The Vital Role Of Television Amid COVID-19: Expanding Access For Uninterrupted Learning


From ITU News

Never has television played such an important role in all our lives. As the world continues to battle the COVID-19, millions have turned on their televisions for news and information about the coronavirus as well as to monitor the evolution of the disease locally and globally.

The pandemic resulted in unprecedented school closures worldwide, disrupting learning for millions of children. In May 2020, UNICEF estimated that 1.3 billion students were out of school, out of which millions of students lacked internet access or lived in areas not covered by mobile networks.

While innovative online learning solutions were deployed widely, many countries turned to television to broadcast educational materials, increase access to distance education and ensure uninterrupted learning. For example, after just 12 days of planning and development, Peru launched ‘Aprendo en casa’ (I learn at home), which uses radio, TV and web-based platforms to instruct students in math, Spanish, social sciences, art and physical education at the pre-primary, primary and secondary levels.

According to UNICEF, television had the potential to reach the most students (62 per cent) globally.

Their analysis showed that in the countries studied in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, television would reach 80 per cent or more of the school-aged population. UNICEF’s COVID-19 education rapid response tracker indicated 77 per cent of countries included television in their national response to COVID-19 school closures.

77 per cent of countries included television in their national response to COVID-19 school closures.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored humanity’s growing reliance on broadcasting systems. Recognizing the impact of television in today’s changing world, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 21 November as World Television Day to promote the role of TV in issues of peace, security, economic and social development and cultural exchange.

How ITU brings TV to you

The years following WW2 saw a boom in TV ownership, and ITU standards were instrumental in making this possible.

Since it first released technical standards for television 71 years ago in 1949, ITU has led the international standardization of the broadcasting ‘value chain’, from the production of radio and television programmes to their ultimate delivery to global audiences.

Today, around 485,000 broadcasting television and sound frequency registrations are managed by ITU.

Television stakeholders convene on the neutral ITU platform to coordinate their shared use of radiofrequency spectrum, coordination that is essential in enabling interference-free TV services worldwide.

Much of the technology that has kept the world informed, students learning and families in contact has roots in ITU.

ITU-R Study Group 6 addresses end-to-end production aspects of radiocommunication, including the international exchange of programmes as well as the overall quality of broadcasting services. Its standards and reports also underpin quality assessment methodologies for audio-visual content.

ITU-T Study Group 16 leads ITU standardization work on multimedia coding, systems and applications. The video compression algorithms standardized by ITU-T Study Group 16 are used in all digital TV systems – from standard definition to 4K/8K UHD (ultra-high definition) – and continue to enable giant leaps forward in video quality.

They are also central to industry’s ability to meet rising demand for internet and over-the-top video, the most bandwidth-intensive source of data exchanged over global networks. This work is progressed in collaboration by the world’s three leading standards bodies, ITU, ISO and IEC.

Award-winning TV standards

ITU has developed several important standards for digital terrestrial sound and television broadcasting systems and multimedia coding.

These standards provide the foundations for 3DTV (three-dimensional television), HDTV and UHDTV (High and Ultra-High Definition Television), integrated broadcast-broadband (IBB) systems, High Dynamic Range (HDR), Advanced Immersive Audio-Visual (AIAV) systems, which include augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) and advanced audio systems.

ITU has received two Emmy awards for its work on broadcasting standards and two Emmy awards for the ITU H.264 ‘Advanced Video Coding’ and ITU H.265 ‘High Efficiency Video Coding’ video compression algorithms.

These algorithms enabled consumers to enjoy high-quality TV content in HD and UHD over a wide range of commercially available devices.

ITU also is working on technologies to improve accessibility to broadcasting and multimedia services by persons living with disabilities, including use of sign language, real-time closed-captioning, multimedia speech rate conversion technology, browsing systems for the visually impaired, and devices for evaluating broadcast background sound balance, among other tools.

What does the future hold?

At the last Radiocommunication Assembly 2019 (RA-19), ITU Member States agreed on two new Resolutions that set out principles for the further development of broadcasting. These call for a roadmap on broadcasting, focusing on audio-visual quality assessment and accessibility, audio and video coding, integrated broadcast-broadband (IBB), multimedia, and other emerging technologies and applications.

Looking ahead, the next World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23) agenda item 1.5 will review the spectrum use and needs of existing broadcast services in the frequency range 470-960 MHz and consider possible regulatory actions in the frequency band 470-694 MHz in Region 1 (Europe, Middle East and Africa).

A newly established Task Group 6/1 in ITU-R Study Group 6 is studying this agenda item to ensure any decisions taken at WRC-23 do not compromise the existing deployment and future development of broadcasting and other existing radio services in the VHF and UHF bands.

ITU continues to advance the state of the art of video compression.

ITU’s latest standard in this arena features unprecedented application versatility. The new Versatile Video Coding (VVC) standard released in August 2020 – published as ITU H.266 | ISO/IEC 23090-3 – will further optimize the use of spectrum and bandwidth for delivering not only HD/UHD, but also emerging applications such as 360-degree immersive multimedia and cloud gaming. It also offers improved quality encoding for UHD and HDR video, as well as conventional video coding applications.

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