See the future at IBC

By the time you are reading this, I will most likely be in Amsterdam attending IBC. Because the show ranks second to NAB as an annual broadcast equipment marketplace, it is not only a good place to see and try the latest products, but also it presents the opportunity to network with peers. It is the latter that makes it such a useful place to analyze trends. With vendors anxiously waiting a return to normal capital spending patterns, the show is an opportunity to judge the current market conditions. NAB proved to be better than many expected, but hardly normal. The lack of crowds was obvious. Will attendee numbers increase at IBC?

When comparing the shows, it must be remembered that IBC visitors come from a different demographic. NAB is predominately a national show for its domestic market. The Europeans and others who attend IBC represent a more diverse market. Each country has a different business structure for broadcast operations stemming from various legislation and cultures.

State broadcasters can be isolated from the downturn in the advertising market and may represent a lifeline for hard-pressed manufacturers. Broadcasters largely funded by subscriptions have proved to be resilient to the downturn. Could it be that in many cases, the last thing the unemployed give up is a wide choice of TV programming?

As major economies like Japan, Germany and France report a return to growth, there will inevitably be a return to “normal” capital expenditure. Some may ask why broadcasters must continually invest. But that is to ignore the pressures of the market.

When I worked for a broadcaster, three types of equipment were purchased: equipment to replace worn-out systems, equipment suited for brand-new projects and equipment for smaller purchases that were not part of a project. It is clear that many new projects are now on hold, but not replacing worn-out equipment can seriously affect operational expenditure — coping with downtime, plus increased maintenance costs. However, if capital is unavailable, companies must make do.

Modern file-based workflows lower operational expenditure, which is one good reason to invest. Technological advances like better compression — AVC and JPEG2000 — improve the program-carrying capacity of links and distribution systems. Stereoscopic production can be a value-add to attract viewers or to maintain average revenue per user (ARPU) for cable and satellite operators.

And then there is the need to innovate in order to compete with the Web. Standing still is not an option for any broadcaster that wants to survive in the long term.

From this logic, I can deduce that we will see a return to normal trading conditions. What I cannot deduce is when. It will vary from country to country, and probably depend on the availability of loan capital.

For equipment vendors, times are just as tough as they are for broadcasters. Do you cut staff, marketing, or research and development? How do you leave your business in good shape to capitalize on the inevitable recovery? These are all difficult questions to answer without a crystal ball.

After the show, let us hope that the fog that veils the future has lifted a little.

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