NAB reflects great changes in broadcasting

Talking to people over the last couple of weeks, the usual question has been, “What did you make of NAB?” All the comments were positive, a good sign surely? Although the attendance number, around 90,000, was lower than past peaks, many of the exhibitors I have spoken to were pleased with the traffic through their booths.

I heard many comments that the show reflected the huge changes in the industry as it adjusts to multi-platform delivery. More and more of the workflow is moving away from an HD/SDI infrastructure to an all-IP platform running from camera to consumer.

Yet there still seems to be a big market for baseband video. For live production, there is no great drive to change. Conventional switchers and routers look set to be around for the foreseeable future. With talk of 4K production, the need to move to higher bit rates is going to challenge an IP infrastructure. Sure it can be done, but is it less costly than a baseband solution?

Once away from the live domain, everything is up for grabs. Once a signal is compressed to a more modest data rate, it makes sense to shift to IP in the quest for lower-cost infrastructure. That raises that matter of the cloud.

The cloud was much in evidence at NAB; it even had its own pavilion. Marketing departments are pouncing on the word, creating anything from slim to concrete associations to their products. Broadcasters, as ever, move more cautiously, but they only have to look at the success of products like Netflix to see the cloud cannot be ignored. The cloud has been readily accepted in the U.S. market, but European markets are proving to be more conservative. For the constantly changing needs of production, the cloud may be more attractive. For broadcasters, storage needs only grow, and the sheer scale of their needs would make a privately managed storage system more relevant.

The drive to provide more for less was seen much in evidence in the area of newsgathering, especially in remote operations and backhaul. Cellular bonding is becoming more popular as an alternative to the DSNG truck. Reporters can get to the news faster than a truck, and costs are much lower. Newsroom computer systems are making more use of Web access. There was much talk of the Starbucks-based reporter. With a Wi-Fi connection, the reporter can upload clips, edit the stories and view rundowns from a tablet or laptop — no need to return to base.

There was a marked lack of interest in 3-D this year, unlike last year. Is it a passing fad, just for the cinematographers? Can broadcasters make any money out of 3-D? When the promised glasses-free display becomes a reality, maybe broadcasters will revisit the technology.

As is usual at NAB, I am puzzled as to how the industry supports 1500-plus exhibitors. Considering that sales are dominated by a few companies, how do all the other companies survive? Of course some are on the way up, to be tomorrow's market leaders. The industry evolves; it's only natural. The technology platforms on the show floor are merely tools for businesses that exploit artistic endeavor to support commerce. That technological evolution is going to cause change and disruption, and we are in a period of great disruption as OTT and other technologies change the landscape of broadcast.

This year's 10ft × 10ft booth could be the 50,000sq-ft booth at the front of a hall in 10 years' time. One only has to think of Ampex and RCA, companies that lay at the heart of television stations in decades past. They're all but memories now, but back then, who had heard of some of today's leading vendors?

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