Video – hero or villain of the telecoms world?

Read any 5G playbook – in fact any telecoms playbook – and you’ll see monetising demand from the media industry featuring prominently. Video is immensely popular with customers. According to Sandvine, 65% of download traffic (and rising) is video.
Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, however, we’ve heard a lot about the impact of video on telecoms networks. Massive place shifting has seen people trying to stream even more video down even fewer and narrower pipes. In response to requests from the EC and others, streamers have limited the quality of the video they’re providing from HD to SD to reduce the impact on networks (see The bandwidth hog rides again), with SD using a third of the data required for HD video.
But is it enough? As more people work from home, and schooling switches to video channels, there’s been an upsurge in livestreaming, which is even more demanding on networks. Videoconferencing apps are being used for business applications, but also for leisure purposes by people confined to their homes – in the form of video socialisation such as quizzes and parties. Use of Zoom soared by 535% in the US alone; downloads of Houseparty went from a few hundred thousand in total to 2 million in days.
With demand at an all-time high, creatives are converting to streaming and channels are taking the opportunity to launch to capitalise on it.
Roku, for example, is launching ‘The Roku Channel’ in the UK – a streaming channel that will provide consumers with free access to content from over 40 partners – including 10.000+ movies, TV episodes and documentaries – without the requirement for subscriptions, fees or logins.
“With The Roku Channel we’re making it easy for consumers to find great free entertainment and provide additional value to Roku users, NOW TV device holders and Sky Q customers,” said Rob Holmes, Vice President of Programming at Roku. “Ad-supported viewing is one of the fastest growing categories on our platform and we are excited to meet the consumer demand for free TV.”
But while demand for video, content and streaming is strong, what about the production side of the industry?
According to branded video content producer Nemorin, live action productions have ground to a halt, as film crews are no longer able to travel or move freely outside.
“We made plans to work from home and had plans to keep international productions going,” explained Keith Scholey, Co-CEO of Silverback Films. “But it became quite clear quite quickly that we had to bring them back home.”
Speaking on a DPP (Digital Production Partnership) and IABM (International Trade Association for the Broadcast & Media Industry) panel, Morwen Williams, head of UK operations at BBC News, said the opposite is true for news journalism. “When everybody else is running away from something we’re usually running towards it,” she explained. “We’ve had to put a lot of extra things in place – the cleaning and sterilisation of equipment, simple things like not letting staff travel together in vehicles, using long boom poles to keep reporters at a distance, just to try and keep everybody safe. Instead of putting an editor, reporter, producer and camera operator in the back of a van as a remote edit suite, the crew sit in separate vans and communicate over Zoom. There’s a big risk assessment on every job.”
But while shooting new footage is being delayed by COVID-19, firms can still keep themselves occupied with post-production. Nemorin CEO and founder Pete Fergusson said that his firm’s editors can access the central NAS (network attached storage) remotely to keep things moving from remote edit suites. “Remote working can be really successful, and increase productivity hugely,” he said, commenting that Nemorin will make greater use of stock footage, motion graphics and animation, all of which can be done without anyone having to leave their homes.
Helena Tait, COO of TV production company Nutopia, agreed, explaining that her firm has  embraced video calling. “My team has never been closer,” she said. “When I speak to people now, a call isn’t enough. I want to see their face”.
“Business priorities in 2020 have changed, and we need to help the community find new ways of working. The solution for us to help people has been as simple as just switching on capabilities that they already had but maybe didn’t even realise,” commented Jeff Rosica, the CEO and president of post-production software firm Avid.
What’s clear is that whether it’s on the demand or supply side of the media industry, telecoms has an essential role to play – helping customers enjoy content at home; supporting live streaming for business continuity, socialisation and education; and enabling the production side of the media business to continue to function remotely. Maybe we’re asking the wrong question about content. Instead of seeing video as the hero or villain of the telecoms industry, maybe we ought to consider whether we are the hero or villain of theirs?