Never underestimate the power of first impressions. Before NAB 2015 was even a day old, the top-of-mind talking points coming from the estimated 100,000 attendees and 200 or so exhibitors were easy to identify.
Though the following list of topics drawn from day-one NAB observations holds few surprises, the early sentiment on some of these familiar subjects may signal a shift in industry direction or a rebuke of pre-NAB perceptions.
It wasn’t that long ago that equipment suppliers were touting the merits of best-of-breed approaches to solving media professionals’ problems. That approach, mostly the result of few equipment providers possessing the resources to deliver comprehensive solutions, was tightly aligned with media companies’ desires to avoid reliance on a single vendor for all or most of its operations.
But now, the exhibitor halls of NAB are strewn from one end to the other with claims of end-to-end portfolios. What’s changed? For starters, many media companies are now turning to a few or even a single vendor to supply the infrastructure for increasingly complex production and distribution workflows. In a multichannel era, content creators and distributors require operations to work efficiently – and a single throat to choke when they don’t.
Given the strategic advantage of possessing a legitimately comprehensive solutions portfolio, media professionals should be vigilant in validating the end-to-end claims of would-be suppliers.
Without a doubt, Ultra-High Definition (UHD) is among the most seen and discussed technologies at this year’s conference. Though standards bodies still need to polish up some of the specifications, 4K televisions are gaining in popularity and more and more off-line content is being distributed at higher resolutions than HD.
But what about linear television? At least a couple of Pay-TV providers at NAB have suggested that subscribers are not yet clamoring for UHD and that the technology’s availability may actually be ahead of widespread consumer demand.
The transition to UHD – and beyond – is a done deal. But don’t be shocked if 4K/UHD is prominent on the NAB 2016 list of buzzwords.
3. Cloud and IP
For at least the past year, moving production or distribution operations to an IP cloud has been seen as an eventual course of action by a significant segment of the media industry. The buzz around cloud going into this year’s NAB was even louder than last year. Still, the notion of a major media entity moving its operations to a virtualized environment anytime soon remained remote.
With Monday’s announcement by Disney/ABC Television Group that it is transitioning to an IP cloud architecture, the prospects of the industry witnessing a major shift to virtualized environments in the near future shifted from remote to reality.
4. FCC Procedures
Even if this topic is applicable only to US-based media companies, a sizeable portion of the NAB crowd, as evidenced by robust attendance at two afternoon panel discussions on pending FCC actions, have a stake in the outcome. The two panels – one on the pending Incentive Auction of 600 MHz spectrum and the other on a proposal to classify linear OTT providers as multichannel video programming distributors (MVPD) – featured participation from FCC Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Ajit Pai, respectively.
The latter panel, moderated by Commissioner Pai, was evenly split between proponents of the imposition of regulations on some classes of OTT companies as a way to eliminate future confusion and protect legacy industries and local affiliates and opponents who view regulatory assignment as unnecessary and likely to impede innovation. The only matter settled during the spirited debate was that any effort to reclassify OTT players would meet considerable opposition.
While the programmatic advertising model has caught on in a big way in the digital realm, the technology for automating the selling of inventory is only responsible for a single-digit percentage of television advertising transactions, according to most estimates.
Early indications from NAB 2015 are that programmatic is still viewed by many on the sell side as an effective means of lifting the value of only remnant inventory. A representative from at least one major cable operator made public comments at NAB indicating that the company did not see the wide application of programmatic for selling premium inventory in the near future.
Any semblance of confidence from media companies that cyberattacks were the exclusive concern of multinational banks and major retailers was swept away with the recent breach of a major media conglomerate. Pundits and industry observers going into NAB predicted that the well-publicized incident would have a chilling effect on the transition of media operations to the cloud.
The opposite, in fact, seems to have transpired. A panel of content creators, aggregators and distributors discussing the future of the television industry at Imagine Communications’ pre-NAB event bristled at the proposition that the cloud and IP were inherently less secure than traditional broadcast infrastructure. None of the four panelists, comprised of leading media companies, indicated strong reservations about moving to IP from a security perspective.
Analysts and other industry observers suggest that revenue losses resulting from the expected decline of subscribers will be replenished by new monetization opportunities.
7. Cord Cutting
The spate of over-the-top video service announcements that preceded NAB 2015, including direct-to-consumer introductions from CBS, HBO, Dish TV, Sony and others, has heightened concerns about the future of Pay-TV providers. Discussions of the fate of Pay-TV at NAB, though, have been surprisingly upbeat. Several analysts and other industry observers suggest that revenue losses resulting from the expected decline of subscribers will be replenished by new monetization opportunities stemming from multiplatform and cloud DVR services.
In addition to opportunities to reduce capital and operational expenses by moving DVR functionality to the cloud, content aggregators will have the chance to increase the value of ad inventory through the adoption of cross-platform advertising management and dynamic ad insertion (DAI) technologies. Empowered with these technologies, inventory holders will be able to deliver fresh and relevant ads to consumers regardless of when they view video and on which device.