Superfast 5G mobile networks are promising to transform our personal lives, as well as our professional working practices. The implications, as well as the opportunities that 5G promises will be huge for the broadcasting sector. But will this bring potentially disruptive, revolutionary change, or is it a natural progression for our sector?

Matt Stagg, BT Sport

That was the question we posed at our 5G evening, fittingly held at the iconic BT Tower in July 2019, organised and chaired by Nic Kemp. We heard from leading industry experts, including Matt Stagg (BT Sport), Claire Harvey (Red Bee Media), Alison Hutchings (BT Enterprise), Ian Brash (Broadcast Innovation Consultant) and Dimitra Simeonidou (University of Bristol, Smart Internet Lab and Bristol Digital Futures Institute) who gave insights into how this technology is already being used – as well as looking at what the 5G future might hold for industry practitioners and our audiences.

5G: bringing about a new evolution AND revolution

Our speakers highlighted that 5G will give broadcasters the chance to build on current working practices, as well as offer the potential of new innovation.

“At the moment, we’re looking over the edge of what is possible. It’s evolution in the sense of doing what we do now, but doing it better and revolution in terms of new, exciting innovations.”

Claire Harvey from Red Bee

A natural evolution for broadcasting… and beyond

Matt Stagg, BT Sport’s Director of Mobile Strategy discussed that from the perspective of mobile networks, 5G was a natural and critical progression from 4G, as networks hadn’t been built for the unpredicted growth of demand for mobile video content.

He noted that the advances of 5G technology will bring inevitable change to how broadcasters create and distribute content. Network slicing could b a critical element of this – allowing tailored services to specific industries, consumers or groups. The 5G infrastructure allowing each service to have performance characteristics unique to that group or industry, unlike the current one-size-fits-all networks at the moment.

Transforming outside broadcasts

Claire from Red Bee Media joined Matt Stagg in giving an insight into how 5G can be harnessed to transform outside broadcasting. The BT Sport pilot at the Wembley Cup Final highlighted how 5G can, and will transform pipelines for live broadcasts. Traditionally, an OB team and truck would be in situ at an event, but the introduction of 5G means that the OB truck will essentially become redundant. Crew will no longer be needed on site, as content is fed directly to, and streamed from, the studio instead.

This in effect means that live event content can be produced easily and in a more cost-effective way. Alison Hutchings from BT also shared the experience of experimenting with the first BBC 5G broadcast on Breakfast News. She argued that understanding 4G and using established 4G tools and applying this learning to broadcasting in 5G is the key to success. 

5G panel
Panel includes (l-r): Claire Harvey, Red Bee Media; Dimitra Simeonidou, University of Bristol, Ian Brash, Broadcast Innovation Consultant & Alison Hutchings, BT Enterprise.

Changing the way audiences access content – a revolutionary impact on sports and entertainment

Given 5G’s capacity to provide point of view (POV) content in an easier, cheaper and crucially, more reliable way; we are facing a revolution in terms of the potential for the future immersive experiences, where audiences can feel more connected and create personalised experiences.

“The possibilities are unlimited.”

Matt Stagg, BT Sport

Matt argued that an immersive revolution will give broadcasters the power to share moments. Through virtual, augmented and mixed reality, there is the potential to enhance the experiences audiences have at live events, as well as bringing the thrill of being there to those at home. 

Ian Brash shared more about the complexities of mobile coverage and audience behaviours at sporting events and how 5G will help to solve the challenges faced on current 4G networks. It will also open up the chance to create more personalised and shared experiences in the future.  “People tend to use their phones when they arrive, at half time and then at full time.” On 4G networks, this is a nightmare, as it significantly effects reliability of mobile devices. 5G will enable audiences to use their phones seamlessly, as well as potentially create more immersive experiences, such as different angles, multi-player views and sharing content.

Grass roots opportunities – budget doesn’t have to be a barrier to innovation

Dimitra Simeonidou highlighted how the Bristol and Bath-based 5G testbed is enabling content creators to experiment with 5G technology, offering significant new approaches and opportunities at a grass roots level for SMEs and cultural/creative/heritage organisations, showing how limited resources should not be a barrier.

She shared more about how the Smart Tourism project has brought together key industry players including Aardman, BT and the BBC with the University of Bristol’s Smart Internet Lab and the Roman Baths to produce an enhanced, augmented-reality visitor experience. AR Core was used to align 360 content with the physical space, so visitors could see and find out more about what the baths would have looked like throughout history. 

Getting industry practitioners experimenting with 5G is crucial

Whether through evolutionary change or revolutionary innovation, the transformative potential of 5G is exciting and far-reaching. The implications on working practices across the broadcasting sector, to audience experience and the development of new, innovative technologies is mind-blowing.

We must not lose sight of the fact that it’s technology for us all, and we need to be experimenting to learn more about its potential applications to keep pushing boundaries. There’s support out there to do this, get in touch with UK5G and get in touch with local 5G testbeds to find out more as well as checking out the Innovate UK website to find out more about potential funding. Get involved, get up to speed and get immersed!

With thanks to the team at BT and the BT Tower for hosting this event, and Nic Kemp for co-organising.