Written by Paul Whybrow
There are three connected perspectives on the 2018 IBC (International Broadcast Conference) in Amsterdam
Part 1 – The Context: The new reality of Tv my big 5 C’s of change
Part 2 – The Current : The big 5 trends for broadcast media
Part 3 – The Future: Entering the world of the broadcast future zone.
Over the last few years of attending the IBC, it hits home how large the event is and how tricky it is to get around and see it all. In 2018 there were nearly 59,000 delegates and nearly 54,000 square metres of space at the RAI in Amsterdam. A lot of people and a lot of floorspace to cover!
A friend gave me some great advice: “If you are looking for what is coming next, just go around the edges of all the halls and look at the stands by the walls.” The simple logic was that when a new technology company, with some smart ideas first comes to IBC, they can only afford the cheapest stands, hence they are the ones around the edges.
I must admit I loved the concept and now make sure I visit every hall and do a circuit around the wall. He had a good point, as it is really interesting to see some of the novel things that would otherwise be so easy to miss.
Whatever the size of stand you have, you always want to attract people who may want to spend. The irony is that the more mainstream you are, the harder it is. This is because the visitors know your products well and so can be tempted to stride past in search of the new and novel. As a result, there are the free sweets on counters or giveaways such as pens, to get you to pause – which you may well do as you look for a sugar hit or the craving of an additional pen to add to your show collection. This time I saw fun attractors including bar football games, free stress balls; and a couple of things that really stood out. The first was the CISCO stand that had an artist who was painting images of the show. I must admit I was pretty impressed at the novelty of the idea, although I was thinking do they have several artists working, and if not how on earth would you think of something fresh on the fourth or fifth day!
For the TV camera exhibitors, they provide some scene with a number of models standing around on a well-lit set, so prospective buyers can check out the camera quality fully. Most, to be honest, are very similar: two caught my eye though for being more unusual. One had regular live action Japanese Samurai fights which were pretty lively and daring in avoiding hitting any of the cameras they were aiming to showcase. The other stand was Grass Valley, where they went for adding live esports gaming as a centrepiece to their stand. This included live action completions, and what I loved was that on several occasions when I went by the competitive teams were reviewing their games with a live commentator. I was impressed they could shut out the distractions of the passing TV and radio professionals, many of whom may not have had a clue what they were doing.
As I was exploring what may be the standouts for the future it is worth considering what is now mainstream at the show but were once certainly the future. The obvious ones here are Facebook, Google and AWS. All three have stands that are significant and, whenever I passed, pretty packed. I think this represents the role all three play in the media industry. Mind you it was pointed out to me that if the stands were in size proportionate to the earnings they now gain from the broadcast and media industry they would be many multiples larger.
The desire to be environmentally conscious is now standard and so I was interested to see a brand-new electric OB vehicle on display. Dubbed as ZERO emission urban newsgathering the ev-SAT is especially targeted at media companies in the 200+ cities that are operating low emission zones to combat city pollution. There are a number of smarts in play, so the vehicle can effectively be its own remote production unit with access to the onboard electric power to do live news, and then move around town on electric power in any low emission environment. After IBC the trial vehicle is heading to the BBC in London as a pilot.
The two other areas to spend time future gazing are the Launch Pad and the Future Zone. Both are areas with fresh ideas and new products to evolve visual entertainment. This year what was interesting wasn’t just what was there but what was highly absent.
Last year there had been a large number of exhibitors in both areas with many Virtual Reality and Augmented possibilities for TV broadcast. This year there was only a handful. So why the change? In other industry sectors like education, health and training there has been a notable surge in practical applications for this new technology. In the broadcast arena, I have noticed there is still hesitancy to dive in, as the use of headsets and clear viewer experience benefits has caused creators and innovators to focus on where they can see application of the technology first, and my guess is that currently that is not broadcast.
Both zones did have a lot of interesting developments including cameras for HDR TV, targeted advertising ideas, ultra-wide screen TV, partner screen live interactive voting and virtual studios. There were also verification tools to seek out false news videos, before you put them live – something news editors could find very helpful in today’s social media-led news cycle.
NHK, the national broadcaster of Japan had a sizable space to showcase their 8K Super Hi-Vision. I found a really helpful expert on the stand who took the time to explain to me the history, vision and practical applications of 8K.
To put it simply 8K is stunning TV quality pictures and sound. It uses 16 times more pixels as HDTV and uses 22.2 multi-channel sound. They had a demo living room with an amazing TV and tailored sound system. As you may guess the images and sound give an immersive experience, which is so lifelike. NHK have led the charge on 8K, as they did on HD too, because they have an invention mandate and budget, as well as passionate and smart engineers to make this all happen. To create 8K they need to build from the ground up the whole creation and distribution chain from scratch. They collaborate with the Japanese product industry to make all this happen. There is the camera that can capture the lifelike images; the slo-mo technology so that it can work for sport; there is the compression and broadcast chain too; and of course, the TV sets: all to deliver this very high-quality output.
This is no trial to showcase what could occur. This is the real thing, as they are turning this into a live channel which launches on satellite in December 2018. The launch will initially have few people who will be able to watch, not least because the TV sets are at this stage very expensive indeed. The real target for NHK is Tokyo 2020. Here they are aiming to broadcast 8K for a lot of the events of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
A very challenging timeline, I imagine, to say the least
So, what was my overall impression about the broadcast and media technology future?
For me, in some ways, it is a mixture of continuity and change.
For big parts of the production process, the core elements of supporting the story telling capability are as strong as ever. Studios, cameras, lighting, microphones, and production equipment are all still very physical in nature. True there is much more IP evolution, however it is essentially the same. Where the change is more noticeable are the workflows and approaches to manage content, store and distribute content, archive and access complete shows and then share this with viewers across all devices. These are the core transformation capabilities that I could see at the show.
Within this context, the coming few years look exciting as to how we all balance the core story telling creation, which is evolving at manageable pace, and the management, movement and broadcasting/sharing content which is transforming at a very rapid pace.
Whatever happens, I am personally looking forward to the adventure.
Paul Whybrow is the Managing Director and Creative Collaborator for Bodyboard Immersive Experiences. A boutique business with access to award winning creative, broadcast and immersive experience skills and consulting. Our purpose is to be the creative connector for imagining the possibilities and crafting the practical, so you can share passionate storytelling.