Digital Studio: How many visitors to the show are you expecting between 7-12 April?
Chris Brown: We will have more than 100,000 register for the event. Last year our count was 102,500. Nearly 30%, or about 27,000 to 30,000, would typically come from overseas.
There will be 1,700 [plus] exhibitors featured at the show from all over the globe. Generally speaking, between 30 and 40% of our participating exhibitors will be companies that are based outside of the US.
DS: What industry topics do you expect to top of the agenda at this year’s event?
Brown: The media and entertainment industries continue to evolve at a dizzying pace, so the range of topics is broad – and spans technical, creative and business issues.
On the technical side AI and Machine Learning will be a hot topic. The whole area of data and its importance in every aspect of creating and delivering content will no doubt be top of mind, driven by the consumers’ appetite for searchable, interactive and customised content. AI promises to affect and improve the creative process. It will also have a big impact on advertising, and it will of course affect the consumer experience. We have a great main stage program being produced in partnership with Amazon Web Services on this subject, as well as AI-focused displays in the show’s main lobby. But you can expect to see many of our exhibitors providing insights on AI.
Augmented and virtual reality technologies and devices continue to advance and will also be top of mind. There has been some shaking out in the VR space, but it is still evolving and now AR is gaining traction. We have an entire pavilion at the show dedicated to immersive technologies.
The incredible shifts that have occurred on the OTT side of the equation, is going to drive a lot of discussion. Every media company is developing and refining strategies in OTT.
We are excited this year that we have two programs focused in this area – we are launching a new Streaming Summit, produced by streaming industry expert Dan Rayburn, and we will also have a 2-day Online Video Conference.
From a broad perspective the big trends continue to be the shift from SD to IP, hardware to software and virtualisation – or cloud-based services. We will have an IP Showcase dedicated to helping sort the current state of standards on the IP side and how companies are working through the transition.
On the cloud side we have the biggest platform players exhibiting at the show – AWS, Microsoft, Google and many others providing services.
Other trends that will be covered in our conference programs and seen on the show floor include ultra HD or 4K; and there will no doubt be a ramped up focus on the next generation, 8K Ultra HD. From a delivery standpoint, 5G will have significant impact and will help further fuel the consumption of video on mobile phones – another trend that is shaping much of the strategy and technology that will be seen and discussed.
DS: As the content creation community increasingly diversifies, how do you ensure that NAB is still relevant?
Brown: The goal is to create an event that brings all the relevant players together – all the various elements of the media and entertainment sector that are collaborating, interacting and even competing to shape the way content is delivered and consumed.
Our theme is ‘The M.E.T. Effect,’ and that was carefully selected to communicate the convergence that has occurred between media – or the distribution platform, entertainment – the content – and technology. Content is certainly consumed in a very different way in today’s world. The expectation is anywhere, anytime. From a consumer viewpoint, the technology that gets it there is almost irrelevant. Layer in the effect of the technology curve on both the availability and cost of the tools needed to create and deliver content, and you have an explosion of new players entering the business and lots of new opportunity. This all represents a new definition of broadcast and the NAB Show has to reflect all of this. And that means we want and need new creators at the show to ensure we have a meaningful and complete marketplace. The challenge then becomes getting them there. To do that we must first identify who the new players are, then we have to determine what sort of content – and in this context, content means either educational content or exhibitors – they have an interest in and from there figure out how to build content for them that makes it worth their while to come to the show. So we are constantly trying to look forward at where the industry is headed and trying to determine where those new content creators may be coming from.
We also need to make sure we can deliver something that people can’t readily get elsewhere; something new or a fresh angle. Happily, our exhibitors take care of a good bit of that because this is the one show they all use as their primary launch platform for new products. So, there is always something new at the show no matter what.
DS: Who are some of the keynote speakers that will appear on the centre stage? What issues will be covered on the main stage?
Brown: We are still rounding out a few of our main stage programs, but we are excited about the way these programs are shaping up. Our opening session is always a highlight. Our CEO Gordon Smith hosts and provides an address that lays out the thirty-thousand-foot view of the broadcast industry and NAB’s focus in helping shape that.
Other main stage sessions will focus on machine learning, building businesses around purpose and the role that broadcast plays in supporting local communities.
The US’ top communications regulator, Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, will appear on the main stage as part of a special Tuesday afternoon “Celebration of Broadcasting.” Also featured in that program will be film and TV actress Kristen Bell who will be receiving a special Chairman’s Award recognising individuals that are “rising” and having a notable impact on the future of the industry.
More will be coming…
Update: Since this interview went to press, another keynote presentation has been announced titled Experience the Future of Entertainment by Neal Mohan, Chief Product Officer of YouTube. He discusses the next era of television and the ways that technology can help broadcasters reach more people in new ways.
DS: Similarly, which speakers will be appearing at the leadership summit? And what issues will top the agenda?
Brown: Our Senior Leadership Summit is a by invitation only event. The intent there is to bring together the industry’s top executives for a candid private dialogue about the key trends driving the business – from a very high level view. The key is bringing together executives that represent the various sides of the business, including broadcast, telco, MVPD and broadband to studios, cable networks and other content producers to the technology providers and digital platforms. We want a variety of voices involved and we expect this to be a true dialogue.
This year the initial focus will be around two major areas - the key drivers affecting how content is produced and the financial dynamics behind the industry. We hope to build on this program next year and will likely introduce a “public” element that will be open to a wider range of executives, but with a consistent focus on business strategy and high-level interchange.
DS: The streaming market is only in its infancy in the Middle East. What are some are some of the key technology challenges it will face as it grows?
Brown: We have entered a partnership with Dan Rayburn, who is one of the world’s foremost experts on streaming. He will be producing the Streaming Summit, at this year’s show. In talking with Dan it sounds as though there are interesting prospects for streaming in a number of regions across the world. And while streaming media is still in the early stages in the Middle East, it is currently one of the hottest areas for growth, due to the fact there are a lot of media companies in the region and consumers have great broadband infrastructure in place.
As more original content is created for the region and video distributors, syndicators and broadcasters come to the market with new streaming services, the rate of adoption will grow and the Middle East will see a larger volume of consumption of video across multiple platforms and services. While all new services encounter some technology challenges, the most important challenge to solve is the business angle, since content creation and licensing costs are high. The trick will be to find a balance between offering a high-quality video service, at a price consumers are willing to pay and that they see as a good value.
DS: A number of major broadcasters in the Middle East are still struggling with rampant content piracy. Is this still a major issue for broadcasters in the US, and if so, what technologies are helping to combat the problem?
Brown: Content piracy is a major problem for the cinematic industry in the US, and to some extent, the music business, but it is not such a big problem for over-the-air broadcasters today. (Service theft remains a problem for cable and satellite TV distribution, but that’s a little different problem.) This may change, however, as we move into a world where OTA broadcasters begin to offer premium content (i.e., UHD) or subscription services and PPV programs via the emerging ATSC 3 system. For this reason, ATSC 3 – or next-generation broadcast – includes security features that have not been included in previous broadcast TV systems.
DS: Next gen technologies like IP, AI and immersive media promise to disrupt the media and entertainment industry. How can content creators and broadcasters get ready for these advances?
Brown: ATSC 3 will allow broadcasters to deliver IP-based content, and in particular allows ‘hybrid’ operation wherein a receiver can accept content from both over-the-air and broadband sources simultaneously. This allows broadcasters to offer infinitely scalable core content in an over the air broadcast, with the addition of enhancement content via broadband. [For example,] additional on screen or second-screen graphics, alternate soundtracks, accessibility features, back-story or catch-up content, etc.), which the broadband equipped user can select from to include in their viewing experience if they so choose. This will provide a whole new “personalisable broadcast” service.
Some broadcasters are already using it [artificial intelligence] for improving their advertising and audience analysis business functions, and this is expected to continue. It may also become an important part of certain content creation processes.
Finally, regarding immersive media, many broadcasters are exploring the use of 180 and 360 video for certain content and delivering it via their online portals.
DS: I noticed there is a cyber security conference at the show. Are broadcasters and content creators only really now waking up to the threat posed by the internet age? Have high profile cases, such as the hacking of HBO and Sony changed corporate thinking?
Brown: There have been enough cases of serious breaches in the world of media that this is no longer a secondary issue. Every media company is taking a serious look at how to protect against these threats, although most are still trying to sort the key questions of how, what and how much.
This year we are partnering with the MESA (Media and Entertainment Services Alliance) to bring a dedicated cyber security program to the show. MESA has also worked with us in the past, including last year; but that was done as a learning stage on our exhibit floor. This will be the first time we have had a dedicated conference component.
DS: Which new products or exhibitors are you particularly excited to see at this year’s show?
Brown: That is a difficult question to answer. It is our job to provide the marketplace and opportunities for all companies to come and have a fair opportunity to tell their story. So we really can’t pick favourites. As we have discussed there is a lot happening in the industry, some of it very exciting, some of it maybe a little scary. There is disruption no doubt, but as industries and technologies evolve there is always disruption. From that comes opportunity.
If you forced me to give an answer, I suppose the rising focus on data and all that it can do to enhance all aspects of the content ecosystem will be exciting to see and watch evolve. Machine learning has exciting implications. AR is also fascinating and I do want to see who may have some surprises for us on this at the show. Lastly, I think I would say ATSC 3.0. I am interested to see what the latest news is on applications and opportunities being explored with the next generation television standard here in the US. We will have a couple of major displays focused on this at the show.