It's not over yet

With IBC over, it's time to reflect on the recovery. Many vendors were putting on a brave face, whereas some were showing real successes, usually through excellent sales management. The recession is, however, masking a seed change in the broadcasting business.

The Internet is a real threat, especially when it comes to siphoning off advertising revenue. I don't envy the broadcaster, having to deliver more channels in more distribution formats, and all for much the same income.

It is this pressure that is driving the quest for efficiency. Just one example can be found in television news. It was not that long ago that a news crew could comprise 10 people. Today, DSLRs can shoot HD video. This development was the result of requests from news agencies to camera manufacturers to provide the hardware for the all-in-one reporter. He or she is expected to shoot stills and video coverage, all while trying to ask searching questions and worrying about audio levels, as well as the lighting, exposure and focus. It is inevitable that quality, both editorial and technical, will suffer if one person is called upon to do all that. The response to this operational practice is that if the public wants more news, then that is the sacrifice that must be made in order to drive down costs.

Historically, the television business has been constrained by a mix of entrenched craft practices and the linear processes imposed by videotape. The former is under threat by the realities of operating in the new business paradigm; the latter has been removed by the advent of file-based operations. The new technologies remove the need for the old processes. Just think of all that is involved in storing and transporting videotape.

The upside of the introduction of low-cost software running on commodity hardware is that the door is open for more low-cost production to fill the ever-increasing numbers of channels. This has been dubbed the democratization of production. Just about any organization can shoot television now that they are freed from the need to buy expensive hardware. That is not to say you don't need a good camera, lens and camera support, but the platform for the rest of the production process has never been more affordable.

It's not just lower cost that comes with the new round of production platforms. They are smarter, and that improves efficiency. The tapeless camcorder is just one development that speeds workflows. Developments in desktop editing can link preproduction, scripts and logging through the use of metadata to pull production into the 21st century. Creativity may be at odds with profit, but successful artists have always had to make a pact with commerce. The acceptance of the software tools available today is not a threat to the creative processes, but instead removes many of the unproductive chores.

The real-time ingest or “digitization” is now just a file transfer. Developments like MXF and low-cost fiber networks mean that the delivery from post to the broadcaster also becomes a simple file transfer.

I see all this as an opportunity. People haven't stopped watching visual entertainment; it's the business model that has changed. The current upheaval has been difficult for many, and it's been much different from the change from analog to digital, or even SD to HD. They were just format changes. What's happening now is akin to tearing up the rule book and starting again. It's a time for new ideas. A walk around the show floor at IBC revealed just how many products represent investments that can deliver real gains.

The closed shop of the traditional broadcaster has been replaced with a continuum of producers and electronic publishers, and part of this shift was enabled by technology developments.

So what if you can't sell your program to a network? Just post it on the Web.

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