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NAB 2015: Key Takeaways from Las Vegas

The unambiguous lesson to be learned from the recently concluded NAB Show and exhibition: Business, in the broadcast and media industry, is anything but usual.

Any lingering doubts by media professionals that their industry is in the throes of evolution were quickly wiped away by the sights and sounds emanating from the annual industry showcase and conference. Only attendees equipped with blinders and earplugs could walk away from NAB 2015 without sensing that their world is moving faster than at any time in the past and that failing to embrace change means losing relevance in an increasingly competitive environment.

That sentiment was forcefully communicated in NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith’s opening keynote:

“That's where the next generation platform comes in and why it must be earnestly considered and pursued. In an increasingly fragmented marketplace, next gen promises to provide flexibility, IP inter-operability and new revenue streams; opportunities to innovate to better serve our communities; and the ability to compete in a mobile world.”

Change can be startling. It can shake you free of the comfort of conformity, leaving in its place a sense of unease and anxiousness.  But it is also a catalyst for reinvigoration and reengagement.

The now-famous Las Vegas marketing mantra says to quickly forget your time in the Nevada desert, to never speak of or ruminate upon events and activities occurring between inbound and outbound flights. But leaving behind the lessons learned and the sense of unease acquired at NAB 2015 would be a mistake.

Instead, reject the what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas axiom and consider the following key takeaways from NAB 2015:

Don’t Fear the Future

The one thing to leave in Las Vegas is the mistrust for the nontraditional. That skepticism is inherent among the current generation of broadcast professionals – with good reason. IP, cloud and transitioning from a hardware to a software orientation require a considerable leap of faith that everything is going to work as it did before. The move to next-generation technologies and business models also means exiting a comfort zone that many broadcast engineers and executives have been operating in for decades.

More than one industry observer at NAB 2015 asserted that the success of the current transition hinges less on the technology, which is largely proven and in some cases being implemented, than it does on overcoming cultural barriers. To break the bonds of traditionalism, software expertise will need to find its way into the broadcast facility, according to an executive from a multinational broadcast and media company.

Reevaluate Your Place in the Ecosystem

Media companies are moving to virtualized production and distribution environments. Consumers continue to view more and more video outside of the linear television construct and on devices other than their living room-bound television sets. These trends are flattening the media industry ecosystem, breaking down hierarchies that once confined participants to rigidly defined roles and restricted monetization opportunities.

Multiple segments of the media community are already exploiting these barrier-breaking opportunities, witnessed by the launch of direct-to-consumer OTT services from content kings such as HBO, CBS and Sony. But content distributors and aggregators may be in the best position to seize a bigger share of the overall ecosystem. By embracing television-redefining technologies, such as cloud DVR (cDVR) and Dynamic Ad Insertion (DAI), communications service providers of all stripes — mobile, fixed, cable, satellite — are in an advantageous position to move up the media-industry value chain by delivering video services that consumers increasingly crave. 

Reconsider Yogi Berra

The American athlete renowned for misusing the English language famously said “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” Media industry participants should take this homespun wisdom, which implores competitors to see things through, to heart.  The media industry, for example, has all but pronounced the Pay-TV market as being on life support. To listen to some, the future of television distribution is one without Pay-TV services.

In addition to pursuing the aggregation and distribution opportunities describe above, Pay-TV providers are exploring an assortment of business and monetization models. Some are taking a “frenemy” approach to competing with OTT competitors, in some cases making these services available to their subscribers through set-top boxes and other devices. And some are launching OTT services of their own, with the goal of leveraging IP and cloud architectures to provide consumers with an integrated mix of linear and on-demand video that pure OTT plays may have a hard time matching.

Contingency Planning

For U.S. broadcasters, 2016 promises to be a challenging year from a regulatory standpoint. The expected arrival of ATSC 3.0 will bring business-transforming benefits to national and local broadcasters, including the ability to send higher-resolution content through the air and to mobile devices. But it also brings challenges and a second-major technology transformation in the past 10 years.

For content distributors and OTT providers, a pending proposal by the FCC to reclassify the regulatory status of some types of OTT providers brings both opportunity and potential restrictions, depending on what side of the debate you fall.

The upcoming auctioning of 600 MHz spectrum and repacking of channels has existential implications. At this point, both the broadcast industry and some wireless carriers are less than thrilled with what’s been disclosed about the procedure.

Without doubt, U.S. broadcasters, distributors and OTT players all need to navigate the shifting regulatory landscape over the next couple of years with a combination of caution and nimbleness.

Rekindle Creativity

The bottom-line benefit of IP, the cloud and other technological transformations is that media professionals can concentrate all of their creativity and energy on what they do best — provide consumers with compelling content. The technology barriers that have put limitations on imagination are tumbling down. Imagine Communications is leading that dismantling.

Suddenly, the launching of new channels, a process that previously required months and millions, can be done in minutes, essentially with the push of a button. With the financial risks and resource limitations of delivering new services a thing of the past, media companies now have the freedom to unleash their creativity like never before. The first to figure out what to do with this new-found freedom will be the ones to emerge from this new era of opportunity and innovation in the best position.

Time to get Busy

As NAB 2015 makes clear, the media industry is changing. Embrace that change or get left behind.

 

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