At NAB Show, An Anxious Hunt For Efficiencies

Last week’s NAB Show thrummed with broadcasters keen to arm themselves for a rocky 2025.

LAS VEGAS — The broadcasters and vendors gathered here weren’t on the casino floor, but still they were wearing their poker faces.

By all conventional thinking, the mood at this year’s NAB convention ought to have been buoyant, 2024 being both a political and an Olympics year. But looming behind whatever windfalls may ultimately come from both were visions of a much darker 2025. Broadcasters walked the exhibition halls facing an imminent prospect of bleeding from a thousand cuts — fragmentation, diminishing retrans, aging and retreating audiences and struggling spot sales among them.

Little wonder many of them looked more like Caesar outside the Senate encircled by knife-wielders than happy gamblers striding out of Caesars Palace, pockets bulging with winnings.

So, across the Las Vegas Convention Center, where the world’s largest broadcast convention continued its post-pandemic rebound last week, there were plenty of requisite beaming smiles, but the eyes spoke differently.

Strict budgetary discipline was much in evidence. Efficiencies topped broadcasters’ priorities, and vendors were ready with promises of smarter, leaner workflows and scalable technologies to help them realize that, along with more radical potential via generative AI. And as broadcasters eagerly scanned the horizon for any potential new venue streams that might staunch their losses, promises of more robust digital and streaming revenue also percolated through the show.

Finally, NextGen TV seemed for once to have a gusty tailwind blowing behind it, prompting more serious questions around its short-term ROI in a string of show announcements and demonstrations than have been uttered in years. Could ATSC 3.0 finally offer the winning hand that might turn broadcasters’ luck at 2025’s table?


Getting Ready For Lean

While many vendors downplayed the warnings signs for a bruising 2025, they conceded that cost savings and prospective efficiencies led many of their conversations with broadcasters.

“We’re going to see continued downward pressure on the revenue side for our customers,” said Adam Marshall, chief product officer for Grass Valley, who said he saw more people from the financial operations side of the business sitting alongside technologists this year than previously. They were asking a lot of questions, he said.

Pressure on the bottom line is driving more fundamental questions about production processes, Marshall said. “Customers are looking at challenging perceptions of how they make TV,” he said. “Why do you say it has to be done that way?”

Marshall hoped Grass Valley’s emphasis on technology solutions that can scale up and down depending on broadcasters’ needs would offer a fresh answer to that question.

Jeff Moore, CMO of Ross, said such meetings with technologists and finance executives were also on the upswing in his experience. He said the latter bring an additional layer of scrutiny to make sure every tech purchasing decision makes fiscal sense.

Ross’ own offerings at the show emphasized production with smaller teams, easier UI and quicker turnaround of content without driving up production costs.

“We’re also looking for gaps in workflow that we can plug,” Moore said.

Scott Fitzgerald, North American sales director at newsroom computer system vendor Octopus, said while “I don’t hear a lot of doom and gloom,” customers were asking about how they can do things with fewer people and less time, pulling newscasts together into a single workflow.

“There’s hesitation on which pathway do I take,” Fitzgerald added.

Satoshi Kanemura, president and COO of FOR-A, said his goal was to help clients chart such pathways. “We try to understand customer pain points first,” Kanemura said, as he promoted an end-to-end broadcast automation system that could potentially reduce the manpower required to operate it.

Such conversations with broadcasters were bi-directional, he noted, gesturing to a “whisper suite” in the company’s booth to which certain engineer customers were invited to peak at and opine about FOR-A’s R&D pipeline of products.

“Before we finish productization, we want to get more feedback from customers,” Kanemura said.

Rick Young, SVP and head of global productions at LTN, said ultimately conversations with clients were about framing the industry’s present challenges in a more opportunistic light.

“We know what the storms are, but what we’ve been talking about is how do you find opportunities in that,” Young said.

For him, those prospects lie in driving more live content to various platforms so it can be monetized. But to realize the opportunities, it also means broadcasters need to break down some persistent, unhelpful internal silos.

“My apprehension is some of our customers will continue to divide up their vision of the future,” he said. “We spend a lot of time consulting around that.”

AI Shifts Into New Gear

It would’ve been impossible to walk more than 10 feet in any direction at the NAB Show without repeatedly knocking into the letters AI in its signage. As is now clear to almost anyone paying attention in television, AI has vaulted past buzzword and landed squarely in the terrain of imminent, game-changing impact for any broadcaster. Given that, idle curiosity about the technology had given way to informed interrogations between shoppers and vendors.

Broadcasters were keen to know how AI might be put in service to the efficiencies they hunted, and vendors were eager to oblige with examples almost anywhere one looked. One of the most dramatic examples came from the newly rechristened Moments Lab (formerly Newsbridge), which was previewing features of its new MXT-1.5 indexing model.

CTO and Co-Founder Frederic Petitpont demonstrated a new feature capable of scanning a news conference or similar event (in this case a fiery speech from controversial Argentina President Javier Milei) and discerning from it potentially interesting soundbites from which a story could be built around.

Built from an LLM (“It used 56 million words to train the system,” Petitpont said), the AI scanned the speech with remarkable acuity, plucking from it a series of highlights any veteran journalist would be hard-pressed to counter weren’t important.

The demonstration spoke to the remarkable leaps generative AI has made in just the last few months in being able to make journalistic judgements of its own, capabilities that will prove ever-more tempting for organizations under increasing budgetary and staffing pressures in their newsrooms.

Of course, AI has been around the NAB Show for years in less dramatic forms, such as in monitoring done by companies like Mediaproxy, whose CTO John O’Halloran still urged caution around its overhypedness.

“The most successful use of AI is when you partner with someone who does that as a dedicated thing,” O’Halloran said, quipping, “For AI, we’re halfway there. We’ve got the ‘A’ part nailed.”

Digital Revenue Prospects

With downward pressure felt on both retrans and linear ad sales, broadcasters could seek some solace from vendors promising improvements in digital revenue prospects, and there were plenty with that message on the show floor.

Among them was Yospace CEO Tim Sewell, who touted the improvements in server-side ad insertion sending CPMs on an upward trajectory, not to mention the proliferating FAST channel environment helping widen the field for digital dollars.

“For us, it’s about giving people confidence we’re the right people to help reach the widest number of platforms,” Sewell said.

Another voice for stronger digital revenue was Michael Grossi, CEO of Operative, which provides advertising solutions and workflows. He said shifts toward automation would also have imminent, positive impacts of ad sales, including digital.

“Automation and AI can help sellers be more effective across media,” Grossi said. “There’s still a lot of manual work in these media companies — more than they would ever care to admit. This is about reducing the menial tasks.”

And with most broadcasters still in a honeymoon phase over FAST channels and their prospective contribution to the bottom line, Amagi, one of the space’s most ubiquitous vendors, promised a new era was at hand.

“FAST was in the first generation of evolution and growth,” said Baskar Subramaniam, CEO and co-founder of Amagi. The dawning of its second generation, he said, finds “FAST is starting to look like cable.”

Subramaniam cited clients Vevo and Warner Media as among the more successful in monetizing FAST, with the former now deriving 25% of its revenue there. He said two dynamics must happen for more money to shake loose inside the FAST ecosystem: Viewership must keep growing and exclusive content needs to be promoted and surfaced more readily.

He said the next step is building merchandizing platforms with FAST content creators (think shoppable content one finds in an AVOD environment, for instance) and prying more granular data loose from OEMs and other FAST walled garden-keepers so programmers can better optimize their viewership there.

The Next Gen Of NextGen TV?

While many would posit that NextGen TV has been stalled at the gate for some time, a raft of announcements at the show gave hope to even ATSC 3.0’s biggest skeptics that some traction may finally be happening.

Given that most consumers couldn’t identify or describe NextGen TV if their lives depended on it, it helped that some of these announcements were actually for consumer-facing features.

For one thing, NBCUniversal Local, not traditionally one of the standard’s loudest voices, unveiled personalized broadcast experiences in four of its markets — New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Miami — that would, among other features, enable viewers to restart programs when joined in progress; incorporate hyper-localized elements integrated into the Today show; and provide access to personalized weather information like radar, forecasts and meteorologist reports, along with severe weather alerts.

Sinclair and vendor ROXi also introduced new FastStream technology that allows local TV news organizations to create interactive versions of their broadcast TV news. With the technology, viewers can pause, play and skip news segments instantly without the need to download an app, which Sinclair demonstrated via KSNV, its local station, and its new 3 News Interactive Las Vegas concept.

And in the much-needed department of new, alternative revenue streams, Sinclair also unveiled a new datacasting initiative, the Broadspan datacasting platform. Working in collaboration with content delivery network Edgio, the Broadspan platform will let businesses distribute files, updates or video over the air via a station’s 3.0 channel to any device with a 3.0 receiver including cars, tablets, phones or television sets.

The salvo of NextGen TV developments couldn’t come soon enough, as broadcasters headed back from the show staring down some of the hardest budgeting decisions they’ll have to make in years and a cascading series of pressures on their business that may redefine the industry.

For now, the vendors sent those broadcasters off with reassurances they had their backs.

Ralph Bachofen, VP of sales and marketing at Triveni Digital, epitomized the buoyant message shared by many others on the show floor. “I’m very optimistic about the broadcast market because I know they’re very smart people,” he said.

Given the stakes in 2025, it probably wouldn’t hurt to have a little luck, either.

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