“It can transform the whole industry”: ViacomCBS discusses the 5G opportunity

5G is a technology that is set to transform the way we experience, well, digital experiences by offering faster connectivity and lower latency. It is set to, in particular, revolutionise the entertainment sector, providing us with more immersive experiences through virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), cloud gaming, and other avenues.

One company in that sector that is definitely working toward capitalising on the opportunity presented by 5G is ViacomCBS. The mass media powerhouse recently called on mobile networks, tech vendors, brands, and agencies to join forces around ViacomCBS’ brands to unleash the full potential of 5G. This call was made with the release of a white paper outlining the eight areas where ViacomCBS believes 5G will have the biggest impact on the entertainment industry.

“We are extremely excited to see the development of 5G because we believe it opens a lot of new areas for the industry,” says Olivier Jollet, Senior Vice President of Strategy & Business Development, Streaming and Head of Mobile at ViacomCBS Networks International. “The purpose of the white paper is just to go a bit deeper into what those opportunities could look like.

“We believe, and its something which is part of the DNA of ViacomCBS, in strong partnership. Weve been working for years with mobile operators, mainly on more traditional business. We’ve been doing a lot of great initiatives in streaming through Pluto TV, our leading free television service, and our new service, Paramount+. We strongly believe that 5G and the partnership with mobile operators is a new piece of this ecosystem that we want to build at ViacomCBS.”

With the release of the white paper, ViacomCBS has placed emphasis on its desire to collaborate with businesses across the industry to create 5G experiences.

Last year at the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC), ViacomCBS worked with a number of broadcasters and VodafoneZiggo, Vodafone’s joint venture with Liberty Global in the Netherlands, to broadcast a stream of an MTV Push live artist from a boat over 5G.

The production was fully autonomous and COVID safety was ensured as there was no crew ‘on the ground’ operating cameras or associated production equipment.

“We were using a dedicated bandwidth slice, so we could guarantee the reliability of that live signal, which is something that you havent been able to really do over 4G so far. And then we were able to connect in that autonomous activity. We had an AI camera array – so the AI was doing the visual product – and we had a drone that was connected over 5G providing additional shots. We also had lighting that was controlled over 5G remotely and vision mixing that was occurring back in London,” explains Brendan Yam, Senior Vice President and General Manager of ViacomCBS Digital Studios International.

“By having 5G to do this, we were able to create a state-of-the-art production in a COVID safe way, and it really shows how this foundational technology can be a platform for creativity for the brands and the IP that we have.”

For marketers, these developments in 5G open the door to creating truly immersive experiences that can engage consumers and, in turn, result in higher conversion rates.

Brands will have the opportunity to make use of technologies – like VR, AR, and MR – to bridge the gap between physical in-store experiences and digital ones, showing off what their products can do without the consumer having to directly interact with those products.

And ViacomCBS feels it has a role to play in ensuring that the content that sits alongside those advertising experiences is just as engaging.

“One of the things that we’ve seen recently is that mobile-first brand strategies have been incredibly effective and powerful at activating fans and communities. And brands are always looking for ways to get more immersive and engaged with their target consumers, and 5G really does do that. So, you can imagine a consumer being able to very easily doing a 360-showroom of a project using AR or a virtual makeup tutorial,” says Yam.

“Where we come in to play, in particular, is that advertising is going to sit around 5G-enabled content. Those users are making a seamless transition between a 5G content experience and a 5G advertising experience. I saw a stat recently that over 90 per cent of marketers are expecting 5G to have a significant impact on their opportunities in the next three or four years.”

Jollet adds, “When you are a marketer, you want to have the best possible way of presenting the product. With 5G – with VR, AR – you can discover the product in a different way. You can experience something new that you never experienced before. Obviously, we don’t know where the journey is going to go, but clearly there are options. If it’s executed in the right way, it can transform the whole industry. It can transform the way you do advertising, the way you are featuring products, so there are tremendous new opportunities.”

Jollet also believes there is an opportunity for brands to change the way they sponsor events to create immersive experiences while people are watching TV shows or live sport.

Of course, thanks to COVID, there has been a huge growth in streaming – whether live or otherwise – in the past year. However, Yam sees it as still being in its “infancy in terms of what is possible” because he expects 5G to do for live and interactive programming what 4G did in facilitating the shift of social from desktop to mobile.

“Once we get the reliability that youve got with 5G and those high bandwidths, it really will lead to an explosion of people being able to actually have these very high-quality video stream productions,” says Yam.

“Live content is more engaging. That’s one of the reasons why social networks and other providers have been prioritising live streams, because consumers want to be there in the moment when something is happening. And, so, it prioritises the discovery of those live streams, which then prioritises producers and creators to want to create those. And there really is a truly virtuous circle. So, the more content weve got then the more the audience will want to consume it.”

ViacomCBS knows that it’s all well and good talking up the potential of 5G-powered experiences but, as mentioned earlier, knows that none of this can become a reality without industry collaboration and adoption of 5G by consumers.

“Were in the phase where the mobile operators are facing the first challenge, which is selling 5G contracts and 5G phones. At ViacomCBS, as a leading entertainment company, we can help them by creating the right stories, the right products, to really enhance and showcase the capacity of 5G. The second phase, which will start quite quickly, is then we have all these users with 5G contracts, so you need to build new products and new innovations to make the case for that contract,” says Jollet.

“Right now, you dont have that much product available on the market – whether we talk about VR content, AR content, or interactive experiences with live events. There is not that much in place, and that’s where we want to partner and collaborate to say, ‘okay, lets make sure that we are creating an offer, which helps to speed up the adoption of 5G and creates the right experience for the end users’.”

The white paper released by ViacomCBS, entitled ‘Unleash 5G’s Full Potential through Entertainment’, places emphasis on the idea of creating experiences that make the user ‘see, feel, and engage’. This is based on the feeling that “if consumers can’t see that there’s something different there and they can’t feel that they’re part of a participatory experience, where they can’t have a way to control or interact with that program and make something happen, then it’ll fall flat,” according to Yam.

Nonetheless, despite the white paper and ViacomCBS’ calls for collaboration, the mass media behemoth understands that its desire to create more of these experiences isn’t something that’s going to be fulfilled overnight.

“We understand that this is going to roll out over time. What were really excited about is working together with the industry to take advantage of the faster connectivity, the lower latency, as well as the mass connectivity that you can do by having a lot of devices in a smaller area. When you bring all these together, and you can deploy them across these productions, we can really create thrilling new experiences for consumers – that ‘see, feel, and engage’,” concludes Yam.