Notes From NAB

It’s 9:20 p.m. at Harrah’s on the third full day of the 2008 NAB Show in Las Vegas. I have personally interviewed more than 60 people over the last 72 hours. Each one of those people probably has been interrogated by as many or more other individuals. There comes a point at such events where full sentences give way to hand gestures and head movements.

Welcome to the show.

Each year, roughly 1,600 companies set up shop on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center and pitch their wares to the broadcast community, which coincidentally consists of roughly 1,600 full-power TV licensees. The companies grow and morph over the years. Telestream, a Nevada City, Calif. company with a substantial presence on the exhibit floor, consisted of a hefty three-ring binder 10 years ago. U.K. traffic and scheduler Pilat Media is another 10-year-old, as is Omneon, the Sunnyvale, Calif., server company.

Family business is also represented on the floor. David Ross is CEO of Ross Video out of Iroquois, Ontario, Canada. The company was founded 35 years ago by his father, John, whom he said was busy pestering fish.

Nucomm represents another generational link. Though the company is now part of the Vitec group, it was founded in 1990 by Dr. John Payne, typically one of the more gracious and informative personalities on the NAB exhibit floor. Dr. Payne was not in attendance this year, but his son, John Payne IV, director of engineering for Nucomm, was, and proved to be as formidably informed. His father, he said, characteristically was back home working on company matters.

There are clear trends reflected on the exhibit floor of the 2008 NAB Show. The price and power of processing has reached the critical threshold: computers are replacing the proprietary hardware that once dominated the domain television equipment.

Product development is fluid. A shelf full of anything that can’t be upgraded with code is potentially obsolete before the next sunrise. The business is also migrating from hardware to software to service. As the requirements for automation systems grows--from depositing a clip on a hard drive in the basement to passing it from server to edit stations all over the globe and back--the need for someone to continually program the software increases.

The days of broadcasting a single over-the-air signal from a single transmitter are as distant and quaint as the Lennon Sisters. The next wave of development in broadcasting is more third-party provision--of long-distance clip transfer, graphics generation, content management, control and possibly editing.

Local news will be compiled by an on-site producer who logs onto a Web site to stack the ENG clips into a Windows template preloaded with the appropriate ads, bumpers, promos and bugs. It will accommodate live breaks from roving reporters armed with tripods, tapeless camcorders and Sprint cards. All news video from everywhere on the planet will end up in a giant digital repository that automatically generates a royalty for the rights owner when someone else pulls it out.

The preceding fully digital scenario is by no means around the corner. One show floor veteran estimates that the majority of equipment in broadcast TV stations today is more than 25 years old, including a switcher he saw that was held together by duct tape. Clearly, the station still relied on a tape-based workflow.

Ba-dum, bum. -- Deborah D. McAdams