The media business stalwart discusses the impact of 5G on content consumption, the economics of blockchain, and the long-term Viacom vision. 

Speaking in advance of his scheduled appearance at the ‘New Now Next: The Definitive Roadmap’ session at IBC2018, Viacom’s David Kline reflected on the fact that he is “always drawn to examination of what is happening in the industry now, and what is likely to happen next. And, of course, at the moment there is a phenomenal amount of change taking place in the global media business…”

David Kline

David Kline

With a long and distinguished career in media, Kline is certainly well-positioned to track this arc of change, although he actually started out in IT-related healthcare before moving into technology consultancy within the Integrated Systems Group.

Subsequent to that, Kline moved into media, initially with Rainbow Media Holdings, a subsidiary of Cablevision. He spent the best part of a decade there before joining Discovery Networks as CIO and then, in 2010, Viacom as SVP of Technology and CIO. Six years later, he was appointed to his present role of EVP and Chief Information & Technology Officer.

To say the least, Viacom’s footprint in the global media industry is substantial, with networks reaching over 4.3 billion subscribers in 183 countries.

In addition to owning iconic film studio Paramount Pictures, the company is also home to some of the world’s most familiar broadcast brands, including Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Paramount Network, VH1, TV Land, CMT and Logo. It also owns and operates many international properties, such as Channel 5 in the UK and Colors in India.

The technologies Kline anticipated discussing in the greatest detail at IBC included 5G, “which is coming up very fast, both for fixed and mobile. I am sure we will have discussions around how that enables the Internet of Things as well as advanced opportunities around advertising, content delivery and/or content consumption.

”Plus, there are conversations to be had around the data aspect in general, whether it be blockchain or other data opportunities based around advancements in speed and connectivity.”

“There does have to be a reason for using blockchain and it can’t just be a case of a company going at it ‘because we want to do it’”

Of course, these and other developments are increasingly being played out against the broader context of the “the move towards the cloud – what does that mean, what does that bring, and how does it continue to be dynamic in what we are all doing to better the viewing habits and enjoyment of the consumer?”

Kline agrees with the suggestion that blockchain is bound to be a primary talking point at IBC, but implies that blanket implementation is unlikely to be the way forward. “The nice thing about blockchain is the ability to share data in a private way or an anonymous way, plus I do think it will continue to shift how measurement happens, both in the media space and in general,” he says.

“But there does have to be a reason for using blockchain and it can’t just be a case of a company going at it ‘because we want to do it’.

“So if there is a reason to share that data, or a reason for the consortium aspect associated to it, then it is something to be looking at and investing in.

”However, if it is just for the hell of using blockchain to replace a traditional data warehouse or data lake, then there may be too much overhead and it is probably not worth using.

”So for me, I think the major change is going to be the disruption to measurement and the ability to conjoin data more effectively without running into the entanglement of whose data is whose, and how does one make sure that you are exposing the right things to the right people.”

In terms of the specific implications for Viacom, Kline confirms that “we are exploring blockchain in a few areas, and I am hoping it will enable some of the consortiums [that we work with] to conjoin data in the advertising space.

”We are also working with some of our third-party partners to have conversations about what they are doing for ad-serving and opportunities in that space, in order to try to figure out how blockchain will play there. So essentially we are in the mode of understanding and the mode of operating.”

Like many observers, Kline expects 5G to have a galvanising effect on content delivery and consumption across the board. “The speed of 5G is certainly going to be a very important benefit,” he says, “and another nice characteristic of 5G is that you will be able to have both the 5G fixed aspect – where you will have an antenna in your home similar to what you currently have with a cable modem, expect it will be a cellular signal coming in – and then also the mobile side.”

He cites the expectation that multiple telcos will soon launch 4G/5G dual-capable devices, but in the longer-term is enthused by the possibility these next-generation products have to “open up a whole new world of usability, frequency of usability, and identification of opportunities.”

Kline draws a parallel with the gradual emergence of the self-driving car – “now they are becoming more and more prevalent, and are part of what is happening rather than being a space-jump to decades from now.”

Hence he thinks it won’t be too long before there are sizeable opportunities for “5G IoT advancement, as well as AR, where you will get the chance to experience that virtual, ‘in the real world’ aspect of bringing things with you, whether it is your child in a visual image next to you, or watching The Daily Show and having [host] Trevor Noah sitting by you whilst you watch! Those speeds will be enabled and 5G will really take it all to the next dimension.”

Transition won’t happen overnight, but is likely to mirror the introduction of 4G devices, cable modems and HD TVs in that “it was a slow proliferation [at first] – and then all of a sudden it was the norm. I think it will be a good 2-5 years in the making, but I do think there will be enablement region by region, and very specific enablement based on where the telcos are looking to target.

”So Viacom has been involved in tests with providers to work out how we will transmit our content over these new opportunities, specifically 5G, and what it means for us and how it might change our production and delivery. To be sure we can take advantage of the changes when they come, we want to start building something now.”

In this regard Kline says that Viacom is greatly assisted by having a defined long-term plan, as laid out by CEO Bob Bakish in 2016, that “really focuses in particular on our flagship channels and working together as one Viacom to produce multiplatform content globally.” All of which resonates resoundingly with the current technological changes and is proving to be “a really exciting vision that is helping Viacom move into the future”.

IBC2018 David Kline will be speaking in the panel session New. Now. Next: The Definitive Roadmap on Monday 17 September