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The big themes at IBC 2015

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10 September 2015

It’s that time of the year again, when the trams of Amsterdam get packed out with the broadcasting industry’s finest.

IBC, the smaller, perhaps less brash, European sibling to NAB, not only offers a chance for the region to get together, but it also plays a different role in the vendor product release cycle. NAB is where new stuff gets announced; but IBC is where it’s actually seen in operation. It acts as both an update and a reality check for industry evolution. So with that in mind, what can we expect to see and discuss at this year’s event?

IP
The use of internet technologies, and the Internet Protocol in particular, has been a fixture at IBC for many years now, but typically under the banner of ‘multiscreen delivery’ and ‘TV everywhere/anywhere’.

The focus, along with a considerable amount of development and investment, has been on the front end of TV delivery and mostly for on-demand viewing.

As NAB made clear in April though, attention has now turned to the use of IP further upstream in playout and within studios. The use of IP in this area, the real-time synchronous domain, is not necessarily more complex (that would downplay the work it has taken to build large scale OTT platforms); but it is very different, with a very different set of challenges.

I hope we will see more tangible progress on the product side, with vendors talking in more detail about their implementations and the challenges they are trying to overcome. NAB was largely show and no tell. Now it is time to get serious about how we are going to embrace a new set of technologies and architectures. Then use them to actually build more flexible, affordable, professional media facilities rather than slightly faster/cheaper versions of what we have today.

The publication of the Joint Task Force on Networked Media - Reference Architecture at IBC could prove to be a milestone in that endeavor.

Software
Alongside the move towards IP based architectures is the transition to software based products.

The fact that this is happening simultaneously is, in fact, a big challenge. Most other industries have a chronology that shows a gradual transition over many years to generic IT hardware, then IP, followed by virtualization and now true cloud based operating environments. We are trying to do all of that at the same time and do it quickly.
 
We absolutely need to adopt the pan-industry technology stack build around IP, modular distributed software and infrastructure-as-code; but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this won’t be really hard. I am looking forward to listening to what others have to say on this transition and discussing practical strategies to take us there. Some of the conference tracks this year look very good on that front.

UHD
I think it’s fair to say that UHD TV has moved forward more quickly since last IBC than many of us predicted, myself included. Putting aside the question of whether the carts have arrived before the horses (TVs = carts and horses = content/delivery systems), there has been real progress during the past 12 months and a general reappraisal of when we can expect UHD TV to reach mass market status (sooner). We even built Europe’s first UHD TV channel for BT Sport, so it is demonstrably more tangible than ever. Still, there is a lot to agree upon in other parts of the UHD eco-system such as HDR standards.
 
There will of course be a lot more to see and discuss at IBC than these three topics, but I think it’s a safe bet to suggest they will be the headline acts. I am very much looking forward to it and hope to see many of you there.

Steve Plunkett is chief technology officer at Ericsson Broadcast and Media Services

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