NAB, or the National Association of Broadcasters for the uninitiated, held its first ever NAB Show in 1923. Fast-forward to almost a century later and it is the biggest broadcast event on the planet, suitably located in Las Vegas, with over 100,000 attendees and representatives from almost 2,000 businesses present.
NAB was the scene of the first ever HD broadcast in 1996 by the CBS affiliated KLAS Channel 8. It’s also where Skype in Media launched Skype TX in 2014. Notable guest speakers in the past included James Cameron, Stan Lee, and Tim Robbins, who in 2008 took the opportunity to deride a media “abyss.”
TV shows, new formats, technology, content and distribution deals of all shapes and sizes have been conceived and no doubt brokered at NAB. Put simply, anybody who is anyone in the broadcast business is there, along with yours truly. Like some sort of broadcast media pediatrician, thrust into an overcrowded ward for his first ever procedure, I endeavoured to find out what happens “Where Content Comes to Life” (the show’s tagline), and report back for the good readers of SiM.com.
After several cups of very strong coffee I made my way through the crowds in the South Hall towards the Skype in Media booth, not before being distracted, magpie-like, by the Blackmagic Design stand. Perhaps the biggest stand at NAB, Blackmagic Design took the opportunity to announce a range of product releases, a personal favorite of which was the Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera. A neat piece of production kit that is small and seemingly robust enough to use in extreme sports, attached to a drone (more of that to come) or subtly used in a reality TV setting.
Notable guest speakers on the day included Robert Yeoman, the award winning cinematographer nominated for a 2014 Academy Award for Best Cinematography on Wes Anderson’s stunning “Grand Budapest Hotel”. Yeoman explained the unusual approach to aspect ratios on the film – no fewer than three were used, 1.37:1, 1.85:1 and anamorphic to indicate different time periods.
Elsewhere, the filmmaker Morgan Spurlock drew in the crowds. Spurlock, best known for “Super Size Me”, has taken an almost gonzo approach to filmmaking, throwing himself into a number of production roles and often, in front of the camera, with a knack for making weighty subjects accessible (“Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?” and “Freakonomics”). Onstage he was a whirl of activity, recounting his career and what inspired him to make film in the first place (David Cronenburg’s “Scanners”), and full of captivating soundbites like: “It (“Super Size Me”) transformed me and what I believed in myself. (I) Had sense of myself at age 30, but this gave me a sense of purpose. “
In the afternoon, the Skype in Media-sponsored Broadcast Minds, hosted byNewTek, struck a fine balance between content and distribution. The carefully curated panel included Marc DeBevoise (CBS Interactive), Sterling Proffer (VICE News) and the Futurist blogger (and ex-Microsoft employee) Robert Scoble, complete with a bizarre six-headed GoPro on a stick designed for 360 video. The panel was moderated by Leo Laporte (Founder & Owner of TWiT.tv)
The panel’s theme, “Where today’s content leaders discuss tomorrow’s trends”, was broad enough to touch on a number of subjects, while the panellists’ diverse backgrounds made for some contrasting opinions. Sterling’s notion that “Millennials are more engaged with news…but less invested with news brands” had plenty of logic but may not have sat so well with fellow panellist DeBevoise.
Yet DeBevoise was able to pull out a striking stat; “70-80% of television is watched live on a TV. 80% on CBS and I think 70% across the industry.”
If you missed Broadcast Minds at NAB you can watch it over at NewTek now.
I spent the morning on the Skype in Media stand, taking part in the Skype TX demo: TV presenter Sian Welby, who was based in a studio in London, played roulette live with attendees from NAB via a Skype TX link. No satellite trucks and no big production budgets, just Skype the desktop client, Skype TX, a fibre optic line and no more than 5 Mbps broadband connection. The latency of the HD call was impressive, my luck at the table wasn’t.
Later that day I took to the excellently titled “Aerial Robots and Drone Pavilion”. First stop was the 3DR stand, manned (literally, as there were noticeably few females present throughout NAB) by a dozen or so excited twentysomethings extolling the virtues of camera drones.
Drones may seem like a very modern technology but they’ve actually been around in some form for almost 20 years, with recent developments making the equipment more accessible and affordable to the pro-amateur and amateur filmmaker (one SiM stand attendee was keen to show me his YouTube channel and what he shot using a self-made drone over his Texan ranch).
The presence of GoPro was unavoidable at NAB, but even so I was surprised to start my third and final day of the convention with the sight of Lucy, the dog, having one of the brand’s cameras strapped to her back. Only at NAB, only in Vegas.
The Microsoft theatre played host to presentations from two of SiM’s TX partners. The first was from Quicklink. Richard Rees, MD / CEO of the company, gave a thorough overview of Quicklink TX. A useful new feature being the support of Bondio, a network enhancement option that combines an unlimited number of internet connections to create one “super connection”, handy for shoots in low bandwidth areas.
Riedel’s presentation was based around Skype’s recent activation with Real Madrid, where 12 callers spoke to four Madrid players live using the STX-200. The German based company have a pedigree in sports broadcasting, having provided the TX hardware for Formula 1 since 1993. For a non-technical user, their workflow infographics were refreshingly accessible and will be coming to skypeinmedia.com soon.
One of my favourite product demos at NAB came from The Foundry, at South Hall upper level. Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of the VR company Oculus last year was a statement that VR is, if you’ll pardon the pun, becoming a reality. After numerous failed attempts the technology is more powerful and reliable than before, while everything has become cheaper. But, trying out the Samsung Gear VR, the most impressive aspect was the capturing; it was seamless. I was completely immersed: 360 degrees into a mountain climbing and Formula 1 driving scene, and I don’t even have a license!
From drones through to VR, the latest 4k cameras and media data asset management (skipping literally dozens of areas in between), the sheer scale of broadcast businesses and products on show at NAB was astounding and exhausting even, particularly for a show newcomer.
And who knows, perhaps we’ll experience a 4K, dogs eye view camera with drone options at next year’s NAB?