Broadcast and Broadband - How Can We Meet Europe's Media Needs?

"We need both broadcasting and broadband, and they need to devise efficient and innovative ways to work together."

The EBU's Director General, Ingrid Deltenre, has told a gathering of broadcasting and telecoms representatives, that their two sectors must cooperate better to ensure Europeans continue to benefit from high-quality media. In her keynote speech at the IBC broadcasting tradeshow, Ms Deltenre also warned that wireless broadband networks were unable to meet the increasing data rates demanded by consumers today.

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Ingrid Deltenre's Speech at the IBC 2011:

The European Broadcasting Union is the collective body for Europe's 85 national broadcasters in 56 countries. Our 'owners' are our Members. In turn, their 'owners' are their audiences - the public. We are not selling any particular equipment or network. Our mission is to bring programmes into the homes of Europe, whichever is the best way of doing so for the public. I believe this makes us neutral in the important discussion about how we use spectrum.

We know how valuable broadband Internet is today, and will be in the years ahead. We believe in the 'information society'. We believe in the 'Digital Agenda'. Today, our Members' websites are among the most used in many member countries. Our members are all equipping themselves to provide the best services that Internet and broadcasting allow.

What we need, and what Europe needs, is the capacity to deliver web content and media into our homes with high quality, and with reliability. The problem is that the road many would like us to take today in Europe will not do this.

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Let's look at the facts.

We all know how much the public demand for data capacity has risen over the last ten years. Over that time, data rates into the home have risen in many places by, probably, a factor of thirty. Is this rate of increase in demand going to stop now, or continue? Of course, it will continue. In ten years' time the public will want thirty times what they do today.

All the predictions are that the public will demand more and more video content from the web. They will want more programmes, more choice, and more quality. Look at the success of 'catch-up' TV services.

In itself, television programme quality continues to rise too. People enjoy programmes with higher technical quality more than with lower quality. They feel more involved and they watch for longer. They get more from the programme. We have 3DTV. Many of the world's television laboratories are developing 'Ultra High Definition Television' systems. By any optimistic assessment UHDTV will need 500 times the data rate we find today on a YouTube SDTV clip.

Can we be prepared for the future? Can we provide for a Europe where the viewer gets his media reliably and in the best quality that technology can provide? The answer is no - if the only thing we use is 'wireless broadband'. The math simply does not add up.

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In future, part of the spectrum we have used for analogue television broadcasting in Europe will be used for wireless broadband - the '800 MHz' band. The discussions in Europe today is whether even more of the broadcast bands in future should be given over to wireless broadband services?

But even if broadband took over all the broadcast bands, in a few years there would still not be enough spectrum to meet demands. Just look at the likely rate of growth of capacity and it's plain to see. Using wireless broadband alone is not a solution to the media needs of the public.

We could follow our Japanese and Korean colleagues and create nations with fibre optics or hybrid cable/fibre systems into every home. Let's face it - they had a lot more foresight than we had in Europe, and we have to live with that. Maybe this is beyond the economic capacity of Europe.

The only way to meet the European public's media needs is to use broadcasting and wireless broadband. We need a partnership of broadcasting and wireless broadband. Each must be used, where it best meets the needs of the public. Broadcasting used for delivering the ever higher quality content to large audiences as the public demands. Broadband used as a partner when direct interactive services are needed for fewer users. I am not here to tell you what system this would be technically, this is a job for the engineers, but simply to say that it is the only realistic way ahead.

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During events like major sports championships we often hear how millions tune in to watch at the same time on television or radio perfectly, but there are congestion problems when only a few tens of thousands tried to watch via broadband Internet. The Internet 'highway' is really just that - a highway - and when there are too many cars on the road at the same time, the traffic comes to a halt. The same problem never ever happens with broadcasting.

Apart from being the only solution that will work delivering high quality to a mass audience, continuing to use broadcasting to deliver media to the public is a very good solution anyway. Broadcasting is the most efficient way to deliver the same content to many people at the same time. Technically a broadcast is 'in-exhaustible' to reception - it never 'runs out'. Some people also argue that it is a good thing to have a service which can be viewed 'anonymously' by a viewer, rather than have what we watch continuously logged by a big brother - the Internet Service Provider - as it is for Internet. As well as that, broadcasting is always needed when there are national or local 'disasters' of one kind or another. It really adds up, doesn't it? Broadcasting is needed and must be allowed the room to grow in quality and choice.

In future, when millions and millions of Europeans, all independently, want to watch their 15 Mbit/s HDTV content between 7pm and 10pm, can you possibly believe this will not need broadcasting?

So my plea today is for collaboration, not confrontation, between us. We need bold and brave initiatives. We need to see the reality - not the wish list. This will make it possible to achieve the Digital Agenda faster. We need both broadcasting and broadband, and they need to devise efficient and innovative ways to work together.

Broadcast and the broadband must be friends not enemies. Stifling broadcasting is not the way to achieve the Digital Agenda.

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