Managing the programme delivery chain in the connected world is increasingly complex. A report from the Digital Production Partnership, supported by Sony, summarises a series of presentations from technology executives at leading British broadcasters. It features frank views from Sky, the BBC, ITV, Channel Four, ITN, UKTV and BT Sport. One thing seems clear; their future will increasingly be defined by software.

“These seven senior technology executives gave frank and compelling reports from the front line of transformation in the media sector,” said DPP Managing Director, Mark Harrison.

Matthew Postgate, the chief technology and product officer of the BBC, gave a stark assessment. “The reality is, based on my last conversations with Google and Amazon, that they’re about two years away from being able to provide an entire broadcast chain: gathering, edit, play out, distribution, all out of the box, all machine learning ready. All delivered as a pay-as-you-go service,” he warned. “They are coming to be part of this market, and we’re not quite sure how we’re going to fit in. I think most people have underestimated exactly where those companies have got to, and the capacities and capabilities they’ve achieved. We now need to understand how we coexist in the marketplace.”

“Our legacy supply chains were fine in a world of pure linear television, delivering to one or maybe two platforms, but the world’s changed,” noted Tom Griffiths, the director of broadcast and distribution technology at ITV. “Now it’s about linear TV, box sets, catch up; it’s about going to online before linear; it’s about shorts, and long programming. And what we don’t want are unique ways of delivering all those different content types to different platforms because, frankly, it’s unaffordable; it isn’t agile; and it’s a pain to manage.”

“We’ve all built our own systems in the past because we thought that was a route to differentiation, but the reality is that these days the majority of what we do is commoditised,” said Orpheus Warr, the chief technology officer of Channel Four. “So we need to understand that standardisation applies to all of us. Aligning better also means we can invest in the real differentiators: content, and features.”

“What we really need is a single supply chain that can deliver to a multitude of different devices, from a single source,” commented Chris Johns, the chief engineer for Sky. “We want to be able to prepare content, master it, schedule it — all automatically. Achieving that is going to take a long time and mean throwing away the old rule book. We have to take complex content supply spaghetti and make it coherent, cost effective and logical.”

He believes one of the keys to this is IMF, an interoperable mastering format. “It’s trying to get down to a single format that’s delivered with a very high quality image that you can store forever as an archive or as your master delivered format,” he explained. “With IMF you deliver one piece of essence and then you deliver an edit list that goes with it. From that one master essence, you can create all the variants that go across all that multitude of platforms downstream.”

For broadcasters, it is not just a matter of changing technology but of culture transformation. Technical standardisation may help, but as technologies become commoditised, national broadcasters will be increasingly challenged by global media and technology giants.

Meet the UK Broadcasters 2017 is available from the Digital Production Partnership web site.