10 observations from IBC

I admit it, I hate conferences. And exhibitions. I loathe them. Business gurus (conference sales people) will tell you that they (conferences not sales people) are a necessary evil, a means of understanding the future, of understanding competition and understanding a market. With this insight in mind, having studiously avoided IBC for ten years, I recently took the hop to Amsterdam to immerse myself in the future of broadcasting at IBC.

When last at the show, the conference halls were alight with “multi-platform” content distribution, content management, monetisation and whizz-bang machines that have an array of (as yet undefined functionality) flashing lights. It was actually quite exciting. Certain I was to experience a paradigm shift after a decade away, I looked forward to being wowed by the future of broadcasting, but that’s where the disappointment began.

1. Incredibly, if you put a fluster (collective noun) of media/creative types, over a long weekend, in a conference setting in Holland, the impact on the economy is remarkable. To the organisers of the jolly nice IBC conference recently, well done!  The uptick in local trade in certain postal codes of downtown Amsterdam, along with a generic uptick in coffee consumption across the board are nothing short of remarkable. I expect the Dutch finance minister to be on the phone to you shortly. One subtle suggestion, any danger of moving the RAI closer to Dam Square? That cab ride is a bitch.

2. Nothing has actually changed; it’s not a brave new world, it’s back to the future I’m afraid. No real innovation. At all. Best exemplified by the tremendous sales grunt working for a major CDN who was at pains to tell me that his company had more pipes that Pimlico Plumbers; my reaction to this formidable individual was to ask how all said pipes actually improved customer experience and engagement, however, in a refrain reminiscent of the infamous Spinal Tap “but this one goes to 11”, I was told by my enthusiastic new chum that his company has a lot of pipes. Pretty much everywhere by all accounts. Jolly good, and I expect they’ll still have loads next year too. Can’t wait to discuss this all over again.

3. Not one vendor, and I really do mean not one, seemed to mention the end user in any collaterals or stand dressing. They were not afraid to mention every technological acronym known to man, but not a peep about the humble content consumer, who appeared to be universally insignificant in this brave new world of broadcasting to consumers.

4. The big boys are still the big boys, but they won’t be much longer. The way it works is simple, broadcasters make/commission/license content that’s created on monumentally expensive cameras, edited with gut-bustingly expensive software, permissioned and distributed by wallet bashing content management and playout platforms through budget bashing broadcast infrastructure. In short, if you are a broadcaster, a bandwidth provider or a scaled up software house – your future looks rosy. Well it did. Trouble is that there seems to be a generic lack of smelling coffee immediately after waking up among the leaders of these companies. Yes, of course multi-platform, OTT and the like are important, what is fundamental though is a means to interact with audiences, to increase reach, to drive engagement. When I have got 5 minutes, I’ll come up with an acronym for you all. Something like YSY – “you’re so yesterday”.

5. A smorgasbord of niche players exist; there were a bunch of cool smaller companies at the show, few of these were well funded, less will survive. It is criminal.  I can not lay blame at the broadcast industry’s door here. So venture capitalists, wherever you are, shame on you. Do some analysis and figure out whether being at the intersection of content, consumer and commerce is a good thing thing. If it is (and I’ll take a wild guess that it may well be) then I’d suggest that you break out the cheque books and get jiggy with it, before someone else does. This space is set for massive disruption, the unthinkable will happen, Davids will topple Goliaths, cats and dogs will live together in perfect harmony, the world as we know will change. Think Google taking out Microsoft and you’ll be on the right track.

6. I was amazed at the utterly dull manner in which the status quo was being maintained by all the vendors – rather than stating, “well actually, that company is a pile of shit, we’re much better, and here;s why” everyone seemed to have over-indulged in pancake smoking and, short of wearing some fetching beads, growing hair and hugging trees, everyone was at peace with one another in what was a beautiful throwback to the 1960s. Utterly spineless behavior, unless of course none of the usual suspects had anything new or disruptive to report, and indeed, unless their core propositions are in fact, the same of stuff with a different wrapper. Hmmm.

7. Bravo BT! Brilliant world first 4K demo on Sunday afternoon, of what is the most compelling content ever, rugby union. Cracking quality and faultless user experience.  I applaud you and everything that you stand for. I am standing, humming the national anthem, and saluting while typing. Seriously though, at least they were prepared to show that the future is now! In doing so, they’ll steal a march on the competition. You heard it here first!

8. Everything is smaller, other than the cost. Smaller satellite dishes, smaller whiz-bang components, smaller everything in fact, other than data pipes which are increasingly leviathan, or at least my new chum the sales chap from the CDN believes that they are. There’s a rule in engineering that goes along the lines of if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. And so it would appear that the vendors and exhibitors were following engineering best practice. To a man they’ve shrunk the size of multiplexors, encoding boxes, frame management boxes and pretty much everything else you can imagine. The really forward looking chaps have even changed the colour of the LED lights, that as yet nave an undefined purpose. And yet, a decade after these technologies became accessible and mainstream, they are going up in price. Why?

9. Special mention to the innovative satellite dish manufacturer who have added puse as the colour of choice for the 2013 winter collection. Well done chaps, that’ll change everything.

10. On a serious note, IBC is a necessary evil. It does bring the disparate components together and provide a shop window for what is available; I’d suggest that it’s the folk who exhibit and attend that need to change their tune. And there’s a simple rationale to this statement. The next generation of content consumers are just as likely to be content creators, broadcasters and opinion leaders. They’ll snap away with iphone video features, upload to a gaggle of different video hubs and herd audiences of millions. There will not be an acronym in sight. It will just happen, because it can. This generation of users (and I know that its unfortunate these gits ruin what would otherwise be a beautiful world) will elect to engage with content that they discover, not what is force fed to them. They’ll expect to be able to access on any device (and I do mean any); they will dis-engage from content at light speed if it is not up to scratch from a quality perspective, and guess what, contrary to popular belief, they pay for it too!

Can’t wait for next year.



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