Earlier this month, I attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. This event receives a significant amount of attention from both technology and mainstream news sources, so a recap of the new TVs (which were amazing), Ultrabooks (I want one), and other gizmos (do we need a six-foot-tall iPod dock?) isn’t really useful. However there is one theme I want to key in on. I didn’t quite see it while I was walking the exhibit floor, but realized it after discussing the event with colleagues.
Broadcast is dead.
Or at least it is dying.
This statement is a bit of a hyperbole, but it is worth a conversation. A major theme at CES wasn’t the technology itself, but how the technology displays streaming media via an Internet connection. Of all the new consumer technologies at CES, the vast majority assumed some sort of ubiquitous, fast, always on Internet connection. This was shown in the number of TVs that connect to Netflix and other streaming TV/movie sights, as well as new TV set-top boxes that record TV via a DVR, but can also stream that to a mobile device. As iTunes, Amazon’s Video on Demand, Netflix, and other services gain momentum, their use on a wide variety of devices is going to skyrocket.
The future is streaming
It is important to note that none of these new technologies used broadcast television as a means of disseminating the content. The trend is for more and more media (entertainment or otherwise) to be streamed via the Internet instead of broadcast. Even right now, according to a Sandvine report, Netflix usage accounts for over 30% of Internet traffic during peak hours. While people are watching Netflix, they aren’t watching broadcast television, and ratings are therefore suffering. While volumes can be written on the relative merits of streaming vs. broadcast from a consumer perspective, the point is from a technology perspective, the future is streaming.
Where this becomes relevant is that the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and other emergency alert programs have a very defined process for disseminating emergency information and a track record going back several decades. The concept of a crawler on the bottom of your TV highlighting a flood watch or the “this is a test” EAS experience are very well socialized among the citizenry. Right now, there is no equivalent process or socialization strategy when it comes to streaming content. Of all the vendors I spoke with (anecdotal evidence, not a formal survey), everyone thought “someone else” was responsible for inserting timely emergency information into the content they were streaming. Even more troublesome is the fact that vendors have not thought of how the emergency information would interrupt the user-experience and be displayed in a useful fashion, regardless of the device on which the content is viewed.
The challenge of location
Another issue to be mindful of is geo-targeting. EAS and broadcast alerts are targeted to specific viewing areas as the local affiliates can “break into” the programming. With streaming media, there is no local affiliate to break into a stream. A process is necessary to determine how alerts can be disseminated across streaming media based on the consumers location. This is particularly true with mobile devices as consumers will be viewing content far away from “home” at any given point.
While these aren’t major public safety issues now, streaming does appear to be the future of media consumption, so the sooner the community can come to an agreement on responsibility and process, the better. The longer these issues linger, the harder they will be to address from a technology, standards, governance, and regulatory perspective. The alternative is a missed opportunity to improve the dissemination of alerts or worse, no alert dissemination at all.