A Remarkable IBC

Memories of the 2001 International Broadcasting Conference in Amsterdam will forever be associated with the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC, which took place only two days before the show. CNN's image of the World Trade Center transmitter mast descending in the collapse was just one more reminder of how closely this has touched the broadcast community.
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Memories of the 2001 International Broadcasting Conference in Amsterdam will forever be associated with the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC, which took place only two days before the show. CNN's image of the World Trade Center transmitter mast descending in the collapse was just one more reminder of how closely this has touched the broadcast community.

Beyond the general air of shock and sadness, there were remarkable expressions of comfort and support at the show. On a formal level, flags were at half staff everywhere, and flowers piled up at U.S. consulates and embassies. The Friday after the events, members of the European Economic Community stood silent for three minutes of respect. Cars pulled over and parked on the autobahns. Airports were still. Throughout the RAI Conference Center in Amsterdam, people stood silently with their heads bowed.

On a personal level, strangers would hear your accent on the street and in restaurants and come up to you to express their sorrow and reassure you that Americans weren't alone in this. Rather than the usual polite greetings, the first words from your European friends were invariably, "Are you OK? Is everything all right?" David Cunningham, Press Relations manager for Snell & Wilcox, told of going back exhausted to his hotel one evening and ordering up room service. As he rummaged in his pocket for some money, the waiter asked if he was an American. When he said "yes," the man laid his fist over his heart, shook his head, and refused the tip.

That was not an isolated incident. As we watched and tried to absorb the tragedy that had taken place an ocean away, there were more than a few moments when tears welled unexpectedly in our eyes. Ever since I started in this industry as a grunt (back when semiconductors and color were novelties), I've been impressed that, beneath the inevitable layer of corporate competitiveness and competition-down in the world of operations and engineering-we have a long tradition of cooperation. Techies share their knowledge, talent, and spare parts, particularly in times of trouble. It was no different at IBC.

Many exhibitors were caught with key personnel and equipment stranded thousands of miles away. Peter Owen, IBC's New Exhibition chairman, estimated there were about 20 exhibitors that didn't make it at all. Many conference sessions were missing authors and panelists. But everybody pitched in. Helping hands, test equipment, and spare goodies were found for those caught short. Various experts volunteered to fill holes in the program. Ninety-eight percent of the exhibits were up and running on

the opening day, and even some of the remaining 2 percent managed to make it before the show was over. Despite the subdued atmosphere, IBC 2001 was a successful show. On the exhibits side, Ted Taylor, managing director of Panasonic Broadcast Europe, said that, while the show numbers might have been down, people were buying. That sentiment was echoed by other exhibitors as well.

On the conference side, Chairman Chris Dalton was pleased that, although 10 percent of the attendance usually comes from across the Atlantic, the numbers for this year's sessions didn't seem to be adversely affected. The 2001 papers and workshops explored many of the topics we've seen at NAB and recent SMPTE events-metadata handling, asset management, digital cinema, and broadband.

One topic that got a lot of attention was Internet Protocol and moving video through generic data networks using IP. The major concern appeared to be how to reap the benefits of ubiquitous, less expensive data networks and still keep the reliability and interoperability we've had with traditional video networks.

During the conference wrap-up, European Broadcasters Union Technical Committee Secretary Phil Laven underscored this concern for dependability when he cited what he thought was a general "lack of software reliability throughout the exhibit hall."

Interactivity seems to get more attention in Europe than it does on the U.S. side of the pond, although I'm not sure there is any more agreement about what it means. Dalton noted that "there is a divide between the content and technology sides of this debate. I think many broadcasters would question whether the content side is as advanced as some producers claim." As for the technology, he said that it "still needs to get its act together and a lot of this depends on the creation of relevant industry standards."

The DVB Group hopes its Multimedia Home Platform (DVB-MHP) will be one of the most important of those standards. The European Telecommunication Standards Institute is currently finishing up approval on the first two MHP documents, and model implementations are expected by November.

But it will take more than standards to make interactivity fly. As Dalton cautioned, "Technology is now so advanced that almost anything is possible, but this doesn't make it immediately viable. There needs to be a credible business model and this is an issue which we have returned to time and again during this conference."

For the moment, it seems there may be more progress on standards than business models.