC-23.
Audiovisual output depends on spectrum governed by the ITU-managed Radio Regulations. Broadcasting standards developed via the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) are key to international programme exchanges and quality assessment.
Two years ago, ITU member states adopted two resolutions (ITU-R 70 and 71) on future broadcasting, calling for a roadmap for quality and accessibility, audio and video coding, integrated broadcast broadband (IBB), multimedia, and emerging applications like artificial intelligence.
Other initiatives study ‘5G Broadcast’ systems for television reception on mobile handsets. ITU has helped to set basic specifications for digital television and sound, HDTV, UHDTV, and high dynamic range (HDR), while forthcoming work examines the way forward for digital terrestrial television broadcasting (DTTB).
Media services, regardless of their underlying technologies, must be accessible to all. Universal design, affordability, and equal access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) are key to building inclusive societies, with assistive technologies integrated across the board.
In Europe, this means facilitating services in more than 200 European languages, as well as promoting gender equity and full inclusion for persons with disabilities, the elderly and vulnerable groups. ITU, in parallel, promotes comparable measures in developing countries.
As David Wood, previous co-chair of ITU’s Intersectoral Rapporteur Group on Audiovisual Media Accessibility, expressed it:
“Those with reduced abilities can and will make a vital contribution to society if we help them to share the media experience. Let’s start by working together as much as we can on the technical standards for the systems they deserve.”
I could not agree more.
Technologies to personalize media, reviewed through ITU study groups with organizations like the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), offer a prime example of public–private, cross-industry collaboration.
As partners in the standardization endeavour, we can make new technologies interoperable, accessible, and available for the benefit of all.
This article first appeared in EBU’s tech-i Magazine. The original version can be found here.
Photo by SIA KAMBOU/AFP via Getty Images