Archive for April, 2013

The Evolving Progressive Death of Traditional Broadcast and hard Media. Implications for the Classical Music and Opera Scene

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

An article in the Associated Press: – A growing number of TV viewers don’t watch over cable, satellite or antenna, says Nielsen, really caught my eye.  So much so that I registered with Nielsen and downloaded the report.  In the main it confirmed trends I have come to realize are gathering pace at breakneck speed.

It shows a fast shifting trend to increasingly streamed content from the NET from sites like Netflix, Amazon and many others.

The reasons are cost, poor quality of programming on traditional TV,  resistance to bundling of cable and satellite vendors, and especially important, the ability to watch what interest them when they want to watch it.

There is missing data in the report, for instance if a subject reports watching a gaming station like PS3 it does not break out times spent on gaming, playing DVD/BD and Internet content streaming.

One thing I did note was a small but probably insignificant drop in time watching DVD and BD from 2011 to 2012.  However it tells me that this use of hard disc media has very likely peaked.  It has been known for sometime that CD sales are in decline.  Not only that CD players are now an oddity.  DVD and BD players also play CDs.  So I suspect that decline in DVD/BD use is going to further push the tide to digital streaming and downloads rather than CD purchase.

A lot of this Internet viewing is on mobile devices, and this is bound to be especially true of house holds that do not posses a traditional TV, a rising population.

The demographics show these trends really picking up in the 20  to 35 year old age range, with little activity in the 65+ age group.

I have noted for some time that few homes now have dedicated sound systems and fewer dedicated AV systems with high quality audio.  I think a big part of this is cost, as the electronics budget is spent on mobile devices, which increasing number of people require for their jobs, and there is nothing left in the budget for home systems.  I suspect complexity of set up is also a problem.  I frequently note the members of my generation frequently have trouble with GUI interfaces.

Another thing I cleaned from the report is that at best 5% of this group were able to connect their flat panel TVs to an Internet browser.  The implications of this are significant, as it means unless their is an icon on the TV, BD player, Boxee Bod ROKU etc. not many are going to watch it on their big screens.  If there TV has a browser, than there is the problem of getting audio back to the sound system.  A TV is not the ideal place to locate the browser.  This is especially pertinent as modern flat panels are wafer thin with small rims.  So the only place to put the speakers in on the back facing the wall.  For safety reasons mounting these panels to the wall is virtually mandatory.  So the speakers are a few inches from the wall firing into it.  This makes them virtually unintelligible, mandating an external sound system even if it is just a sound bar.

Now Nielsen deals in TV ratings, and not radio.  However I think that their are implications for this for radio broadcasters.  Only older people own radios for their homes.  None of my children own a traditional radio in the home, just cars.  In fact I think the best audio systems people own are now in their cars.  So out of their cars the younger listeners are using mobile devices and their computers at home, or I suspect mainly at work to listen to radio.  If less then 5% of this population are able to open a browser on their flat panel, I would bet even less can connect an Internet radio station to a good audio system.  Receivers now generally can receive traditional FM, HD radio and Internet radio.  However stand alone FM/HD devices are rarer than CD only players.

You are unlikely to own a receiver unless you are putting together a home AV system.  US receiver sales for 2012 were 688 million dollars.  If you skew that to the low end of the market, that is likely about 1.5 million units,  If you skew it towards the middle about 700, 000 units.  So this in not high market penetration I doubt.  The lower priced units are not known for longevity, so I suspect a lot of units are replacement units and I would guess that accounts for about 25% of sales.  So new AV system is likely no more than a million a year, and very likely less.

FM broadcasting is now 65 years old and has and still is serving us well.  This is testimony to Major Armstrong’s achievement in the development of FM broadcasting.  It limitations are now becoming more apparent, especially its limited dynamic range.  Internet streaming should become the method of choice for delivering high quality audio and AV for that matter to the home.  This technology is now approaching maturity, and will continue to improve along with the quality of the Internet.  Streaming to vehicles on the move is in its infancy, however I expect that technology will develop rapidly.  There are already Internet streaming car radios on the market.  The cost of the bandwidth for the usual time spent in cars is less than the cost of a subscription to Sirius.  I suspect that eventually that will be a terminal threat to satellite radio broadcasts.  One of the nice features of streaming is the ability to tailor bandwidth to connection and device, even automatically and seamlessly to the user.

As mobile technology develops there will no longer be a need for expensive to build and maintain terrestrial transmitters and even more expensive satellites.  This will not only have an impact on the means of transmission, but a profound impact on program production and an even greater and liberating effect on listening habits.  This is already happening in the TV world.

Mobile technology is rapidly advancing.  My son has just returned from England and bought a new Ford Escort Escape.  As is common with autos now the sound system is superior.  I was able to evaluate quality of the media the vehicle could play back.  The worst quality was Sirius satellite, followed by MPR HD radio (iBiquity), analog FM form MPR was acceptable.  The best sound however came from Spotify Mobile Premium streamed from his wife’s iPhone in the back seat via Blue Tooth.  The stream was 320 kbs with Ogg Vorbis codec.  Even under mobile conditions, this easily beat out the rest.

Last fall I designed built and installed an HTPC in my system here.  I did it to evaluate everything I could grab off the Net.  I can’t believe how my viewing habits have changed.  I have long been able to grab Internet radio, but with higher quality listening stream available my radio listening habits are also rapidly evolving.  I think a minimum standard for classical Internet radio streaming should be 350 kbs AAC3.  The BBC seem to agree.

Now there comes a complete game changer from DTS.  DTS Layered Audio Technology.

DTS stole a march on Dolby Labs at the introduction of loss less surround codecs.  Dolby True HD requires a track for Dolby 5.1 and a track for Dolby True HD.  This takes up excess disc space.  DTS used their DTS 5.1 and used it as a kernel to wind the DTS Master HD around, so only one track is required.  The receiving device uses the best codec it can handle.

Now DTS have expanded on this technology, to allow a single stream to be layered to contain a variety of quality levels.  This will avoid broadcaster having to stream, low, medium and high definition streams. A mobile device will get the correct stream and an up to date AV system can receive DTS Master HD, all from the same stream.  This is brilliant, and will bring the demise of traditional broadcasting closer than I thought.

My wife insisted she wanted Internet TV at our Twin Cities residence.  So I have beefed up that system.  The BD player has streaming capability and I have installed a Sony Google TV player, that has the Google Gold browser built in.  It also has lots of icons for going straight to a site without opening a browser.  It has the icon for the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall, which connects me to Berlin in a click.

I have been astonished at how quickly and radically my wife’s viewing habits have been changed by this technology and the blink of an eye.  She just loves the freedom that comes with it.  Now I realize in our demographic that this is atypical.  However it is now pretty close to becoming the rule for the under 35 and in 20 years they will be 55.  I’ll stick my neck out and say I can now definitely see the end of terrestrial broadcasting in a generation or so, and at the current rate of change, possibly less.

From the standpoint of the “Classical Music/Opera scene” I believe the implications are serious, and without significant attention paid to the issue, potentially devastating.

This issue has a lot to do with the current difficulty orchestras find themselves in around the world.  It has a lot to do with the lockouts in Minnesota of the MSO and SPCO.  However I don’t think anyone is connecting the dots.  Concert Halls just do not contain enough seats to pay the musicians sold at prices that are affordable.  In fact prices in my view are already a bar to entry.  If you look at the demographics of concertgoers they are the same as those not using digital media in large numbers.  The younger generation not entering the concert halls in large enough numbers are the digital streaming and download generation.

Recording is over a 100 years old now.  Serious record collectors started to get to critical mass in the 1920 especially post 1927 with the development of electric recording.  With the Introduction of the Long Playing record and FM radio in 1948 my post war generation found and explored repertory almost exclusively via recordings and FM radio.  You can only hope to hear or see one nth part of the repertory in the concert hall you can get to know via recordings.  Recordings were big business and a huge and fine body of work entered the catalogs of the major recording companies.  Now that era is passed largely to be replaced by stream and downloads, and the art of record collecting dying fast.  A big source of funding to orchestras and therefore musicians dying with it.  To add insult to injury the major donors are following the same demographics as the audiences, which is and will bode ill for funding and endowments.

However the streaming /download technology is highly pop geared and fundamentally unfriendly to the classical repertory.  The problem is that classical music and opera have to be superbly reproduced.  None of the repertory can properly impress on iPhones, iPads and most computer speakers.  Worse gap less downloads are often far from perfect in my experience.  Lossy codecs like mp3 and those associated with HD radio just add insult to injury.

The new generation is much more visual than the previous one.  I have to say that as a card carrying member of the grey haired set, I’m much more visual than I used to be.  Most of my life a good audio system was all I required.  Now however I want good video and audio, especially for opera.  Opera in audio only format can only give a fraction of the enjoyment of the AV experience.

I have watched this situation here in Minnesota with dismay. I have tried to help, but my advice falls on deaf ears. I don’t believe more funds can be garnered from the public purse. It would be highly controversial and over all negative.

The answer I’m certain is selling virtual tickets over the Internet. The recently launched DSO program for streaming their concerts live is fine as far as it goes. The problem, it’s free. That should be making money for them. Met Player makes money for the Met. I also subscribe to the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall and I have really enjoyed that on my big screens and superb sound systems in our two residencies. I’m probably also going to subscribe to Medici TV.  As an aside I’m listening to classical MPR less and less.  Their FM signal is excellent, but their Internet stream is of poor quality.  I tried to listen to an archived Pipe Dreams broadcast last night, but had to turn it off.  In contrast I have been listening today to some of last weekend’s Bach marathon put on at the Royal Albert Hall by Sir John Elliot Gardner.  Musically it is superb and the stream at least good as analog FM quality and may be a little better.  The point I’m making is that MPR now competes globally whether they realize it or not.

Our Orchestras may be locked out, but with the three above sites and a growing collection of Blue Ray Discs, I have never had a more rewarding concert season.

The fact is even if the MSO and SPCO never play again, I will never want for a good concert experience. With modern technology, the experience can be very close to live, and in fact better than most seats. For opera I far prefer to watch in my AV room than the opera house, and a lot of people are of that opinion.

As far as our Orchestras being generators of the economy, which they must be, spin off from restaurants and bars is all very well. But what about the generation of good paying jobs, by the performance of fine literature. Just look at the credits at the end of every BPO production and the MET. These people don’t work for nothing.

The biggest problem is that few know how to achieve first class results in the home. I have been dedicated to audio for over fifty years and for the last 7 an increasing AV enthusiast for the performing arts.

What is needed is alliances. This means manufacturers, retailers, publications and broadcasters. This, here in Minnesota, means Best Buy and the other brick and mortar retailers, MPR, especially American Public Media, and Public broadcasting.

The BPO now have icons on Sony, LG and Samsung equipment that takes you to their site without opening a browser. Panasonic is expected to be added shortly.

Samsung have reached an agreement with Medici TV.

The gigabit Internet is right round the corner and the time to move is now.

Things are different now, and there is a new wind sweeping the old order away. Unfortunately I doubt our organizations in Minnesota get it. From what I see as the unhelpful attitude if the American Federation of Musicians in the SPCO negotiations, I’m certain they don’t get it.

Organizations here and the US as whole, will soon be in competition with the rest of the world. Don’t make the same mistake as industry in the previous years. Unfortunately much of our equipment that used to say made in England or USA, now says made in China.

Classical music will not die, especially given the thirst for Western Culture in the Far East. However if you really do not see the earthquake taking place, I will be buying tickets to the Beijing and Seoul symphony Orchestras and not the MSO and SPCO .   There is a serious misjudgement of events by the American Federation of Musicians and I suspect management.  This unfortunately tends to be a failing of unions and old order monolithic organizations, who when presented with the the future and the past choose the regressive path and seal their fate.