Every year, many from our industry head to Amsterdam for the International Broadcasting Convention. With IBC’s start date coming fast, what better time for the organization’s CEO, Michael Crimp, to answer questions about the show, which runs from September 15-19.
IBC is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. How will you celebrate?
In addition to producing a commemorative book, and our annual party, IBC is starting a new charitable venture, supporting an Amsterdam group that provides support through sport for disadvantaged and disabled children. If you want to play against former Ajax players in our Saturday night match, bid now to join the IBC All-Stars.
It’s also about keeping the conversation going. We are 50 years on and have a huge amount to talk about — from Ultra HD to 5G connectivity, from IP to cyber security.
How has IBC evolved over the past 10 years?
The simple answer is that IBC has evolved along with the industry, or rather IBC has strived to identify the key trends which will transform the industry and ensure that we are ahead of the curve.
Looking back 10 years, digital cinema was still a work in progress: the total transition we have now seen was just beginning. We had dedicated areas focused on mobile video and digital signage, things that we take for granted today. You can see the equivalents in IBC2017, like the IP Showcase and all the work done on interoperability.
Five years ago we started our Leaders’ Summit, the behind-closed-doors conference for CEOs from the top broadcasters and media organizations, and it has proved hugely successful. This year we are adding two more similar, invitation-only events, this time aimed at CTOs. We have a day focusing on cyber security and another looking at the potential for 5G.
We are also trying a new business matchmaking venue this year, the IBC Startup Forum. Working with Media Honeypot, we are aiming to bring startups and scale-ups together with the media companies that might want to use their talents and the investors who might back the deals.
Will IBC and annual trade shows still be relevant in another 50 years?
Yes, I firmly believe they will. Of course, you will be able to research basic information online — and you can do that now. We have added to the online resources available with our IBC365 year-round online presence. But it is much harder to exchange opinions and experiences that way. Human nature dictates that we learn best from direct contact, from friendly discussions, from chance conversations. You cannot do that online. It is why we regard the opportunity to meet old friends and new peers as one of the key parts of the IBC experience.
What are some of the most important decisions you face in your job on a daily basis?
IBC is an interesting business to head. In some ways, of course, my job as CEO is the same as the head of any other company: making sure the staff are all pulling in the same direction, the customers are happy and the finances are secure. But IBC is unlike any other business because our focus is on spreading and sharing knowledge, and because our shareholders are our customers. IBC is organized by the industry for the industry, and at the top of our organization is the Partnership Board, which contains representatives of the six leading professional and trade bodies in the industry: IABM, IEE, IET, RTS, SCTE and SMPTE.
Can you talk a bit about the conference?
One significant development from that first IBC 50 years ago is the nature of the conference. The founders were insistent that an exhibition needed a technical conference, and in 1967 it was based solely on papers outlining the latest research.
Today, the technical papers program still forms the center piece of the conference. But today our conference is much broader, speaking to the creative and commercial people in our community as well as the engineering and operational.
This year’s conference is subtitled “Truth, Trust and Transformation,” and has five tracks running over five days. Session topics range from the deeply technical, like new codec design, to fake news and alternative facts. Speakers range from Alberto Duenas, the principal video architect at chipmaker ARM to Dan Danker, the product director at Facebook.
How are the attendees and companies participating in IBC changing?
The industry is so much broader than it once was. Consumers used to watch television, because that was all that the technology could achieve. Today, they expect to choose what they want to watch, when and where they want to watch it, and on the device and platform which happen to be convenient at the time.
As the industry expands, so does the IBC community. This year, for example, we have the biggest temporary structure we have ever built for an IBC, to house Hall 14, dedicated to content everywhere.
Given that international travel can be painful, what should those outside the EU consider?
Amsterdam is, in truth, a very easy place for visitors in any part of the world to reach. Its airport is a global hub. The EU maintains an open attitude and a practical approach to visas when required, so there should be no barriers to anyone wanting to visit IBC.
The IBC Innovation Awards are always a draw. Can you comment on the calibre of entries this year?
When we decided to add the IBC Innovation Awards to our program, our aim was to reflect the real nature of the industry. We wanted to reward the real-world projects, where users and technology partners got together to tackle a real challenge and come up with a solution that was much more than the sum of its parts.
Our finalists range from a small French-language service based in Canada to Google Earth; from a new approach to transmitters in the USA to an online service in India; and from Asia’s biggest broadcaster to the Spanish national railway company.
The Awards Ceremony on Sunday night is always one of my highlights. This year there is a special guest presenter: the academic and broadcaster Dr. Helen Czerski. The show lasts about an hour and is free to all IBC visitors.
What are the latest developments in adding capacity at IBC?
There is always talk of the need to move to another venue, and of course as a responsible business we keep this continually under review. But where would we move to? There is nowhere that offers the same combination of exhibition space, conference facilities and catering and networking under one roof. There is nowhere that can provide the range of hotels at all prices that Amsterdam offers, nor its friendly and welcoming atmosphere.
Talking of hotels, visitors this year may notice a large building site between hall 12 and the station. This will be a large on-site hotel, scheduled to be open in time for IBC in 2019.
And regulars who have resigned themselves to walking around the hoardings covering up the now not-so-new underground station will be pleased to hear that the North-South metro line is due to open in July 2018. Test trains are already running, and visitors to IBC next year will be able to speed from the centre of the city in under 10 minutes.
As you mentioned earlier, the theme for IBC2017 is “Truth, Trust and Transformation.” What is the rationale behind this?
Everyone has noticed that the terms “fake news” and “alternative facts” are ubiquitous these days. Broadcasters have traditionally been the trusted brand for news: is the era of social media and universal Internet access changing that?
It is a critical topic to debate at IBC, because the industry’s response to it is central to its future, commercially, as well as technically. Providing true, accurate and honest access to news (and related genres like sport) is expensive and demanding. How do we address this key issue? Also, one of the challenges of the transition to IP connectivity is the risk that the media industry will become a major target for malware and hackers. As the transport platform becomes more open, the more we need to focus on cyber security and the intrinsic design of safe, secure systems.
OTT and social media delivery is sometimes seen as “disruptive,” but I think that “transformative” is the better word. It brings new challenges for creativity and business, and it is right that IBC looks at them.
Will VR and AR be addressed at this year’s conference?
Yes, in the Future Zone, and no doubt on the show floor. Technologies in this area are tumbling out, but the business and creative case seems to be lagging behind. We know what VR can do, but how can we tell stories with it? How can we monetize it? IBC can bring all the sides of the industry together to dig into all the issues. And not just in debate, but by seeing and experiencing the state of the art.
Cyber security and security breaches are becoming more frequent. How will IBC address these challenges?
Cyber security is such a critical issue that we have devoted a day to it in our new C-Tech Forum. Beyond that, we have an important session on cyber security on Friday in the main conference with experts from around the world and around the industry debating what can and should be done to protect content and operations.
Incidentally, we are also looking at artificial intelligence and machine learning, with conference sessions in both the technology and business transformation strands.
What is the Platform Futures — Sport conference aiming to address?
Platform Futures is one of the strands running through the conference. It looks at how the latest delivery and engagement technologies are opening new opportunities for the presentation of content.
Sport has always been a major driver – perhaps the major driver – of innovation in television and media. For many years now we have had a sport day as part of the conference. This year, we are dedicating the Platform Futures strand to sport on Sunday.
The stream looks at how new technology is pushing boundaries for live sports coverage; the increasing importance of fan engagement; and the phenomenon of “alternative sports formats” like Twenty20 cricket and Rugby 7s, which provide lucrative alternatives to traditional competitions. It will also examine the unprecedented growth of eSports, and the exponential opportunities for broadcasters in a market that is now pushing towards the half-billion-dollar size.