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IBC Attendees Move in Unison to the Next Big Thing

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Since I’ve been attending IBC in Amsterdam -- 2014 was my fourth, so while I’m not quite a veteran yet, I’ve been there enough to observe some clear trends -- each year has been marked by what a colleague likes to call “the shiny button.” The shiny button is the technology or innovation that’s going to revolutionize the video industry. That is, if it’s not supplanted first by the next one.

In 2011, it was 3D, which went nowhere. That’s not to say there wasn’t solid 3D technology on display at IBC and elsewhere, just that no amount of industry push could make up for the utter lack of consumer interest. This year’s IBC even featured an impressive display of glasses-free 3D, but even though almost every theatrical blockbuster is today released in 3D, the level of in-home takeup has been negligible.

In 2012, we heard the first rumblings about MPEG-DASH, the technology that promises to dramatically reduce storage and bandwidth costs for content owners, once the technical kinks have been worked out. The promise of an industry-wide standard, adopted by everyone who’s delivering online video, might seem to go against the spirit of innovation and competition that’s part of online video’s Silicon Valley heritage, but if the worlds of broadcast and online are to finally converge, then it only makes sense to decide on a single standard. At IBC 2014, the MPEG-DASH Supersession was one of the best-attended panels, and there were even rumblings that Apple -- the biggest DASH holdout -- might sign on by this time next year.

In 2013, IBC was all about 4K, and this year, there was no doubt that 4K in the living room is a fait accompli. Unlike with 3D, television manufacturers have been able to push 4K hard enough that consumers will adopt it whether they want to or not. It’s going to take time, with the average TV set replacement cycle still hovering between 5 and 7 years, but with the advent of HEVC (converging with the slow-but-sure implementation of MPEG-DASH), 4K is a reality. Consumers appear more willing to have bigger TVs in their living rooms than they do 3D glasses.

Thank goodness hardly anyone this year was talking about 8K, or any other new shiny button. Instead, the buzz was all about the cloud. And while as recently as last year major broadcasters still showed resistance to cloud workflows and distribution, this year they’re embracing it. At an IBC session called “The Cloud and Broadcast TV,” Matthew McDonald, director of broadcast services at BSkyB, and Paul Clark, technology controller for online, pay, and interactive at ITV, said they couldn’t meet customer demand without it. That’s a huge change, and a welcome one for the world of streaming media.

Of course, to think that major broadcasters will switch over to the cloud entirely is as foolhardy as to believe they can get by without using it at all. In an interview with Streaming Media a few days before IBC, another BSkyB employee -- director of information technology Colin McQuade -- foreshadowed his colleague’s comments at the same time he offered some qualifying context: “As far as the holy grail of offloading everything that currently sits in an internal data center or broadcast facility ... I’ve yet to be convinced there is a service out there that can really do everything for us in the kind of large-scale, complex, customer-grade way we want to do it, at the cost we want.”

If IBC 2014 had any theme at all, it was this sort of realism, uncolored by political agenda and unobscured by hype. The worlds of broadcast and IP are indeed converging, though IP will no more save broadcast than broadcast will be able to survive without IP. And while technologies such as DASH and HEVC still matter, there’s no magic bullet -- or shiny button -- that’s going to replace smart approaches to the workflow and distribution challenges which require integrated, hybrid solutions.

This article appears in the October 2014 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "No More Shiny Buttons."

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