By Adam Bennett
Miles Flint is the head of Sony Professional Broadcast Europe. For the last three years he and his team have been studying the future of broadcast. What they predict is a future of Anycast: any content, at any time to any device.
Anycastworld|~||~||~| What is anycastworld?The whole project started back in 1998 when we were puzzling about how to make sense of what was going on. It was originally called tv21, we went and did a lot of detailed interviews with people in IT, telecoms and video. What emerged out of that was the idea of any content, at any time with any device. That left us saying well we're moving from broadcast, to something that's not broadcast but we don't know what to call it. The name came up in a meeting and just stuck. The key to anycast though is any content at any time to any device; therefore interactive, therefore mobile, therefore home workplace. So what have you found?We clarified from the information that there are four broad scenarios that we could identify. In no particular order: mobile - 3G content to handheld devices, not just mobile phones, but PDAs and other devices. Second is what we called the home network, which is everything from what we network today to microwaves, fridges and washing machines, Possibly with a server or controller running the household. That's one that people had least empathy with, but most of the technology to make it possible if people want to. The third one is what we called E-TV, enhanced TV, adding interactivity and e-commerce to the TV. This would build on the trust that people have in their TV, both for news and entertainment, as well as the ubiquity of the TV. The fourth is what we're calling a PC centric world. The on-line PC is already interactive, the problem is that penetration of PCs varies very much across the world, we get one picture in the US and Northern Europe and it's possibly not an accurate estimate across the world. Another problem is it has associations with work and is probably less trusted than a TV.||**||Anycastworld: the future|~||~||~| What changes will this mean for Sony?There's a much larger telecoms component to this than we've had before, American technology can talk about ubiquitous bandwidth with great fervour, but in Europe and the area of your readership the reality is that the telecom networks are not cheap enough or robust enough to do all the things that people are talking about. I think therefore that there is a lot of work to be done between telecoms companies and companies like ours to work out what services can be delivered, at what price, so consumers will take them up.The other thing is that in the past we have been involved in incremental selling, releasing better VCRs and encouraging consumers to buy our model rather than a competitors. Increasingly what customers are saying to us is that they want to be a broadband services company, that means we have to a transform the business we are running today and create new ones. Can Sony help us.? So there is a much larger consultative role, we are beginning to think how do we create more of a consultative capability either in-house or by working with others. We are and we will remain fundamentally a technology company, there will be no change in that, but the process of helping a customer to a decision will be fundamentally different to what has happened in the past. Do you see a single unified device?It's a little bit difficult to see. I think there will be a huge multiplicity of different devices||**||Anycastworld: convergence|~||~||~| What does convergence mean to you?An example that I use is; when I am away skiing in Austria it would be nice to have a device that I could use to check the news from whoever I choose, and book a restaurant that night and check the snow conditions that morning just by making three clicks. It may be a little idealistic, but to me as a consumer is what added value service could represent. Rather than just a technological issue of convergence, on a single device I could interact in what are essentially three different domains very quickly in sequence. Do you not think you're setting your sights a little low? The services you mentioned are available on WAP telephones already?I can see there being a lot more rich content, restaurant reviews, weather maps and seeing the news pretty much as we see on the TV today. You are right though, this is why it is very difficult to predict what might happen in five, ten or fifteen years, because there are enough signs that it's coming - the first implementations are there, if we can put the settings into our WAP phones, the services are there, but the services are far from ubiquitous, you have to go looking for it.||**||Anycastworld: customer management|~||~||~| How do you see the services developing?I was thinking recently that mobile phone came into existence about 1984. They were a luxury, you had to have a business to justify having one but now they have become a necessity. Its taken fifteen years for them to get to the point where even kids have them and pay for them with their pocket money. Come back in ten years and I think we'll be well on our way, but it's a really rash person who makes predictions of timescales in this business. What do broadcast companies need to do to prepare for the changes?The biggest question that people are asking is on content management at the moment; how do we architect and manage this piece? I think the biggest question about customers is how do we find the right combination of linear viewing, interactive viewing, e-commerce, internet enabling or support? How do we theme it, how do we brand it, how do we differentiate it and how do we deliver it? Digiscope are pushing the concept of ECRM, do you think that it is an important concept?The customer is now much more at the centre of the world now, they can click onto a service and if they don't like it they don't have to click back again. So the companies that can put together the combination of what the customer is looking for, uniquely for each customer is going to do much better than the ones who are still pushing out 'model T Fords' in only one colour. The people who are really capable of understanding on the basis of your last car and your other preferences, the sort of model you might want to have might be one of these, and we can do it in a choice of ten colours, is going to do a lot better. That's simplifying a little bit, but there's a huge, huge moment afoot now to focus on how to customise things around anyone end-user. And that is what I see as being ecrm, it's going to take a long time to get to, but it's a trend in a direction that's flowing very strongly now.||**||