SMPTE Tech Conference Draws TV and Film Crowd to Tinseltown

HOLLYWOOD—The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineering's annual Technical Conference and Exposition was back in town for a return engagement at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel, playing before a crowd of some 1,400 television and film industry professionals. The three-day event (Oct. 25–27) featured scores of presentations on such cutting-edge topics as ultrahigh-definition television, 3D production techniques, and display technologies.

Christopher Dodd, MPAA head and former U.S. Senator, provided the industry luncheon address at this year’s SMPTE Technical Conference. ©Ken Carroza/SMPTE The show's technical sessions were well attended, exhibit traffic was brisk, receptions and luncheon events were packed, and the overwhelming takeaway from those polled was that it was a very productive and upbeat event.

Barbara Lange, SMPTE's executive director, noted that conference attendance had increased over that of previous years, and also that the organization is continuing to grow and thrive, despite the current economic downturn and a changing technological landscape.

"Overall attendance was up from last year's show by 34 percent," said Lange. We're very pleased with that. I think we've made some really significant progress this year [as an organization], and I'm very pleased," said Lange." I'm very happy with where we are now, with the highest membership in seven years—just shy of 6,000."


One of the conference highlights was an industry luncheon presentation by former U.S. Senator, and now head of the Motion Picture Association of America, Christopher Dodd, who championed television and motion picture industry workers.

"Today I'm very proud to join with you to celebrate the long and very successful history of technological innovation in film and television, but since we're talking about technology I don't want to just look back at what we've achieved or where we've been," said Dodd. "I want to share my excitement, if I can, with you about what's next."

Dodd reflected on the founding of the SMPTE in 1916 by C. Frances Jenkins, stating that Jenkins and his colleagues could not have imagined "in their wildest dreams" the ways in which the engineering community would develop technology for presenting the storyteller's ideas to the public.

"You and those who have come before you, in fact, are the ones who have propelled it forward from such basics as sound and color to the dramatic explosion of distribution platforms made possible by the Internet," said Dodd. "It's no wonder that today studios have made their marks as much for technological innovation as for storytelling."

Dodd also used the opportunity to call attention to content piracy, stating that it jeopardizes the jobs of some 2.2 million Americans employed in the TV and motion picture industry.

"These millions of Americans share in our success, but they also share in the pain when our industry is threatened as it is," said Dodd. "Content theft is no victimless crime. It is stealing—nothing shorter—just as breaking into a Tiffany's jewelry store is theft. And yet, according to a recent poll, a full 13 percent of the adult population—29 million Americans—have downloaded or watched illegal copies of movies or TV shows on-line. Nearly one-quarter of all Internet traffic is copyright infringement."

Dodd cited statistics from the Institute of Policy Innovation indicating that piracy has cost some 373,000 jobs in past years, along with a $16 billion earnings loss.


SMPTE also serves as a platform for equipment manufacturers, and this year vendor space was at a premium, with a sell-out crowd of 66 exhibitors.

John Shike, Snell's vice president of marketing and channel management for the Americas, observed that business was brisk.

"Booth traffic was up," Shike said. "Attendees took the time to visit exhibitors such as ourselves in addition to attending the conference sessions. The show was very good—better in terms of both attendance being up from last year, and also a willingness of the attendees to spend time with exhibitors."

Another exhibitor, Tektronix, also reported good response from attendees.

"Traffic was definitely up," said Karl Kuhn, Tektronix senior video applications engineer. "We saw a lot of industry decisionmakers who knew what they were looking for and came by with real questions they needed answers for. We didn't see the 'tire kickers' that you find at some other shows. This is always an enjoyable show for me—time goes fast as the technical presentations area and exhibitors are co-located and you have a constant flow of traffic. "

The 2011 conference was the first for Bitcentral's vice president of engineering, John King, who played dual roles as a presenter and exhibitor. He also shared in the upbeat nature of the show.

"This was the first year that I attended the conference and my first time ever as a presenter—it was an eye-opening and intriguing learning experience," said King. "You had manufacturers, integrators, and pacesetters. I felt that it was an honor and privilege to be there in the company of the folks that were participating."

King delivered one of several presentations on file-based workflows and was also pleased with the response to his paper.

"The level of interest was quite high," he said. "My presentation was the third segment of three and I was a bit worried that it was right after lunch. However, the room was full of people who were all very attentive. I felt the level of interest to be high in connection with my presentation and those of others in the group. I would absolutely go back and do the show again and would welcome the opportunity to present again."

The SMPTE 2012 conference is set to take place in Hollywood, Oct. 22–25.

James E. O'Neal

James E. O’Neal has more than 50 years of experience in the broadcast arena, serving for nearly 37 years as a television broadcast engineer and, following his retirement from that field in 2005, moving into journalism as technology editor for TV Technology for almost the next decade. He continues to provide content for this publication, as well as sister publication Radio World, and others.  He authored the chapter on HF shortwave radio for the 11th Edition of the NAB Engineering Handbook, and serves as editor-in-chief of the IEEE’s Broadcast Technology publication, and as associate editor of the SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal. He is a SMPTE Life Fellow, and a Life Member of the IEEE and the SBE.