It worked twice and will work again

On the 30th anniversary of the first MPEG meeting I wrote a paper that extolled the virtues of MPEG in terms productivity – in absolute and relative terms – and of actual standard adoption. In this paper I would like to expose the vision that has driven MPEG since its early days that explains and promises to continue its success.

Today it is hard to believe the state of television 30 years ago. Each country retained the freedom to define its own baseband and transmission standards for terrestrial, cable and satellite distribution. The baseband and distribution standards of package media (video cassettes, laser discs etc.) were “international” but controlled by a handful of companies (remember Betamax and VHS).

With digital technologies coming of age, everybody was getting ready for more of the same. The only expected difference was the presence of a new player – the telecom industry – who saw digital as the way to get into the video distribution business.

Figure 1 depicts the situation envisaged in each country or region or industry: continuing the analogue state of things, each industry would, as a matter of principle, have a different the digital baseband.

Figure 1 – Digital television seen with analogue eyes

The MPEG magician played a magic to the global media industry saying: look, we give you a single standard for the digital baseband that works for telecom, terrestrial, cable, satellite and package media distribution. There would be a lot to say – and to learn – about how a group of compression experts convinced a global industry worth hundreds of billion USD, but let’s simply say that it worked.

Figure 2 shows the effect of the MPEG magic and how different the digital television industry turned out to be than the one depicted in Figure 1: all industries shared the same media compression layer.

Figure 2 – The digital television distribution

Since 1994, when MPEG-2 was adopted, MPEG has managed the standards of the media compression layer for the 5 industries. An important side effect was the birth of a new “media compression layer industry” – global this time – partly from pieces of the old industry and partly from entirely new pieces.

This was only the beginning of the story because, in the mean time, internet had matured to a (kind of, at that time) broadband distribution infrastructure for the fixed and the mobile internet. MPEG took notice and developed the standards that would serve these new industries while still serving the old ones. The picture illustrates the new configuration of the industry which is largely the one that exists today.

Figure 3 – The digital media distribution

So the magic worked again. Looking back some 20 years ago the industries who were fancied by the MPEG magic have no reason to regret as they have seen constant growth supported by the best media compression standards:

  • Digital Media revenues amount to 126.4 B$ in 2018, steadily increasing over the last few years
  • Digital TV and video industry, including e.g. Netflix and Amazon, are expected to be worth 119.2 B$ in 2022, up from 64 B$ in 2017
  • Digital ad spending overtook TV ad spending in 2017 with a record spending of 209 B$ worldwide.

In another paper I made known that the Italian ISO member body has requested ISO to establish a Data Compression Technologies (DCT) Technical Committee (TC). That proposal represents an extension of the model described above and is represented in Figure 4 (the new industries mentioned are the likely first targets of the DCT TC).

Figure 4 – The data compression industry

The DCT TC will provide data compression standards for all industries in need of data compression to do their job better. The field of endeavour called “data compression” generates standard algorithms expressed by abstract languages like mathematical formulae or code snippets for implementation in software or silicon by a variety of application domains.

I look forward to the new MPEG magic played by the Data Compression Technologies Technical Committee to provide new records in sustained growth to new industries.