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13/09/2017

Disruptive Technology On A Massive Scale

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One foot in an old camp, and one foot in a virtual new one: George Jarrett talks to IABM chief executive Peter White about global reach, the benefits of OPEX, and IBC.

The partnership structure of IBC, the brainchild of legendary former chairman John Wilson, has made IABM, IEEE, IET, RTS, SCTE and SMPTE considerably more potent and ambitious. Six very different memberships can thank Wilson for vastly fuller sets of services and educational opportunities. Across the industry, we can see how the multi-component IBC he left us is fit for purpose in a very different multi-component media world in which many dominant technologies (like IP) are now shared with multiple other industries. Many new software systems, like the Linius Video Virtualization Engine, have the versatility to belong in broadcast, military and security applications as well as areas like the Internet of Things.

Back in April 1991 the BBC's Horizon show flirted with VR and credited its invention to California's techno-hippie ex-hacker community. The skeptics back then wanted to see high resolution, and credit for the concepts deployed for production was given to Michael Frayn and his (1968) book Very Private Place. We bemoaned the 25 years of hype that had predated the first VR projects we saw. Twenty-six years later, VR is finally a hot ticket.

Against this backdrop of (rapid) evolution, an expansive look at the IABM vendor community of 500 companies, through the eyes of chief executive Peter White, exposes a services roster to match to the new technologies fest that will make IBC 2017 Europe's most important show ever.

Guaranteed income stream
White touched first on the IBC partnership benefits. "That participation in IBC has been very important both from helping to shape the show for the benefit of our members, and receiving the benefits of the income as a shareholder. That money has helped us to fast track many of our developments," he said.

That level of influence is considerable as IABM members account for about 5% of total exhibitors. Last IBC, White sized the vendor marketplace at $50billion, so will the huge swing from CAPEX to OPEX, driven partly by the dominant rise of open source software, boost that figure over coming years?

"It won't change the value of the market. It will change the way it is valued," said White. “The key thing in moving to OPEX will be an on-going income stream, a guaranteed income stream. But the change from CAPEX is still quite a challenge to a number of businesses that are used to the large sums of capital expenditure projects, which enabled them to invest in their own private developments.

"Having to change from millions of Euros of investment to small chunks of better guaranteed continuous revenue as an on-going basis has caused, and is causing cash flow issues with some IABM members," he added. "But in the longer run OPEX has to be a better business model because it is more predicable as an income, and less sporadic. This is likely to yield a slightly smaller overall market simply because every year there would be one big project which boosted the market which won't necessarily be visible as everyone moves to paying as they go."

IABM stats stick in the mind like Archimedes Principle. One of these is that big vendors hog 80% of total spend. Have the massive number of start-ups and new technology front lines produced a swing in market momentum?

"There will continue to be very big players, and there will be more consolidation," said White. "Potentially there will be some even bigger players, and in the traditional broadcast technology sector we will see fewer but larger players."

Is IBC 2017 going to be the biggest arbiter of change yet experienced by IABM members?

"That is probably right. The industry has never seen so much fundamental change happen so fast. There is disruption and new technologies on a massive scale, and everybody is having to re-learn through new business models," said White. "We are in a period of turmoil. IBC represents this pretty well, as can be seen by things like the cyber security sessions, and IABM is heavily involved in the IBC IP showcase."

The IABM is rightly proud of its Friday morning IBC conference session, which sets the mood for the show in terms of business intelligence and insight, and contributions from top vendor executives about market driving technologies.

"We also have our popular awards. We will be recognizing the changes in the industry through the categories: we have a vendor focus but it is all about design innovation," said White. "We try to facilitate end user engagement with vendors at various different IBC events, and at staging points throughout the show."

Close to 600 members
The big effort is to make IBC the best value for money event for IABM members. How does the intake of members stand?

"We recently crossed that milestone of 500 and we will continue to grow at a rate of about 20% a year in terms of recruitment," said White. "By the end of the year we expect to have close to 600 members. The rate of change in the last four years has been immense. We are much more global than we have ever been, particularly strong in the APAC region and the USA and Europe more generally."

IABM has always had its strongest roots in the UK and parts of Europe, but now it is a global player.

"The type of companies coming on board very much represent the new businesses that are entering our arena, so they are certainly challenging our thought processes about services provision," said White. "We have had to provide a much broader level of insight and analysis, and expanded training and support services. Catering for a two-man business and a 30,000-employee business is a challenge at the best of times, but when those business are in different sections of the market it becomes a huge challenge."

This is why the IABM has grown dramatically, appointing regional directors for all continents as well as kick starting member councils in several countries.

"This has an over arching concept of knowledge services and leadership. Creating regional membership councils ensures that local areas are better catered for regarding their needs. This has been a challenge for the IABM as we grew," said White. "We are now creating a network infrastructure where members are taking the lead in their region. It was the only way we could go forward, and be globally focused and local at the same time."

Just as IBC and NAB long ago stopped emphasizing the word 'broadcast' without killing their brand, IABM, which changed its brand three years ago, tells people who ask that it is the International Association for Broadcast Media Technology.

"We felt the same as IBC and NAB, that broadcast was becoming a slightly out of date term, but we did not want to completely leave it behind because it is important to a lot of our members," said White. "We have got to keep one foot in the old camp and one foot in the new camp, and the strides we are having to make are getting longer and longer, and wider and wider."

One of the most re-assuring stats the IABM produces is a health assessment of R&D commitment. This will not be measured again until after IBC sadly, but White insists it will not be markedly different. "It has reduced a little bit, but not significantly," he confirmed.

To keep pace with everything happening on the technology front, the IABM has formed alliances with organisations in different areas. These include AIMS, the DPP, VSF and the Streaming Media Alliance.

"Those organizations are generally smaller than us but focused on certain crucial areas we are interested in. We facilitate discussions and where appropriate we get involved in communal efforts like the IBC IP Showcase, for which we are running the theatre," said White. "IABM is about value forming with services and insightful knowledge, not technology standards."

Helping to shape R&D programs
The IABM likes to bite quickly at big areas of new consideration, like the issues around cyber security.

"We would like to facilitate that and get the right people around the table. Different forums and formats are another reason we had to expand our team and the way we do things regionally. We have to be focused in different ways for different regions and that has meant we need to attend more shows in the mainstream and new areas, like visiting MIPCOM in Cannes," said White. "Talking about content is important if our members are to engage with customers and end users in dialogue about the future. During these disrupted times we are trying to facilitate those dialogues.

"This is not in a promotional kind of way, but in a business help kind of way that is helping to shape both the R&D program for a vendor, and the needs of the TV companies," he added. "Not long ago you would have had an end-to-end solution from a big name company, and 'interoperability' was not that important – or so it seemed. But now that everything is virtualized and software driven, people have got used to plug and play and you cannot sell a huge newly developed product for end-to-end operation."

White expects IBC to be a hive of conversation about how the future will be shaped. More importantly, to many people it will be a matter of staying relevant to that future. Another key element of any IABM stat fest is its focus on user buying intentions. Will White be unveiling some big surprises on September 14?

"Having seen some of the research findings I do not think there will be massive surprises. The trends will be the trends. But AI and VR will become relevant," he said. "The leading edge of the market will adopt those technologies, especially in sports."

We will see AI and VR come into TV in time. "It won't turn into a 3D kind of moment. Mixed media and virtualized video, and putting everything into a mixed kind of reality experience is the way forward," said White. "When we have been doing these reports we ask what are people looking at. They always nominate things they are looking at seriously, but what they are actually buying is something a bit more traditional and less risky," he added. "It takes two or three years for new technology to come to fruition. Take cloud: the take up is now miles past tipping point, and it has become an accepted and trusted methodology for dealing with production, delivery, storage and coping with peaks and troughs."

Asked to pick the biggest impacts during his eight-year stint at the IABM, White first picked the move from tape to file formats, which opened the floodgates to everything else. His other nominations were the growth or wireless, and the versatility of the Internet.

"For one of my first conferences (2010) we used the theme 'Adapt or Die'; we were saying it is all going to change, and wondered if we were being too radical and too scary. And yet seven years on adapt or die is very much the case: the rate of change has just accelerated and every day it speeds up," said White. "Not being a broadcast technology nerd, but watching this from a business point of view has been fascinating. Technological change has impacted hugely on the landscape we live in."

Image: Peter White

(JP/LM)
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