Streets ahead: Imagen hones in on IP networking and content delivery

By Tom Blake, Imagen commercial director.

The Devoncroft Big Broadcast Survey back in 2021 indicated three factors to be significantly higher priority than all else: multi-platform content delivery; IP networking and content delivery; and remote production (REMI).

In the 2022 survey there was a stark shift; whilst REMI and multi-platform content are still important, there is overwhelming consensus that IP networking and content delivery is streets ahead when it comes to the media industry’s view on the most important commercial trend.

In trying to understand and analyse what is happening here, I am minded to look towards the two principal theories of western economics. Apologies to anyone who has schooled in these topics, but for the rest of us, here is a quick reminder.

Adam Smith is the father of classic economics, with the basis of the theory believing that consumer and suppliers act to maximise their own self interests. Consumers make decisions to maximise their own utility, while firms make decisions to maximise profits and these interests drive voluntary exchange i.e. free market economics, setting price and output levels to arrive at an equilibrium.

Let’s put that in the context of the trends in Devoncroft report. In 2021, multi-platform content (OTT, web, mobile) delivery tops the list. There has been a huge consumer demand, so the supply side follows to increase output; the result being that more and more platforms emerge. The second highest priority was IP networking, again a supply side reaction as this is a critical enabler to OTT delivery.

So, are we just working towards equilibrium? Back to the text-book.

An alternative theory

The successor to classic economics of supply and demand is the Keynesian theory. John Maynard Keynes agreed that the Smith model is correct, but then added an addendum observing that there are frequently situations when equilibrium is not reached. Keynesian’s believe that fluctuations and market forces break down and don’t do enough to correct, thus require outside intervention or the balance spirals out of control.

Back to the Devoncroft observation of the trend shift in 2022; there are now an abundance of “multi-platforms”, so, for the sake or argument, let’s say that the supply and demand for platforms on which to consume content has reached the free market equilibrium (though we know this is not strictly true as there are new entrants disrupting this balance all the time). There is a secondary imbalance.

Unlike the fuel you buy at a fuel station, where the product is essentially identical and the only decision you need to make is whether you have enough fuel to get to the next station or not, platforms themselves are not equal. They carry different content sets; some are free at the point of consumption (AVOD and FAST) while others require subscription (SVOD).

Then fans want to consume in ways that suit their lifestyle preferences, not just the money in their pockets. Factors such as free time, location, social dynamics with peers; in short, there are multiple “market forces” at play which sends the supply and demand relationship spiralling out of control.

There needs to be some Keynesian intervention to restore the balance. In economics, this is like a government trying to stimulate growth by spending more, but that leads to inflation, so they need to raise taxes to curb inflation; and so it goes on…

In the sports video world, the intervention is to increase content choice. So that the technology that was just an enabler before, now needs to be invested in rapidly to fill the perpetual demand void and help restore the imbalance.

Balance of power

Leaving macroeconomics aside for a moment, let’s come back to more familiar ground of sports video technology.

We know that satellite distribution has and remains unrivalled for one to many, that is a single world-feed being delivered to millions of homes watching the same thing concurrently. It does not scale where millions of individuals want a consumption experience to match their lifestyle. IP delivery does; and all the more so with the SRT protocol, low-latency, high-quality. Now it is feasible to deliver multiple camera angles from track or pitch side to give consumer choice, but also to AI driven technologies that can create custom outputs from those feeds.

It will be no surprise to see IP networking and content delivery (specifically SRT live-to-file workflows and to feed AI highlights generation, multi-camera angle streaming for REMI etc) feature as the top priority again for 2023, as the industry continues to strive to achieve a perfect supply-demand equilibrium to the delight of Smith and his fellow classics.

Though it won’t balance for long: the power of player advocacy and brand association, consumer demand for closer relationships with their league, their team and their heroes, needs to merge with the host-broadcasters output.

Rights holders will need to invest in technology to converge their multi-stream-live-REMI world with archive and UGC (or more accurately HGC – hero generated content), re-packaged for new forms of viewing, including, in all probability, the gaming market.

Where does that leave us?

Well, the consumers will set the trends, the Keynesian’s will intervene and outperform, the classics will be forever playing catch-up… the Marxian scholars are done for!



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