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VR, Cloud, Security Are Key Issues at 50th IBC

Aditya Kishore

IBC will celebrate its 50th anniversary starting this Thursday, September 14. As with previous years, the entire European media industry will converge on Amsterdam to discuss the future of the industry, network and negotiate deals. They will be joined by representatives from media-related organizations around the world.

Launched in 1967, the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) is perhaps the largest event for those involved with the creation, management and delivery of electronic media outside the US. Originally focused on broadcast technologies, the event now draws upwards of 55,000 attendees from 170 countries from across the electronic media value chain. It also pulls in more than 1,500 exhibitors every year.

Like most major industry events, the agenda and announcements leading up to the event are a useful reflection of major trends and thinking in the industry itself. As such, the event provides insight into the direction and key issues the industry will be tackling in coming months.

For pay-TV vendors, moving to the cloud appears to be an imperative. Almost all the major providers of IPTV platforms are stressing their ability to deliver services from the cloud, and highlighting their platform-as-a-service (PaaS) credentials. The shift to the cloud is driven by a number of factors. Firstly, the increasing interest in virtualization in the telecom world is making network managers look at a growing number of functions and ask, "why can't we virtualize that?" As functions are virtualized, the cloud offers scalability and flexibility in ways facilities-based services don't. And given the viral, unpredictable nature of OTT video services, that kind of flexibility and scalability is now becoming essential. Also, cloud-based services are well suited to supporting the multiscreen experience increasingly demanded by younger customers.

At the same time, the edge remains a critical requirement for video delivery. Edge caching, delivery, packaging are important, both for maintaining high QoE and for efficiency. The edge is also important for targeted TV advertising, an opportunity operators are keen to seize. So even though service providers are likely to look for cloud solutions, vendors will need to have a cloud-plus-edge approach for video delivery.

Virtual reality is another topic that is generating considerable interest. While the last two IBCs have been heavily focused on UHD, this year the emphasis seems more on 360-degree video and VR. However, while there is considerable interest, business models, headsets, video compression formats, QoE requirements, latency -- all remain significant challenges. As a technology, VR is coming. It seems sporting events and potentially concerts may be the leading content genre for VR TV, but it's very much early days for VR within the service provider world. This is more likely to be led by mobile content providers and enterprises, looking for training and maintenance aids.

Interestingly, security is increasingly becoming an important issue for media companies across the value chain. Last year discussion centred on broadcast hijacking -- the hacking of broadcast facilities to send out hate messages. And concerns about video piracy and content protection have only grown in the past year. According to Michael Crimp, CEO of IBC, "One of the key challenges created by the digital transition and connected media networks and devices is the risk that the media industry will become a major target for malware and hackers. As the transport platform becomes more open, the more we need to focus on cybersecurity and the intrinsic design of safe, secure systems."

A recent report from content security provider Nagra confirmed the importance of security: it found 50% of industry executives believe piracy will pile greater pressure on the industry over the next five years, and that service providers would pick up $7 billion in unrealized revenue if one in every four consumers of pirated services would switch to a legitimate option. (See New Nagra-MTM Study Stresses Impact of Piracy, Market Evolution.)

The transition to OTT remains a key issue at the event, as does the importance of social media. The conference agenda includes sessions aimed at defining the business and technology changes required to keep the TV business viable in the future. They also explore opportunities around the use of social networks to create new partnerships and distribution/monetization models.

UHD is still very much front and center at this event, and even though it's not quite as cutting-edge a technology as it has been at past events, IBC will certainly address key trends in the space. In particular, new developments in the area of High Dynamic Range (HDR) and the announcement of new approaches and standards will likely be closely followed. HDR is a critical technology for the next generation of TVs, and developing a common, compatible approach will help drive deployment. Trying to drive that agreement is an important effort within the TV industry. (See 'Anti-Dolby' HDR10+ Alliance Announced.)

IBC initially came about because a group of broadcast equipment manufacturers wanted to put together an exhibition of their goods. It was managed by the Institute of Electrical Engineers initially, but was subsequently spun out into an independent body owned by six organizations: the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), the International Association for suppliers of Broadcast and Media technology (IABM), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Royal Television Society (RTS), the Society of Cable Telecommunication Engineers (SCTE) and the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE).

As such, the show is still primarily aimed at broadcast issues, which include the transition to IP from SDI baseband and new and emerging production, post-production and broadcast technologies. There's also a concern that the credibility of broadcast news in being eroded -- or just swamped -- by social networks and the emergence of "fake news" sites. Determining how broadcasters and counter that will be another major issue at IBC 2017.

In addition to the sessions and the frenetic activity on the show floor, IBC also tries to facilitate deal-making, funding and networking, particularly among industry thought-leaders. We asked Michael Crimp to share his thoughts on the upcoming event, and the main initiatives run by IBC at this year's show. His blog can be found on our sister site, Telco Transformation. (See IBC at 50.)

Crimp brought up the IBC Startup Forum, which he said was a joint effort with agency Media Honeypot. "We will bring together startup and scale-up businesses, investors and media houses, with a 'Deal Room' as well as networking areas, a seminar program and a pitching competition," he said.

Crimp also mentioned the C-Tech Summit, which comprises "two days of specialist presentations and debates, presented on the same behind-closed-doors basis as the Leaders' Summit. The event will provide technological debate at a strategic level, aiming to help C-level executives understand the implications for business transformation."

All in all, this year's IBC should be as busy and chaotic as the industry itself. We'll bring you coverage from the show floor and the key sessions over the next week or so, including (of course!) in-depth analysis of Dutch beer.

— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation

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