Every year delivers further transformation of the television experience. The change is often more gradual than some might anticipate. In retrospect we have come a long way in recent years but there is still some way to go. So we can take the opportunity of a new year to take stock and look forward to what 2016 has in store.
2016 will be an Olympic year. The four-year cycles of the Olympic Games and the World Cup have historically driven the development and deployment of television technology.
These days, developments in consumer technology tend to outpace traditional broadcasters.
While the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 provided a limited opportunity to experiment with 4K, it is not clear whether the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will deliver an ultra-high-definition dividend to television manufacturers and retailers.
Olympic Broadcast Services, which provides the main coverage of the event, has reported little demand for 4K from rights holders.
However, we might expect to see some evaluation of 8K, which is 16 times the resolution of HD, in preparation for the following Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo in 2020.
Meanwhile, increasingly affordable 4K screens will be sold in stores in anticipation of more UHD programming.
Yet there is still no consensus on how to deliver some other aspects of an improved viewing experience, such as high dynamic range, wider colour gamut or higher frame rates.
So shoppers should beware apparent bargains on big screens, which may already be obsolescent. The CES Show in Las Vegas will provide a preview of the next generation of displays, as product cycles roll on relentlessly.
There will be a new generation of Ultra HD Blu-Ray players and discs, testing the continuing demand for physical formats. Streaming services will increasingly offer 4K material and greater convenience.
Major pay-television providers such as Sky and DIRECTV will launch 4K services as a premium offering, with sports and movies as the main draw.
There will be experiments with ‘virtual reality’ viewing but as with 3D it will have limited appeal because most people do not want to wear special glasses to watch television.
National broadcasters will continue to defer any commitments to UHD on the basis that the market is immature, but risk being left behind. The challenge for them is that even if the addressable market of displays is modest, they need to produce programming in formats that will future proof their archive.
Netflix plans to complete its global expansion in 2016, expanding into Asia, with a presence in 200 countries by the end of the year. Amazon will continue to develop a competitive offering and should not be underestimated, given its broader business interests.
Global giants like Apple and Google have yet to exert their dominance on television in the way they have other markets, but they are continuing to build powerful ecosystems.
The trend towards offering direct to consumer online video services will continue although these will increasingly be aggregated by packagers in a refactored pay-television proposition.
The BBC will launch its own online offering on the American market and wonder why, like its BBC Shop initiative and previous global iPlayer effort, it is less successful than some might hope.
The current Royal Charter for the BBC expires at the end of 2016. Its renewal will probably be a typically British compromise but the corporation will be left weaker unless it is able to articulate compelling vision for its future. The BBC Trust will be replaced by a combination of corporate governance and statutory regulation. In the longer term, the current licence fee funding mechanism appears increasingly anachronistic.
There will be further erosion of traditional television viewing, with long-term attrition appearing unavoidable. With the exception of occasional peak viewing, simultaneous audiences to programmes will continue to decline. A few hit shows will benefit from broader online distribution but many will suffer.
Further industry consolidation is inevitable. Commercial broadcasters like ITV could again become acquisition targets, not because of the declining value of their legacy business model but for their production capabilities in combination with other forms of distribution and global delivery.
BT will close its acquisition of EE, enabling it to offer an integrated bundle of fixed and mobile broadband, telephone and television services. Quite what that means for the future of the EE TV service remains unclear. Further calls are also likely for the separation of the retail business from the OpenReach wholesale network, which will no doubt be strongly resisted by BT.
There will continue to be a dramatic difference between the broadband experience of those in urban areas and those in more rural or remote regions. Those in cities could have gigabit per second connections, while some will still be struggling to get a mobile signal.
TalkTalk will continue to persuade itself that it is in the television business with its YouView offering, while broadcasters will push their own FreeviewPlay proposition.
Vodafone will meanwhile launch a television and video service in the United Kingdom, although it may struggle to make an impact in a highly competitive market. With other international interests including Germany, Spain and Portugal, Vodafone has the opportunity to be a major player, but a combination with Liberty Global now seems less likely.
Despite saturation in mature markets, the number of pay-television subscribers will continue to increase worldwide. The informitv Multiscreen Index shows continuing growth of around 1% a quarter, which may not sound dramatic, but suggests the state of pay-television should not be viewed only through the lens of North America.
For live events, like the Olympics, traditional television will continue to deliver experiences that reach mass audiences.
Broadcasters and network channels will continue to create events that cut through the clutter, but will find it increasingly difficult to maintain our interest.
Viewers will benefit from the availability ever more high quality programming but will be more selective about what they choose to watch.
In short, we will still be watching television. It remains our most popular pastime, but we will be viewing programmes in different ways.
The winners will be those that can deliver a differentiated viewing experience that meets these expectations. That means a coherent multiscreen strategy is a must.