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NAB 17: Google Panel Talks to Broadcasters in Transition

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"I don't think this transition is a technology problem," said John Honeycutt, CTO for Discovery Communications. While two or three years ago, traditional broadcasters were worried about the limits of cloud encoding and moving data streams, the technical solutions for IP workflows are now fully capable. The issue in front of broadcasters today is data: how they can drive capabilities from a single unified and organized data set, Honeycutt said.

Honeycutt was speaking on an NAB Show panel organized by Google on how media companies can bridge the gap from linear to digital TV. While previous NAB Shows were concerned with building up the technical abilities of cloud systems and creating end-to-end solutions, this year the conversation is more about viewing quality and the intelligent use of data. It's moved from basic solutions to comprehensive platforms that can create next-generation user experiences—and finally provide the same reliability as broadcast and cable.

Infrastructure used to be an asset, pointed out Joe Inzerillo, executive vice president and chief technology officer for BAMTech; now, infrastructure is an anchor. Besides the move to the cloud, the other great transition broadcasters face is managing direct relationships with fans and using that data to drive decisions, he explained.

How advertising is sold is undergoing a similar transition. TV in the future will be sold in three ways, Honeycutt said: Dayparts will be sold programmatically, since that's efficient (just don't let it become a race to the bottom for pricing, he warned). On the other end, brands will buy time on premium programs transactionally, as they always have. In the middle will be an optimization of audience buying within a linear schedule. While it will target demographic segments and use technology, it won't be truly programmatic. Making this succeed requires having a sales team that can respond to changing conditions. "I've never wanted a sales team to be more creative than in this moment," he said.

While data is the new oil, Honeycutt noted, quoting a much-repeated line, getting access to data isn't easy for cable stations, where a multichannel video program distributor (MVPD) typically sits between them and their audience. Broadcasters are left trying to create their own ultimate data set, one that combines information from multiple sources such as customer financial transactions and past interests, as well as online trends. Broadcasters need to decide what they're willing to spend to collect that data, while recognizing that more data isn't always helpful. "How you filter that up front is probably the single biggest question," he said.

Traditional broadcasters are left feeling envious of pure-play digital video companies that don't have to toss years of baggage to compete online, and they recognize the need to change now before other more nimble companies take their audience. Or, as panelist Vikram Somaya, senior vice president at ESPN, put it, "Disruptions suck if you're not the disrupter."

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