Editor’s Corner—The best and the worst of IBC 2018

IBC 2018 is running Sept. 13-18 at the RAI Convention Center in Amsterdam. (Robin Benzrihem/Unsplash)

Editors_Corner-MUNSONAMSTERDAM—After last year’s dreary, rainy 50th annual IBC Show, the media, broadcasting and entertainment conference bounced back with a sunny event filled with highs and lows.

The show, which likely expanded upon the more than 57,000 attendees and 1,735 exhibitors it welcomed in 2017, was packed with programmers, pay TV providers and people from everything step in the video production chain.

Now that FierceVideo has emerged from its jetlag- and stroopwafel-induced stupor, it’s time to run down some of the best and worst to come out of this year’s show.

Best

Livestreaming is getting bigger and better: Livestreaming has faced many tests this year, from record streaming audiences for the Super Bowl to the steady streaming volume of the Winter Olympics to massive concurrent streaming of the World Cup. But the viewership numbers around those livestreaming events could become more commonplace as livestreaming continues to build popularity and improve overall performance.

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Mary Kay Evans, chief marketing officer for Verizon Digital Media Services, said her company has seen the most growth around livestreaming. She said that VDMS has already delivered more than 50,000 live events this year.

“That’s double, at least, from where we ended last year. We’ve seen huge growth there and it’s both on more content being available and consumers consuming it,” Evans said.

In the meantime, livestreaming is getting more efficient and consistent. AWS Elemental was at the show discussing quality-defined variable bit rate (QVBR), which the company said doesn’t waste bits like adaptive bit rate sometimes can. Essentially, instead of broadcaster needing to estimate how many bits will be used, they can just set the video quality they want for the stream, and could save storage and CDN costs in the process.

Akamai, which rolled out two new products designed for more cost-effective and consistent streaming and cloud computing, went ahead and streamed live 4K HDR TV from its booth this year.

Lots more examples of livestreaming success and innovation were on display at the show and it demonstrates a live streaming industry that’s growing up in terms of quantity and quality.

Netflix and YouTube give credit to traditional TV companies: Netflix has an iron grip on the SVOD market and YouTube has a similar dominance in ad-supported online video. Together, those companies are a scary pair of disrupters to the traditional TV ecosystem.

But at IBC this year, both companies showed up and were sure to give proper credit to the pay TV providers, broadcasters and programmers who’ve helped both Netflix and YouTube sustain success.

Maria Ferreras, vice president of business development EMEA for Netflix, was on hand to discuss her company’s international growth strategy. A big portion of that is relying on partnerships with cable operators and telcos. She said that being able to integrate Netflix onto set-top boxes provides easy access for many would-be subscribers who aren’t interested in hooking up a streaming device to their TV or experimenting with a smart TV.

Neal Mohan, chief product officer at YouTube and senior vice president at Google, was another keynote speaker this year and praised the broadcasters that pipe in live streams, provide full videos and post clips to YouTube. It’s still clear that YouTube is heavily reliant on its creator community but Mohan said that the content from professional broadcasters helps keep users on the platform for even longer.

While it’s not entirely shocking for online video companies to say nice things about broadcasters at a broadcasting industry conference, both Netflix’s and YouTube’s comments show there’s still a give-and-take relationship for online video and traditional TV.

Worst

Blockchain doesn’t inspire confidence: Blockchain is one of the more puzzling pieces of emerging tech in the media space. The decentralized data ledger technology is most notable for spawning Bitcoin and all the other cryptocurrencies that followed. But the technology does indeed have applications for the media space including content protection and the ability to simply the television ad buying/selling process.

At IBC this year, blockchain was given a spot on the keynote stage with a conversation featuring Kim Jackson, co-founder and president of entertainment for SingularDTV; and Maurice Schutte, producer and co-creator of Space Beers, a blockchain-based film production. Singular DTV, which next year plans to launch a blockchain-based ecosystem to allow programmers and studios to track their IP and revenues.

“The ability to track IP and revenue is where the power is,” said Jackson. “Singular DTV is focused on transactions: rights, royalty and revenues. Next year you are going to see films, TV shows and books using our digital distribution platform.”

But when BBC Journalist Kate Russell questioned what’s to stop a blockchain from being polluted with bad data and turning into a “garbage in, garbage out” scenario. Jackson’s answer was somewhat disconcerting.

“Nothing,” Jackson said.

Despite the seemingly enormous potential for blockchain, a moment like that at a big show like IBC doesn’t inspire much confidence.

Traditional media chasing after short-form content: Short-form content works best when it’s quick and dirty. How many of the viral videos of the past decade have been professionally produced? Yet broadcasters and programmers are still trying to throw gobs of money at it.

Case in point: Jeffrey Katzenberg’s NewTV, the content startup that’s banking on making high-quality, short-form content for mobile devices, and just got another $1 billion from investors including Comcast/NBCUniversal and Disney to help make it happen. How this endeavor will be monetized and whether any consumers will be interested is still unclear.

At IBC, BBC Studios announced a deal with Clerkenwell Films and financing firm Anton Corp to sink a “significant” budget into making premium comedy and drama short videos.

Both of these are examples of exorbitant spending to gain a foothold in a market niche that’s already doing just fine with tons of user-generated content and quick clips from traditional TV programming. Maybe I’m wrong and both efforts will be smashing successes, but I feel that big media companies are playing in the wrong sandbox. — Ben | @fierce__video

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