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Broadcasters Examine Challenges Brought by Online Viewing: IBC

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What is this year's IBC all about and what does it mean for traditional broadcasters? That was the question posed at the conference's annual wrap-up panel, "The Outlook for Broadcast and Media."

"We are finding that the viewing of terrestrial broadcasting is increasing in the United States—a little, not a lot," said Richard Friedel, executive vice president and general manager for Fox Networks, noting that not everything is doom and gloom for broadcast. Anecdotally, he shared that many of his colleague's college-age children were rediscovering free over-the-air television, something they seemed to have forgotten about.

The shift to online viewing means that broadcasters must respond to changes and trends much quicker than they have before. Broadcasters need to be agile in creating, distributing, and monetizing new content.

"We're under tremendous pressure…to find ways to be efficient," Friedel said.

Ultra-high definition (UHD) video is everywhere at IBC, but the shift isn't being led by broadcast. While broadcasters led HD adoption in the United States, that won't happen with UHD since there's no common production standard and no distribution for it. Instead, online services are leading the way on UHD, something Friedel said "is a sea change for us," He also sees that cloud technology, which felt tangential to many businesses in years past, is now mainstream.

Friedel was much more optimistic about the opportunities presented by online viewing that some of his co-panelists, noting that new ventures don't start at peak viewing numbers but get there in time. Fox currently uses online outlets as a talent farm league, and has picked up people from online productions. While broadcasting used to mean creating one channel, he said it's now a continuum. Audiences are getting bigger, and broadcasters need to find new ways to respond to them. He's especially enthusiastic about customizing content by region, something Fox is doing for sports news. Adapting is imperative.

"If we're not careful, we'll be like the music industry who didn't react," Friedel said.

The biggest challenge for online viewers, he believes, is finding quality content from all their various options. A Google-type app that let's people find the programming they want when they want it would revolutionize TV, Friedel said.

"Remember, don't get in the way of what consumers want," Friedel said. Linear TV will still be around in 20 years, he believes, and people will still want curated linear streams, but much of the underlying distribution will change.

For his final words, Friedel responded to the negativity voiced by some of his co-panelists and others in the broadcast industry: "The lack of vision and fear of change is really holding this industry back," he said. "The opportunities really outweigh the challenges."

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