Broadcasters Stream Into the Future

Editor’s Note: In Part 1 of our two-part coverage of the 2008 NAB Show, we look back at the session highlights and exhibitor news. In Part 2, later this month, we’ll focus on the new products and technology from the show floor.

The 2008 NAB Show was the final conference before the end of full-power analog TV. It also highlighted technologies that will change the fundamentals of the broadcasting business.

(click thumbnail)NAB logged more than 105,000 attendees at its 2008 show.Among the lessons of the show: 3D isn’t what it used to be. IPTV is well on its way to becoming a viable new pipe of data and video that threatens to revolutionize the nature of advertising. And broadcasters just can’t wait for a Mobile DTV standard and the deployment of a new business that might even involve actual revenue.

“Five years from now, people will look back on 2008 as the show where the idea of live mobile TV really got its jumpstart,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton.

Intrigued by predictions of $2 billion in additional ad revenue from the mobile world, attendees packed the Open Mobile Video Coalition breakfast to hear the latest.

With rival corporate teams pushing three different potential mobile standards, and test results due from the OMVC on May 15, the stakes are high. TV, always pushing back on the invasion of the Internet, could finally return the favor by broadcasting directly to laptops.

With vans full of gear, advocates of the standards roamed Las Vegas to demonstrate their technology. ICO Global, gunning for a separate satellite mobile service, made the most noise of all with the April 17 launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., of what it calls the largest commercial satellite ever deployed.


Broadcasters will need programmers, sales people, signal processing equipment, editors and automation gear to reach screens ranging from big HDTVs to laptops and PDAs. At the core of the show’s Content Central area, they saw another screen—a state-of-the-art 300-seat theater showing some of Hollywood’s finest, with a day reserved for 3D.

Forget those old throwaway 3D glasses. “If you haven’t experienced 3D in the last couple of years, you have no idea how far it’s evolved,” said Joshua Greer, president and co-founder of RealD, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based company that predicts its technology—from new glasses to a specialized screen to software and hardware additions to projectors—will become ubiquitous at the multiplex.

If the movie industry can get such systems in the multiplex and clean some of the sticky substances off the chairs and floors, movies could bring revived competition to the television.

But it’s TV, not the movies, that’s now being creative, said director Barry Sonnenfeld, who has worked in both. The most talked-about shows are still on network TV, which has dared to be daring as audiences’ choices keep growing.

With the end of full-power analog in sight, the National Telecommuni-cations and Information Administra-tion gave an upbeat update on the coupon program for over-the-air DTV converter boxes.

And after months of consternation over getting information about the program to America’s most vulnerable populations, the NTIA on April 24 finally began seeking comment on allowing nursing home residents (and those who use Post Office boxes) to get the coupons.

So far, applications from such addresses have been denied. Comments on the issue are due June 9.

But the Community Broadcasters Association reminded its low-power members that it’s got a lawsuit going to block the sale of boxes that don’t pass through their analog signals.

The low-power stations—and the numerous NAB exhibitors with products to help LPTV through their own digital transition—highlighted how much more work broadcasters have yet to do.

Broadcasters face other issues as well. There’s worry that the FCC will allow unlicensed mobile devices on the unused DTV channels known as white spaces. The FCC is conducting lab tests, open to interested parties, but has been mum on when it might establish rules of the road.

“I haven’t had a chance to get briefed on the initial round of testing,” FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said in late April.


At an MSTV/NAB session on the state of DTV readiness, broadcasters were warned that while antenna makers are busy filling orders, there’s still plenty of tower work to schedule, and only a finite number of tower crews. On the HD front, gear is getting so small that it is being deployed in race cars, aircraft, and even some medium-market news operations.

Once again, price and size reductions will get HD gear into more places and more hands.

Broadcast Microwave Services and Tiffin Steadicam had a remote HD camera atop an operator driving a hands-free (Segway-like) motor vehicle. Toshiba showed what it called the world’s smallest HD camera.

Low-resolution news tools are blossoming as well. Global Satellite brought an SUV, with gear powered by Oklahoma City-based iPixCel, to let reporters chase tornadoes (or anything else) and send back 256 kbps video via satellite from a vehicle driving 80 mph.

The 28,000 or so international attendees brought to NAB the message of how much growth and change is ahead outside the United States as well. It takes a well labeled map to remember what countries are adopting what standards for mobile and fixed-receiver DTV—in fact, one company handed out such maps.

One of the snazziest production vehicles parked between the Central and North Halls was for HD baseball broadcasts in Japan. Gerling and Associates showed off its new “K3” van, with which NHK will start producing live Major League Baseball in June.

As always, legendary figures in broadcasting and today’s top content producers appeared. Bob Barker, who won 19 Emmys, was inducted in to the NAB Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

But Barker’s daytime-friendly style was overshadowed by other celebrities.

Actor Tim Robbins used unprintable language and savaged the Bush Administration over the war in Iraq. Sam Donaldson, fresh off his receipt of the RTNDA Paul White award, lashed out at the administration over its secrecy and lack of access.

Robbins challenged broadcasters to turn the country away from cynicism, while Sonnenfeld warned of a totalitarian nation of apathetic, computer-addicted citizens.

Technology—like the ability to view dailies over ftp from his Long Island home—helps TV production, Sonnenfeld said. But even cheaper and cheaper production tools can’t overcome the millions of dollars it takes for Hollywood to market and distribute a movie once made.

Sonnenfeld said he made his first movie, “Blood Simple,” for $750,000, and could make the same movie now for only $30 million.

“But it wouldn’t be as good,” he said.