Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Kate Bulkley reports from the IBC Conference in Amsterdam

For Digital News, October 2004.

IBC Conference, Amsterdam

The times they are a’changin’, sang Bob Dylan almost 40 years ago. Now KATE BULKLEY echoes the sentiment.

That was when the classic TV broadcasting model was advertiser-funded channels full of programmes broadcast to TVs. Now, a Bob Dylan concert filmed in high definition with funding support from his tour sponsors is as likely to be streamed on broadband, beamed to mobile devices, broadcast onto flat-screen plasmas and, of course, to a personal video recorder system for later, high- definition viewing

IBC was a platform for all these platforms but particularly for HD, IPTV and new wireless technologies using DVB-H. The march of IT onto the traditional ground of broadcast equipment makers also continued apace perhaps best epitomised by the first industry outing of BBC Technology alongside executives from its new owner Siemens.

HD was everywhere on the exhibit floor and was a hot topic in the conferences where the relative merits of competing compression systems were hashed out while Premiere in Germany announced HD channels for 2005, following Sky’s recent announcement of tis own HD channels. But still no official word from the BBC on HD channels.

In the conference, Amir Majidimehr, VP of Microsoft’s Windows Digital Media Division was advocating “seamless interoperability” between the “competing islands” of the PC, the internet and terrestrial and pay TV, unsurprising citing Windows Media 9 (WM9) as the glue. “MPEG 4 is a moving target and no one can implement it, whereas WM9 has been shipping for two years,” said Majidimehr. But more traditional TV suppliers see both codecs having a place. “The codecs will leap-rog each other in the coming years,” said David Gilles, director of technology for Pace Micro Technology, emphasising that Pace set top boxes will run both advanced codecs.

Microsoft also joined many others exhibiting IP TV products targeted at the growing number of telephone companies with aspirations to be purveyors of video and multi-media. In fact, Microsoft TV didn’t even bring its so-called foundation product targeted at cable operators to this year’s IBC. “Cable TV in Europe is in a weakened state so the telephone companies see this as an opportunity,” said Ed Graczyk, director of marketing for Microsoft TV. Clearly Microsoft doss too: it announced an IP trial with Telecom Italia in addition to four others in Europe.

Cable operators also are looking at IP TV technology but Jeremy Thorp, CEO of Latens Systems, makers of software security systems, said it’s a matter of time and money. “The telcos can go straight to IP more easily than cable but there are bandwidth issues for telcos and clearly they are not without marketing challenges.”

Clearly the business models of broadcasters are changing and Steve Canepa, vice president of Global Media & Entertainment Industry at IBM told delegates that they have to get their infrastructure right so that they can archive and redistribute their content as digital assets to all kinds of platforms. Tony Greenberg, CEO of Ramprate, a sourcing advisor to broadcasters and media companies, underlined the importance of embracing disparate revenue models form subscription to on-demand to advertiser- funded. “Advertising is not dead, we just simply need to have bigger ideas,” added Mark Boyd, director at ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

Rob Bednarek executive vice president of corporate development of SES Global said: “This IBC is not about technology. It is about finding a vision of what is your market and what is your business. You have to be in innovation mode right now because the world will change.”

Wireless broadcasts using DVB-H is one such innovation that was in view at IBC with NTL Broadcast and UK mobile operator MMO2 announcing a trial for broadcasting multi-channel TV to mobiles using broadcast frequencies in early 2005. “We want to see if people want content in a snacking type way or as a streaming service and what they are willing to pay for it,” said Mike Short, vice president research and development for MMO2.

There was also more talk about security with traditional conditional access companies like NDS and Irdeto Access showcasing their conventional c.a. systems but also launching at IBC their first virtual smart card solutions, partly in response to these kind of software-based solutions from newer competitors like Widevine Technologies of Seattle, WA. “Hollywood is saying they want to see the protection system renewed from the network not from the smartcard,” said John Hoskins, senior vice president of marketing for Widevine Technologies.

There were also several mobile PVRs on the exhibit floor, with Abe Peled, CEO of NDS, saying that the PVR to go concept is a way for pay TV companies to leverage their content and deliver it in a way that many subscribers might find as useful as carrying an iPod with their favourite music with them. Expect these in shops for Christmas.


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