Year in Review: VR, Time Warner, HDR and more dominate broadcasting in 2016

new year

It’s almost time to bid farewell to 2016 and head into a fresh year with a fresh outlook. But before we do, FierceBroadcasting offers this brief look back at five of the top stories from 2016 that we’ll be following in 2017.

Time Warner’s pending marriage to AT&T

AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition bid for Time Warner Inc. holds deep implications for the entire industry, but only if it earns approval under the imminent administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

Some analysts have predicted that Trump’s presidency will increase the odds of the deal getting OK’d. But that prediction stands in stark contrast to Trump’s promise before the election to block the merger.

 2017 will no doubt hold a rigorous regulatory review for AT&T and Time Warner; and the year could also see competitors like Verizon, Disney and CBS pursue M&A of their own to keep pace. CBS has been linked to Sony in reports now that the Viacom remerger has been called off, for example. And Disney could still be sniffing around Netflix as it looks to attain a distribution channel. Verizon could look to vertically integrate too and stay close to rival AT&T, although the operator has said CBS is not on its radar.

While the speculation may not be accurate, it seems reasonable to think that the media landscape will have to change in reaction to a game-changer like AT&T-Time Warner.

ATSC 3.0 generates momentum

ATSC 3.0, the upcoming digital TV standard that will enable mobile, 4K, HDR, immersive audio and more for broadcasters while freeing up more spectrum, is set to be finalized in 2017. Sinclair, Nexstar, Tribune and other broadcasters have been pushing ahead with trials of the new technologies enabled by the standard. Sinclair, in particular, has been gung ho about the technology and all it can do to help broadcasters better compete in a shifting media market. “With [ATSC 3.0] there’s an opportunity to define the entirety of the landscape, not just a piece,” Mark Aitken, vice president of advanced technology for Sinclair, told FierceBroadcasting.

But the FCC has taken its time in authorizing ATSC 3.0. However, with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler exiting next year and ATSC 3.0 supporter Ajit Pai potentially leading the FCC in 2017, next year could be a banner year for ATSC 3.0.

OTT gains steam

As the linear TV bundle looks more and more endangered and traditional means fail to reach viewers outside of the pay-TV universe, look for more media companies to go over-the-top and direct-to-consumer. Viacom has already tinkered in the U.S. with BET Play, and new CEO Bob Bakish has said that the lessons Viacom learns from that move could be applied to more earth-shaking direct-to-consumer offerings.

Discovery Communications, meanwhile, has pledged that it will go direct-to-consumer with its channels in 2017. As the market waits to expand, early movers like CBS, Showtime and HBO continue to enjoy their headstarts. But once more media companies catch up the market will continue to get more fragmented, making a unified search and discovery solution more important.

Virtual reality the latest buzzword

Virtual reality didn’t quite make the splash in 2016 that was expected. Augmented reality stole some of its thunder (Pokemon Go, anyone?) But VR device saturation is on the way. Research firm IDC predicts VR headset shipments will clock in at 108.3 percent compound annual growth rate until 2020, meaning that 76 million units will ship in 2020. That larger device ecosystem will inevitably spur the VR content machine and many studios have already been publishing for VR.

The NFL and NBA are working on bringing sports to VR platforms, for example, and studios like 21st Century Fox and Lionsgate have been building VR content to complement the films in their portfolios. But the content and device ecosystems won’t become fully formed next year, meaning that 2017 could see a wave of consolidation in the VR market that will absorb many of the smaller firms in the space.

4K and HDR move forward

By now, 4K has to be feeling fairly hurt by all the attention HDR is getting. But even with all the shine HDR is stealing, the brighter, more colorful imaging format is facing some serious hurdles. Namely, can the industry pick from the two competing HDR standards (Dolby Vision vs. HDR10) and push forward the device and content markets? Dolby Vision is catching up and gaining support but the amount of big OEMs that still rely on HDR10 means fragmentation will likely persist through 2017.

Meanwhile, 4K made strides in terms of live content in 2016 and, with broadcasters on the move to ATSC 3.0 and providers like DirecTV laying some groundwork, live 4K for sports and other television events could see a boost in 2017.