Climate change is a planet-critical issue, and the broadcast industry must work together to create sustainable ways of aggregating and distributing content, writes Richard Lindsay-Davies
Without doubt, carbon-related climate change is the biggest global issue to affect our society, and our industry since its inception. As we hurtle through a digital age where an explosion of content is available anywhere, at any time, on any device, the demands for more power and shortening product lifecycles across a proliferation of devices mean our footprint as an industry can no longer be a tier two issue.
With ten-year consumer universal-adoption lifecycles in mind, soon we will collectively need to decide which technologies will ensure the continuity of high-quality television experience into the 2030s. And those decisions will need to be made against a backdrop of further fragmentation of the media market.
The DTG’s responsibility as the only organisation that brings together the entire TV chain, alongside Government and regulators, is to mitigate the sustainability impact of this heightened war between global and national factions.
“We need to consider whether working in siloes is enough, or whether we need to have greater ambition as a sector”
We will only do this by making considered decisions about technology, from content capture, aggregation, distribution, both to and in the home, and consumer devices. Consensus-built technical standardisation will ensure consumer value and choice is delivered through a highly competitive market with a sustainability legacy we are proud of.
The business benefits of reducing energy consumption, or driving down waste in manufacturing processes, are clear. Similarly, the business risks surrounding supply chains exposed to climate-related interruptions, or pressure on rare earth minerals are well documented.
And individual players and parts of the chain are already doing great things to improve their own credentials and minimise their impacts. In fact, there is fantastic work going on in our sector from capture to consumption. Remote production techniques, enabled by 5G and accelerated by the pandemic, are eliminating the need for full onsite production crews, taking kit, people and vans off the road. Some of the biggest names in UK (and global) programming are announcing ambitious carbon targets that will drive meaningful and material change.
But as we reach an inflection point, we need to consider whether working in siloes is enough, or whether we need to have greater ambition as a sector. Because this goes beyond business-critical drivers. This is a planet-critical issue, which impacts us all professionally, personally and socially, which will take revolutionary thinking to unlock the wave of change we need.
Clearly, it is important that all players in all parts of our eco-system do their bit individually, but, as with everything else, our material impacts are supercharged when we work together.
Standardisation, not silos will drive sustainability success.
United for change
And the television sector has an incredibly strong pedigree when it comes to effecting universal change when it adopts a common direction.
From digital switchover to the red button, when all parts of the chain are in sync we drive change at pace, and adopt a word-leading position.
So, what is to stop us taking a world-leading position on sustainability and carbon reduction in the TV sector? I think there is a collective will across the value chain and the benefits are undeniable, as are the consequences of failing to act. And make no mistake, consumers – our customers – expect us to act.
Our viewers not only want more sustainable options, but they will also pay a premium for them. Our recent State of the Nation Report surveyed more than 2,000 consumers about their viewing habits. Almost half of those respondents wanted to mitigate the emissions associated with their viewing – and crucially, were willing to pay extra for greener streaming alternatives.
Television has constantly changed the way viewers behave. From the first remote controls to on-demand user interfaces, interactive TV to voice control, we as an industry shape the way consumers access, engage with and consume content all the time. It is a constantly evolving relationship where we are learning from their behaviours, and in turn, are shaping them. So why not here?
It is time that we the industry, the legislators and the regulators step up to this.
Sustainability as standard
There are huge gains to be made through standardisation. One seemingly simple example is the way content makes its way from the camera to the consumer.
Every time you encode or decode to move along the chain you are using power. From content creation to aggregation, through to syndication, distribution and the final last leg to your home and the device, even your Wi-Fi router, or home distribution system, if it is coding or encoding it is wasting energy.
So, by selecting a sensible, efficient and standardised encode system and keeping that codec common throughout the entire chain, before decoding in a way that is also energy efficient, you will save end-to-end emissions.
And there are massive business benefits as well. You do not introduce errors; you do not introduce additional cost. There may be some decisions you need to make along the way, but there is no good reason that process cannot be much more efficient and streamlined from end to end.
We have a long history of writing specifications that get universally deployed in the UK. And there is a risk that we lose sight of that because we are complacent about it. We cannot just expect that to be there because it won’t be, unless we keep going and keep working at it. And setting the standard is what drives results.
Critically, there must be a consensus so that all parts the chain feel ownership and feed into technical specifications to ensure sustainability is baked in. The result of that full stakeholder engagement is you get universal deployment and hopefully more world firsts for the UK!
I am excited for what is next, and I know the DTG is uniquely placed to bring the key actors together to foment real change. We did it with digital television from the start, so we can definitely do it on an issue where the stakes are so much higher. The UK sector once again taking a world-first position as we set the standard, through standards, for that next great wave of change.
Richard Lindsay-Davies is chief executive, DTG, which publishes the core technical requirements for digital television in the UK. For more about the DTG, its State of the Nation report or Waves of Change, the 2021 DTG Summit visit www.dtg.org.uk