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The future is all around you

September is IBC time. It was not long ago that the show title changed from the International Broadcasting Convention to just plain IBC in order to reflect the focus on the wider world of content rather than just broadcasting. As broadcast engineers, we now all look beyond one-way, terrestrial broadcasts to the wider group of technologies that are delivering interactive visual entertainment to the public.

The show reflects that shift, with zones devoted to mobile and IPTV — areas once associated with the telecommunications industry. That industry has always acted solely as a carrier of user data and voice with no regard for content; it just provided the connection as a service. In contrast, television companies use broadcast engineering as a means to an end — to deliver content and to be paid to deliver that content by advertising revenue or subscriptions.

As the sectors converge, it is clear that the telcos do not wholly understand that strange world of “content.” It's a fickle world where shows live and die depending on the whims of the public — very different from connecting A to B with a fiber.

For broadcasters, it's a different story. The simple world where you could erect a tower on a hilltop and reach millions of viewers has become more complex as viewers want content on handheld devices and over the Internet.

To some IBC visitors, the show may look like the future of visual entertainment, but the host city is deceptive. What looks like a historic city — with 17th century buildings, canal boats, trams and bicycles — is actually a testbed for many of the technologies on display.

The Netherlands has a long-established cable TV sector, and nearby Hilversum has a media park that has pioneered many digital television production and tapeless workflows. Amsterdam is already building a next-generation network to provide high-speed broadband via FTTH. The city has always been a hub on the Internet backbone and has a large creative Web industry. TV networks run HD and VOD services. It may look like a quaint tourist destination, but behind the scenes, Amsterdam is a modern city striving to forge ahead with new media developments.

Past IBCs have been an opportunity for the converging sectors of television, telecommunications and wireless to come to together to talk, listen and figure out a way to capitalize on emerging content delivery technology. These technologies can be now considered mature, but viable business models that exploit new delivery formats are only just catching up. Past memories of big losses on 3G phones and digital cable networks haunt many.

Past years at IBC tracked the adoption of digital television and later HDTV. For many European countries, the roll-out of comprehensive HD services has been slow. This year it looks like mobile and IPTV will take off as viable businesses, and there is every indication of strong public demand for mobile TV. In a world where the majority clutch the phone as a permanent appendage, it makes sense to add broadcast television to the many services already available.

At IBC, you are witnessing the future not only in the show halls, but also in the city of Amsterdam.

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