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New York SMPTE Offers Strong Program

Last month's SMPTE conference, held in New York City, could be described as a muted success. Overall attendance seemed light, with much of the exhibit space empty. Whether that was due to fear of flying to New York or because of the economic downturn, it's hard to say. The exhibitors, in fine spirit, brought their latest gear and plenty of personnel to demonstrate it to potential customers. Though they acknowledged the low attendance, they seemed happy with the high level of broadcast network and cable representatives who did come to the show.

So, if sheer numbers were the only measure of the show's performance, then this event fell a little short. If, however, quality of exhibitors, attendees, and depth of program content were taken into account, then SMPTE was a resounding success. Various companies and individuals presented papers on subjects ranging from authoring for MPEG-4 all the way to digital cinema. Wisely, for the latter, the program producers invited John Fithian of the National Theater Owners Association to lend a bit of business reality to the theoretical investigations that formed the majority of the paper presentations. Accurate or not, his take seemed to be that digital cinema's progress will remain in the production rather than distribution area for some time. Why, he argued, would a theater owner want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on digital theater storage and projection technology that would end up becoming obsolete in a few years when he or she could still spend $25,000 on a film projector, operate it at minimum wage, and keep it running for 20 years? Part of his assertions were no doubt fueled by the round of Chapter 11 bankruptcy declarations filed by theater exhibitors over the past year. After he departed the stage, an entire slate of companies presented papers detailing the latest in technological innovations for the cinema market. Much of the presentations and discussions centered on content protection, always an issue with movie studios.

Asset management took a starring role in the show, with perhaps the greatest breadth and depth of presentations coming from that area. One afternoon session, entitled "Archive And Asset Management" was ably co-chaired by Janet Gardner of Perspective Media Group and Gary Morse of Fox Digital. Topics ranged from integration of physical and virtual media asset management systems, to content supply chain, to practical applications of agent-based asset management technology. Rounding out the session was a paper entitled "Pulling It All Together With Asset Management" by Robin Wang of Dalet Digital Media Systems of New York City. To finish, Gardner assembled a panel of broadcasters who had implemented asset management systems. They spoke of the trials and tribulations of implementation and of the overall shift inside broadcast facilities toward an information technology infrastructure. Perhaps the best information tidbit of the day was offered by Gardner, who, at the outset of the session, presented a slide with definitions of asset management. She noted that there would be disagreement and discussion, but at least her set of definitions provided a reference point that would serve as a foundation for further discussion.

Any mention of digital assets inevitably leads to a look at both metadata and digital rights management and these subjects were widely reviewed at SMPTE (for a brief overview of metadata, specifically UMID and KLV, see Glen Pensinger's article on page 11), especially in the session entitled "Metadata:Case Studies, Expectations, Realities, Lessons Learned." Ira Goldstone of Tribune opened it with his paper, "Metadata In Multimedia," and Sony closed it with "UMID Watermarking For Managing Metadata in Content Production," presented by representatives of the company's U.K. operation. The last paper in particular provided an in-depth look at watermarking and the company's technique of "washing" the watermark leaving no discernible degradation in the signal quality of watermarked content. Sony execs showed examples of this with content recorded onto multiple media types.

Of course, asset management and related topics were not the only subjects to be explored at SMPTE. 24P production got its share of papers as did a fascinating group of presentations entitled "Case Studies Of Digital Facilities," co-chaired by David Horowitz of Horowitz Television Technology and Randall Hoffner of ABC.

Papers on streaming and video and IP issues also drew some attention—even on the last session of the last day. Though conference attendance probably suffered as a result of recent events in the world, those who stayed away missed a good collection of exhibits and a powerful slate of papers addressing the most pressing issues in broadcasting today.