TVN Tech | IBC Readies Virtual Alternative To 2020 Show
In three weeks, the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) was originally slated to kick off in Amsterdam, bringing together more than 50,000 broadcasters and media technology vendors from Europe, Asia and North America to see the latest products and discuss key technology issues. But like most major trade shows in this difficult year 2020, IBC scrapped those plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will be offering a virtual alternative to the annual five-day event.
The timeframe of the online “IBC Showcase” has been moved up and shortened by one day, to Sept. 8-11 from the original IBC dates of Sept. 11-15. That allows the Showcase to fit within the work week instead of spanning over the weekend, and also not interfere with the Sept. 7 Labor Day holiday in the U.S.
The conference program will contain a mix of live and on-demand streaming content curated by the six trade organizations that own the IBC show: the International Association of Broadcast Manufacturers (IABM); the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society; the Institution of Engineering and Technology; the Royal Television Society; the Society for Broadband Professionals); and the Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers (SMPTE).
There will also be a bevy of press events, product news and workflow demonstrations from many of the 1,700-plus vendors who attend a typical IBC, all featured in an “Exhibitor Showcase” portal.
Credit Rolled Forward
Like April’s NAB Show in Las Vegas that was canceled in March, IBC didn’t refund all of the money vendors had already spent on leasing booth space for this year’s exhibition when it was canceled in May. Instead, most of that money was rolled forward as a credit toward leasing space at future shows, with a small portion going toward marketing this year’s virtual event. One large vendor says it received a 90% credit toward future shows with the remaining 10% going toward promoting the IBC Showcase. By comparison, the company got a 100% credit from NAB, which will be spread over the next three years.
“We’ve allowed customers to carry over most of their investment to the following year’s show and given them exposure in the virtual event as part of that package,” says James Laker, IBC’s head of marketing.
Laker says the response to the Showcase from exhibitors has been “really positive.” At press time, IBC organizers were still getting an influx of exhibitor content and juggling the schedule of live conference events to best suit the show’s global audience.
Sessions will be spread throughout the day to allow visitors from all time zones to participate. In addition, all of the sessions will be available on demand afterwards.
Laker says there will be a combination of live and recorded sessions. Recorded sessions will feature live Q&A opportunity as IBC’s goal is to make sessions as interactive as possible.
There will also be four workflow “tours” relevant to different lines of work: content creation, postproduction, content supply chain and direct to consumer.
A Showcase highlight looks to be IBC’s “Accelerator Program,” started in 2019, which brings together collaborative teams representing multiple broadcasters and vendors to solve complex technology problems. The idea is for senior executives to tackle problems that can’t currently be solved with technology available in the market on a fast-track basis, working over six to nine months.
There are eight Accelerator teams that will present findings in the Showcase. One, led by Ian Wagdin, BBC senior technology transfer manager, describes the design of a “5G Remote Production” system using private 5G networks to support multi-camera synchronization. Other broadcasters involved in the 5G trial include Al Jazeera Media Networks, BT, ITV, SVT, TV2, ViacomCBS, Yle and Olympic Broadcast Services, along with vendors Mobile Viewpoint, Huawei and Aviwest.
Another Accelerator project of particular interest to broadcasters is “AI-Assisted Shot List Creation of Video Assets,” led by Associated Press VP of News Sandy Macintyre, which examines how AI can be used to fully automate the process of producing raw and edited content shot lists for news agencies and broadcasters. Other participants on the AI project include Al Jazeera Media Networks and ETC and vendors Metaliquid, Vidrovr and Limecraft.
A key conference session looks to be “Charting the uncharted: Plotting the course for the media technology industry” on Wednesday, Sept. 9, at 10 a.m. ET. IABM CEO Peter White and Head Of Insight And Analysis Lorenzo Zanni will be sharing the trade group’s latest research and analysis of the current state of the broadcast market and offering guidance on what vendors can expect.
The cancellation of NAB and IBC this year has certainly been disruptive to the vendor community, says Grass Valley VP of Marketing David Cohen, on top of a challenged broadcast market with uncertain buying cycles.
“It’s not just about going to a trade show,” Cohen says. “Our R&D cycles are designed around spring and fall launches at NAB and IBC, and our customers’ buying patterns are organized that way as well. The absence of IBC forces us to rethink our cycles of how we introduce new products to market, how we show them to customers, how to engage in conversations with those customers and how to start writing orders for products that are due to be ready for market.”
Cohen says that virtual replacements “don’t really compare” to the in-person contact at shows, where deep conversations with customers can help a vendor “get over the finish line” on securing big projects. Given that, Grass Valley had a light presence in NAB’s virtual experience last spring, choosing instead to focus on its own live online events and virtual product demos, which have been dramatically improved compared to before COVID-19.
The company plans to take the same approach with the IBC Showcase, participating mainly by providing access to company executives.
Cohen is mindful of boring customers with more “talking head” content when they are already overwhelmed with it. And he says a virtual replacement event is much less important to a large vendor like Grass Valley, which can draw several thousand people for a live virtual event, than it is to show attendees and the large number of smaller vendors who exhibit at NAB and IBC.
“On a daily basis, maybe they get 15,000 people to visit a virtual experience,” Cohen says. “I’d much rather put my energy into something that is Grass Valley-only, as I know my brand is big enough to generate an audience.”
Shows’ Enduring Importance
When NAB was canceled last spring, Imagine Communications also quickly pivoted to creating its own virtual presence with its “Spring Symposium” series of webinars, interviews and product demos discussing the business cases and total cost of ownership (TCO) for its products. The virtual initiative had good response from customers, says Becca Mintz, Imagine’s director of field marketing, though it is a bit early to quantify success.
“We’re all in this learning phase with the virtual events, because we don’t really have baseline metrics around what is successful and what is not,” Mintz says.
Imagine has moved its product release cycles away from being tied tightly to NAB and IBC as more and more of its products are software-based. But the company still places value on NAB and IBC and has been speaking with IBC about participating in the Showcase as well as next year’s show.
“These shows are really important for us, and the relationships we have with them are very important,” Mintz says. “It’s not like we’re going to go to the side and do our own thing going forward. We’re definitely still going to be trying to work with our partners and maximize the opportunities, and the customers they have access to. We’re trying to find that happy medium.”
For his part, Laker is looking forward to IBC 2021, which could potentially fall six months or more after a COVID-19 vaccine is available. While it may be easier to demonstrate broadcast products virtually in today’s increasingly cloud-based world, he sees an even greater value now in the human interaction that a big show like IBC affords.
“People need to meet people,” Laker says. “Particularly when you’re dealing with abstract products, you’re putting a lot of trust in people. As the products become less tangible, you’re really buying into people: ‘I’m going to give you all this money and you’re going to deliver this, aren’t you?’ All that trust needs to be built by meeting people face to face.”