By: Damien Spillane, Head of Sales Engineering, Australia
During the past few decades, evolving technology has made life increasingly difficult for Asia's free-to-air television channels. Now the relentless rise of streaming media could soon deliver a knock-out blow.
The first real challenge for broadcast TV appeared back in the 1980s when video recorders came into widespread use. Rather than having to sit in front of the screen at a pre-determined time, viewers could record shows and watch them at their leisure. They could also fast-forward through the ads.
This problem was exacerbated with the arrival of hard-drive recorders which could store many hours of content. People could record an entire TV series and watch it in one sitting.
Now an even bigger challenge has appeared - streaming media. Thanks to a growing number of internet-based services, viewers can locate and stream thousands of TV shows on demand. The days of waiting patiently for pre-programmemed broadcast schedules are well and truly over.
In Australia, US streaming giant Netflix is preparing to take the wraps off a new local service. It will join other offerings such as rival streaming companies Stan and Presto. Netflix has also announced plans to enter the Japanese market later this year.
In China, the Youku service is growing in popularity while in Korea, offerings such as that of B TV are gaining ground.
Growth is also being assisted by the roll out of fibre broadband networks in markets across the region. While Korea is well ahead in this area, countries such as Singapore and Australia are also investing heavily. Having access to better bandwidth makes streaming services even more appealing.
So where does this trend leave traditional TV broadcasters? Unable to readily compete with instant, on-demand alternatives they are likely to have to skew their schedules in favour of content which are better when viewed in real time - think sporting events and news updates.
Many are also scrambling to set up their own streaming services. Once shows have been broadcast, they are then available for viewing from the station's dedicated website. This can help a station retain the association between its brand and specific shows and also allows them to insert advertisements into the stream.
However there appear to be many in the industry who believe that streaming is fundamentally changing the television landscape. Operators that can adapt to these changes are more likely to be successful and survive the increasing competition.
Let's not forget, however, that a successful streaming service requires a significant amount of back-end infrastructure. As well as the bandwidth needed to pipe shows to viewers, large storage resources are needed to hold all the content.
And, with competition just a few clicks away, streaming providers need to ensure their infrastructure is reliable and scalable. Any degradation in performance due to latency at times of peak demand will have viewers quickly looking for alternatives.
Providers also need an efficient and effective way to handle large numbers of subscribers. Sign-up websites need to be fast, secure and simple to use.
To achieve this, streaming providers are choosing to base their operations in highly-connected, purpose-built data centres. By selecting a facility that is properly managed and has redundant, high-capacity network links, they can be confident their content offerings will always be accessible by their customers.
Traditional free-to-air television is not going to disappear anytime soon, but it's clear that the business model behind it is going to have to change. In the meantime, the alternatives for TV viewers are only likely to get more diverse and interesting.