SMPTE forms UK section

I have just attended the inaugural event for a new SMPTE section. The United Kingdom finally has its own section after a wait of 80 years! Considering the part many UK members and vendors have in SMPTE activities like standards creation, it is a great shame it has taken so long. I have attended SMPTE meetings in the past at the Hollywood, Chicago and New York sections, but that was back when I was a frequent visitor to the U.S. Without a local section, I have been unable to attend any meetings in my home country; the nearest section was in Italy. In contrast, the UK’s AES chapter is the largest outside the U.S.

There is some history to this. The SMPE (there was no “T” for television in those days) was founded back in 1916, partly as a need for a body to promote cinematography as a communication medium at a time of war. A thriving film industry grew in the UK during the 1920s and had a similar interest in standards, so it wanted to set up a UK chapter of the SMPE. In 1931, it was mutually agreed that the British would set up a separate organization, the British Kinematograph Society (BKS). In a gentlemen’s agreement, the two groups agreed not to operate on each other’s patches.

Wind forward to the next century, and both societies have embraced television. SMPE added television in 1950 to become SMPTE; BKS is now BKSTS, embracing sound and television. SMPTE became the standards body for the film and television industry, so it is only natural that UK members should want a section to represent their interests in standards creation, as well as contributing to other SMPTE activities, including education and networking. These latter two are much strengthened with local meetings.

Chris Johns, the chairman of the new section, welcomed the inauguration, saying how 80 years on, the section had finally been put together in the last nine months after an initial poll of UK members to sample the interest. It is his desire to see more contribution to the standards. The society has a natural U.S. focus, and that has been seen in the past when such things as 25fps film production were overlooked during standards development.

Roderick Snell spoke briefly, telling the assembled audience how “the SMPTE is a club with a lot of leverage and a good way for small companies to get involved with the creation of international standards.”

We were all reminded that SMPTE is not just about standards; it also educates, and with technology advancing ever faster, it can be challenging to keep abreast of new developments. I had some interesting discussions about standards and relevancy at the meeting. Specifically, are standards relevant in less sophisticated markets outside the U.S., UK, Germany, Japan and such other countries behind all the developments? They do tend to be driven by the needs of major networks like Turner and the BBC, and small regional or national broadcasters may fail to see the relevance of things like MXF to their operations.

For me, the big advantage of standards is a route to interoperability, to avoid vendor lock-in, so that broadcasters can build best-of-breed systems. For the less-well funded broadcaster, best-of-breed may well be best at the right price. At SMPTE, any member can join a committee and contribute to the development of standards; you don’t have to be at a global broadcast company or international vendor. It was this that allowed Roderick Snell to get involved many years ago.

The introduction of file-based operations and digital cinema has made it especially pressing to educate and inform, and I hope you find the content of Broadcast Engineering is an effective complement to the work of SMPTE.

David Austerberry, editor