Speech

Ed Vaizey Speech to Digital TV Group Summit 2014

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

More than 125 companies are members of the DTG, and collectively they drive innovation and growth in the television & technology sectors.

Ed Vaizey

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Good morning everyone. It’s great to be back at the DTG Summit and it’s great to start the day with so many familiar and friendly faces.

As you may have seen on the way in, this lovely modern building isn’t just a conference centre. It’s also home to one of Steve’s many employers, the Guardian. It’s a newspaper that, in recent years, hasn’t been shy about embracing new technology. But that’s not always been the case.

Back in 1928 its editor, the legendary CP Scott, was somewhat dismissive of a piece of an invention being demonstrated by a Scotsman named John Logie Baird. “Television?” he said. “The word is half Greek and half Latin. No good will come of it.”

Eighty-six years later I think we can all agree that he somewhat underestimated the medium’s potential.

That’s not a mistake anyone in this room could ever be accused of making. For nearly two decades the Digital Television Group has been central to the distribution of TV in the UK, maintaining the technical specification for Freeview and supporting the development of YouView, Freesat, Sky, Virgin Media and many others.

The FITT

And of course there’s the Future of Innovation in Television Technology Taskforce. I had the pleasure of launching FITT in September 2012, and this morning I have the honour of presenting its much-anticipated findings. But before I do, it’s worth rewinding 18 months and reminding ourselves why the taskforce was needed.

The Digital Switchover was about to be completed, and traditional distinctions between linear television and the internet were being eroded. And this wasn’t just something that affected early adopters. Everyone with a digital TV and a broadband connection was in on it.

With the pace of change accelerating, the time was right to think about not only what the future of television would look like, but what we could do, collectively, to shape it.

The biggest question we asked of the taskforce was to determine what specific measures are needed to ensure the UK retains its world-leading role in television technology.

I can’t overstate how important this is. The UK’s creative industries are worth more than £70 billion to our national economy, and television is a key part of that. As well as its direct benefits, a thriving television industry also supports other vital sectors – music, film, advertising – in a way no other sub-sector does.

If the UK is going to maintain its leadership in this field, we have to be properly prepared for the new technologies and new challenges that are coming thick and fast.

For example, there’s the forthcoming international discussions and decisions on future television use of 700MHz spectrum. Our primary objectives here are:

  • firstly, to make sure that the core structure of the DTT platform are maintained as part of any transition and that interference issues are fully mitigated
  • secondly, to enable spectrum cleared through this process to be available to Mobile Operators when they need it in line with releases across Europe and in other international markets.

Broadcasters will – quite rightly – expect assurances on a range of issues. Many of these will be dependent on the work we are doing with Ofcom and which will inform future decisions.

The next stage of that work is Ofcom’s consultation on 700 MHz clearance, which is due before the summer. I’m sure you’ll all take the opportunity to tell them exactly what you think!

But I also hope that broadcasters will view this as an opportunity for bold thinking. I would encourage them accelerate thinking on the feasibility of a longer-term move to the new DVB-T2 transmission with MPEG4 or even make the jump to the new HEVC compression standard.

Although a migration to DVB T2 would be outside the scope of a future 700MHz clearance – a coordinated transition would - in my view - greatly enhance the longevity of the platform and combine spectrum efficiency with benefits for consumers in terms of the enhancement of universal services and maintaining platform choice.

The Report’s Findings

All this means that the FITT report has been produced in a climate of intense change, a period in which the old certainties are up in the air. But the report shows that the most important factor in the equation remains unshaken – people still like watching TV!

While the technology behind the screen is constantly shifting, the core experience of watching it isn’t. Viewers still want to share stories and experiences that play to their sense of identity, as an individual, as a family, as a nation. Often as a combination of all three. This is unlikely to change.

Likewise, there is still demand to consume content that is culturally relevant as well as compelling. But what’s interesting is that our definition of what is relevant to us as individuals has grown as a result of being exposed to more and more choice.

Who would have thought, for example, that there would be such a large market for Scandinavian noir? That millions would be gripped by a tent full of amateur bakers? Or that Channel 4, with Gogglebox, could get people watching a TV programme about people watching a TV programme – and win a BAFTA for it!

This exchange of content and ideas runs both ways internationally. Britain may be nation of Borgen fans, but from Dr Who to Downton Abbey, UK television exports are booming. UK actors and production people are in high demand. And our production companies, including our independent producers, have taken full advantage of this global profile. Recent examples include the Anglo-Sino Film Co-Production Agreement and the memorandum signed between Pact and the Chinese State Broadcaster, CCTV.

UK content is easy to find, consume and share, both at home and around the world. Maintaining this must remain a commercial imperative.

This increased connectivity doesn’t just affect producers. As the report shows, the majority of viewers are now creating and becoming part of a much larger phenomenon – that of ‘Big Data’. The creation and collection of detailed information on viewing habits has helped to change the way consumers are studied. We’re moving away from simple demographics, cohorts and ages and closer to a household and individual level. This brings with it great opportunities to exploit, but also many risks to consider and fears to address.

Focussing on the positives, the FITT report puts forward the interesting theory that a combination of big data, a mature consumer electronics market attuned to consumer needs, and consumer appetite for new applications and services will drive real convergence.

This is because there is a clear reason for the various parts of the value chain to cooperate at the level of the consumer. The report suggests the upside here is a massive opportunity for innovation in the UK – for example through better integration between broadcasters and social networks. The downside, of course, is that others have also spotted the opportunity and UK companies will need to be agile to take full advantage!

Finally, the FITT report predicts that the TV screen itself will change, completing its transition from a means of delivering content to an essential tool for displaying and engaging through services and applications. Advances in terms of picture and sound quality will also continue to come through.

And there will be increased connectivity via TV sets, with more viewers taking advantage of broadband infrastructure able to carry all the audio visual content viewers could want. The main screen will be at the centre of the domestic data universe, orbited by smartphones, tablets and a range of faster devices.

What is surprising – on first glance – is the prediction that the evolution of these devices will result in an increase in linear viewing.

Research last year found that if all households had the ability to record TV programmes, they would expect the level of playback to settle at around 15 to 20 per cent, with most of the emerging demand for on-demand content coming at the expense of recorded programming.

But the FITT report goes further. It suggests that the continued growth in tablets and smartphone sales will continue to enhance the “must-watch experience”, with what’s happening on television driving what is important and relevant to social media. Don’t agree? Just look at Twitter’s trending topics during Britain’s Got Talent and Strictly – or try to scroll through your Facebook timeline right now without seeing any spoilers from last night’s Game of Thrones!

The result is a predicted increase in linear viewing despite the in-roads made by providers such as Netflix and Amazon.

It may initially seem counterintuitive, but in my experience that usually means there must be something worth thinking about!

FITT Report Recommendations

The FITT report contains a lot of insights into the future of television, a lot of ideas about how things are going to look in future. But most importantly, it also makes a number of key recommendations, recommendations aimed at ensuring the UK stays at the pinnacle of the TV world for many years to come.

It promotes a new initiative – the Next Generation of TV Planning Programme – to develop an evolving plan that will look at longer-term solutions encompassing all relevant technologies, and taking account of 700MHz clearance.

It makes important recommendations on how further detailed work and collaboration can open the way to using big data – similar to the £42 million Government investment in the Alan Turing Institute.

It calls on the industry to collaborate on cross-platform promotion of UK-developed apps.

It makes interesting suggestions about the talent and skills we need to develop in order to maintain our position in the world.

And it also has some requests of the government. The report calls for greater certainty for the TV sector in terms of platform competition, spectrum availability and the continued accessibility of free-to-air public service content.

And it makes a case for government incentives that will allow the development of a “UK Creative Cloud”, a shared resource that will meet the current and future computing demands facing our sector.

On behalf of the Government, I can tell you that we will certainly be taking careful note of these recommendations, and will work very closely with the proposed Next Generation of TV Planning Programme.

Next Steps

The FITT has produced a great report, one packed with insights and ideas. But I don’t want you to think that its publication of marks the end of the process. It’s only the latest stage. In TV terms, it’s the cliffhanger conclusion of the pilot episode, rather than the final scene in the farewell season.

It’s vital that we keep this dialogue going. The success of our television sector shows what is possible when industries devise their own solutions to problems, and organisations like the DTG have a decisive role to play in making that happen.

Mobile Video Alliance

With this in mind, I’m delighted to be able to announce that the DTG is to launch the Mobile Video Alliance.

Created in association with mobile network operator EE and the global interconnection and data centre company Equinix, the Mobile Video Alliance will bring together stakeholders from right along the mobile video value chain, helping them to discuss their requirements, identify challenges and share opportunities.

It will advocate and develop a mobile video ecosystem to support the delivery of audio-visual content to mobile devices, something critical to the future both of broadcasting and of mobile networks.

The idea and aim of the Mobile Video Alliance is simple. Develop and promote technologies that harmonise the delivery of video to mobile devices, providing a consistent, reliable and enjoyable user experience with better economy for everyone involved.

Dynamic collaborations like this have a strong track record within the TV sector. I will follow the work of the Mobile Video Alliance very closely, and wish every involved all the best for the future.

Conclusion

Television has come a long way since CP Scott wrote it off all those years ago, but big issues and challenges remain. The very nature of constantly evolving technology means this will always be the case. Innovative, collaborative solutions will always be required.

And that’s not something the Government can deliver on our own. It’s been said that any Government, in isolation, will nearly always make bad decisions, so it’s up to you to tell us what’s happening and what you need. It’s up to you to think big and think different, especially on the major strategic issues.

This summit is an opportunity to do just that. So make the most of the opportunities it presents. Take the time to read through the FITT report, share your ideas and problems, and use today to foster the collaboration on which the UK’s television industry relies.

Thanks again to everyone involved in the Future of Innovation in Television Task Force. Thanks to the DTG for inviting me along to speak today. And thanks to all of you for your continued dedication to the UK television industry.

Have a great conference.

Published 20 May 2014