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McAdams On: The Two NAB Shows

The NAB Show is so big and busy, it’s easy to miss one of its most distinct characteristics--the schism. It’s as if the Hilton and the convention center floor are two different nations, Politics and Technology. These two areas are as disparate as any can get.

Technology is science made manifest; the fruits of engineering by which live, moving images of iconic moments are beamed into households--and soon, handsets--throughout the world. Politics, though considered a “science” in academic tracts, is series of tubes through which reality is interpreted, debated, distorted, regulated and taxed.

All forms of evolution were evident in the Land of Technology, even crossing the inanimate with the biological. Organic-light emitting diodes followed a path of phyletic gradualism to reach the level of professional monitors. Sony’s 7-inch was really stunning. TV Logic’s 3D version was intense. Immersive Media’s 360-view camera was an extension of the work done on Google Map views. Aerial 3D’s super-futuristic volumetric laser display was pure cladogenesis, a species that seems to have little or no relationship to anything that came before. Sony’s introduction of new videotape gear perhaps was an example of a species that just won’t die, despite what the obituaries say.

Meanwhile, in the Land of Politics, words were strewn like grains of sand through the hourglass of time. Large ballrooms filled with broadcast executives--in the business for decades--listened to Washington, D.C. bureaucrats--in the business for months--talk about radically altering it. This didn’t set well.

Much was made of over the meaning of the word, “voluntary,” as in the voluntary relinquishment of broadcast spectrum. The bureaucrats were pretty sure broadcasters would volunteer to give up spectrum. Broadcasters responded in an unprecedented show of cooperation with a mobile DTV joint venture. “Here,” they said clearly, “is what we think of ‘voluntarily’ giving up our spectrum.”

Very few folks from the Land of Politics probably saw the floating face at Aerial 3D, and certainly the scientists who created the volumetric laser display weren’t deconstructing “voluntary.” Politicans with newspaper interests should be watching OLED very closely, since it could very well be the medium that replaces newsprint.

A lot of Politcans also should pay attention to Ryerson University’s research to see precisely what people watch in different TV formats--not just content types--but what they watch within content. Today’s media market “research” is almost all reactive assumption. Everyone knows money’s tight, but the price of a few executive golf rounds could very well translate into a product people use.

No one is sure how people might use mobile DTV. Video over cell phones was a bust. Verizon still doesn’t publicize VCast subscriber numbers five years in. Anecdotally, churn is substantial. So many programs are now available online, fourth-generation smartphones are supplanting any need for cell-phone video subscriptions.

The mobile DTV joint venture is reactive thus far. The service itself can still turn into something evolutionary, cladogenic, even, if it’s conceptualized as an entirely new medium rather than an extension of an old one. Every TV station executive should take a hard look at their Web site and not go there. Most such sites look exactly the same and don’t even hint at the coverage area or city of location, as if the Internet itself were local.

Mobile DTV should merge the online and traditional TV models with a browser-like entry point with a choice of live broadcast streams within it identified by network. The top level should provide location and whatever variety of selectable data users want, e.g., local time, weather forecasts, real-time traffic graphics, WiFi hot spots, public restrooms, restaurants by cuisine type, venue locations, lodging, coffee joints, etc. Maybe the links are small icons that overlay a user-selectable live weather report. Maybe the joint-venture partners launch a “raw” type diginet in all their markets that is the Headline News of the local music scene.

Maybe it’s anything but just another screen to fill with pictures at 11. The Land of Technology is full of possibilities. Let’s hope a few of them influence mobile DTV.