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As the preparations for IBC 2010 get into high gear, CEO Michael Crimp talks to industry commentator Dick Hobbs
With an industry struggling to come out of recession, is there a place for a big international event like IBC?
IBC was founded in the 1967, and a lot has happened in the industry since then. It has certainly seen some economic lows along with the good times.
In a way, IBC has to be something of a barometer for the industry: it has to change to match the pressures on broadcasting and media. If you look back, say, 15 years ago, when very creative post production was leading the way, then IBC featured a lot of flashy demonstrations and buyers rushed from stand to stand, eager to invest in the latest technology.
Today that creativity is taken for granted. What businesses need to do now is find ways to work smarter, to deliver for less without compromising quality, to win the commercial edge. You need to talk to people – your peers from around the world, as well as the vendors of the latest systems – to understand what those tips and tricks are. And IBC is the best place to meet and talk to people.
Does that mean that IBC is just a place to meet and talk?
I think that IBC has always been a place to meet and talk, and that is nothing to be ashamed of.
Today we use the buzzword “networking”, but talking to people – colleagues, opposite numbers from other companies, suppliers, consultants – has always been central to IBC. It is obviously true in the conference, but it is also true in the exhibition, where meeting suppliers face to face can make or break a negotiation, or lead to a breakthrough in understanding, by either party.
A couple of years ago the Hannah Montana movie won the big IBC Innovation Awards, and Howard Lukk of Disney said in his acceptance speech that the real genesis of the project was at IBC, the year before. He knew that the difference between success and failure of the movie was getting it onto screens quickly, so he spent a long time talking to Quantel about realtime, high throughput 3D. “I looked them in the eye and asked them if they could do it,” he said.
This was a major 3D movie which broke all sorts of box office records, and it only made it into theatres because all the parties met and talked at IBC. You cannot look someone in the eye by email.
The IBC conference has changed a great deal in recent years. Is it still relevant to engineers?
Yes, the conference has changed dramatically, but so has the nature of the industry. There has been a massive shift from bespoke hardware and the need to study specifications to standardised platforms and a focus on applications and usability.
Back then, the chief engineer would make a choice, on purely technical grounds, having visited every relevant stand at IBC. Today, producers, creative artists and CFOs have as much input into technology choices as engineers. Some argue that the most important specification is the return on investment.
But the inescapable fact is that producers could not make creative content, nor their commercial colleagues find new ways of making money from it, without the underlying technology. We are in a technical industry and without innovation in our core technologies we cannot hope to succeed.
So there are three distinct streams running through the conference, and we always put technology as the first. It was where IBC started, and it is as important today as it has ever been. The other two streams are around content creation & innovation and the business of broadcasting. There are times, though, when all three streams come together for keynote sessions.
How does the IBC conference serve its technical audience?
At the centre are the sessions devoted to technical papers.
IBC is still seen as the best place to unveil new research, and to discuss it with fellow experts from around the world. There are many more papers proposed for the conference than can be accepted, and the papers committee take great care in providing full peer review, if necessary helping the authors to present their findings in the best way possible. To create more space for new research, IBC also features poster sessions.
This is a great way for early stage research to be presented, because it allows interested parties to debate the issues directly with the authors, which may well spark a new direction. Another important “meet and talk”, and a chance to get to grips with the underlying science. As well as the papers, there are other specifically targeted technical sessions. One of the industry trends we have identified this year, for instance, is social networking, so we have included a technical workshop on the topic, featuring presentations from the Fraunhofer Institute, NTT Communications and user experience specialists Ruwido.
There are sessions on archiving and stereoscopic 3D, and delivery across all platforms from broadband to mobile. And as usual, on Tuesday morning IBC hosts the workshop meeting for the Benelux SCTE, this year talking about high speed access to the home.
Are there any other conference highlights this year?
One major new innovation is a day given over to sport. This is primarily aimed at the business and creative streams but sport puts a great deal of demand on the technical infrastructure so there will be plenty for the engineer, too. Among the speakers on the sports day, which takes place on Saturday, are probably the two most influential people in television sport.
Manolo Romero is the head of Olympic Broadcasting Services.
He has been involved in the coverage of every single Olympics since 1968, and now runs broadcast coverage on behalf of the IOC. He is also the recipient of this year’s IBC International Honour for Excellence. He will give the keynote speech at the start of the day, and his session is followed by one featuring Peter Angell, the director of production for Host Broadcast Services which delivers all the coverage of Fifa World Cups. He will be talking, amongst other things, on the challenges and rewards of stereoscopic 3D football.
The conference covers more than 60 sessions with 300 speakers, so exploring the programme at www.ibc.org/conferenceprogramme is the best way to find your preferred journey through the week.
You said earlier that the IBC exhibition was the place to meet and talk. Is that still the case? How representative is the exhibition? Do we even need exhibitions when so much information is available online?
The basic numbers are that the exhibition spreads across 13 halls and features more than 1,300 stands. Exhibitors include virtually all the names you would expect to see at IBC, including Avid and Sony who were both absent last year. I think that makes it pretty representative.
We help our visitors by grouping exhibitors logically as far as we can. So all the companies involved in delivery – from satellite uplinks to broadband routers – are grouped in one block of halls, for instance.
But even given this theming, unless your interests are very narrow it is a challenge to examine every relevant exhibit in detail. So it is up to visitors and especially exhibitors to do their homework in advance, setting up meetings to talk in detail.
Yes, if all you want is to collect catalogue information, that is better done online. The point of an exhibition is to build relationships, to see and feel the equipment, and, as Howard Lukk so aptly put it at the IBC awards ceremony, look your suppliers in the eye to know they are going to deliver.
I made the point earlier that raw specifications are no longer as vital as they once were, particularly with digital systems. What is critical is the way in which they work together, and that can be a tough challenge.
So I see another benefit of a comprehensive exhibition like IBC is being able to talk to all the partners in a project. Bring people together to talk through the inter-working. We offer free quiet meeting space in our Business Club Lounge for just this sort of discussion.
Can exhibitors work together to help visitors in this way?
Absolutely. We proved this conclusively with one of last year’s innovations, the Production Village. This featured, among other things, a huge demonstration set with cameras from all the leading manufacturers around it. Visitors could do simple, direct comparisons as well as checking out the latest technical developments.
It was a huge success. It also clearly demonstrated that even rivals can come together when it is in a good cause. In this case, the good cause is making sure visitors added to their knowledge.
Can that idea be extended into more technical areas?
Yes, with think it can. We are giving hall 9 over to another collaborative exhibit this year, which we are calling Connected World. Over the last few years we have introduced specialist zones in the exhibition, first for IPTV, then for mobile television and digital signage. The thinking behind it was to help businesses new to IBC find their place in the community.
We still see the need for this, but we wanted to place it in a new context, which is the thinking behind Connected World. As well as vendor exhibits it will also feature shared technology demonstrations, including the Connected Home of the Future.
The talk is about high speed data to the home, over cable or broadband, and networked devices within the home. What we are doing with this area is to put the theories into practice, to take them beyond pure technology and into real-world applications.
Again, the bottom line is that the Connected World, the Production Village and the other added initiatives around the exhibition are there to start debates. They are there to get people talking.
Are there any other places to meet and talk?
At IBC we talk about the event having three elements: the conference, the exhibition and the networking opportunities. Justifying time away from the job, and the expense of going to an exhibition and conference convention, means you have to get the best possible value from it, and conversations with other attendees help.
We nudge things along, with events like the IBC Party on Friday night, and some networking events which are part of the conference. On two nights there are free movies in the state of the art IBC Big Screen, and the awards ceremony on Sunday evening is a major attraction too.
I have already mentioned the Business Club Lounge for quiet meetings, but there are cafes and restaurants around the site to take time out, and of course there is the IBC Pub and The Beach if there is time to relax. And in the evenings you are in one of the most civilised cities in the world.
IBC is in Amsterdam again. Are there plans to move to another city?
This is a question I am regularly asked, but I think those who pose it are looking at the issue from the wrong end of the telescope.
I see the role of the IBC staff, and the industry committees it serves, as delivering the best possible experience for its audience. I have talked about some of the ways in which we meet our audience’s expectations, through continual innovation in the exhibition, with stimulating thought leadership in the conference, and by providing opportunities to interact with other visitors.
I believe we have to continually re-evaluate how we deliver on all this and more, so that IBC evolves to reflect the changes in the industry. The choice of venue should come right at the end of this process, being the city and centre that best meets the specification.
The venue, then, is also being continually re-evaluated but, at the moment, the RAI and the city of Amsterdam best meets IBC’s needs.
In one sentence, why attend IBC2010?
Commercial, creative and technical success depends on being on the leading edge of developments, and where better to invest in knowledge than IBC.