NAB 2002 Convergence Market – The Thrill Was Gone
© 2002 All Rights Reserved
I walked by the Eiffel Tower and under the great pyramid of Egypt, I
soon boarded the HMS Britannia in Bucaneer Bay, crossing the street to
stroll the gondola-filled Canals of old Venice.
I was still early for the morning’s first appointment, and I
knew this could only be Las Vegas—U.S. capital of adult excess, desert
gambling (nicknamed “Lost Wages” by some), and home to the National
Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention, world’s largest annual
showcase and general assembly of the broadcast industry.
It’s an occasion to look forward to for many reasons.
The sheer scale of attendance, though down this year five to ten
percent by some accounts, ensures an exceptional setting to meet
industry VIPs, learn about the newest products and technologies, and set
a course for the next year in a rapidly evolving industry.
accurately calls itself the “Convergence MarketPlace” where
broadcast intersects with software, the Internet, and new media
publishing. All the
promising new applications and services for media, business, and even
the home are on display. In
addition to the latest professional digital cameras, news helicopters,
cameras, wall monitors, broadcast routers and switchers, there’s never
any shortage of enthralling, just-released tools and solutions for 3-D
movies, asset management, video streaming, and special effects--pleasing
to the creative eye and ear, often challenging to the imagination.
I was struck by a few developments in particular.
An interesting debate on the proposed merger between EchoStar and
DirecTV was troubling to some. Satellite Industry Relations’ Harry Thibedeau seeing this
as a significant step toward a national video and high-speed Internet
monopoly stated "if this merger goes through and you live in rural
America, you'll see what [EchoStar's chairman] Charlie Ergen wants you
to see." Sony showed its DVCAM hard-disk unit for simultaneous disk and
tape-based recording, and announced it is now supported by Adobe,
Apple, and Avid. There was
a very impressive unveiling of the JVC Streamcorder.
Fitting in an ordinary briefcase, this is at once a hand-held
broadcast quality camera with the ability to record to tape, as well as
to record to digital memory, compress to MPEG-4 or simultaneously stream
to the Internet. TVWorldwide’s
Ken Satuchi said “we gave this camera a work-out, even using wireless
microphones…and on a scale from one to ten, I give it a ten”.
For content creation and effects, Discreet’s large booth
township hosted a variety of new non-linear post-production offerings,
as did competitor 5D showing the new version of its Cyborg effects
editor working smoothly across different resolutions, bit-depths and
frame-rates. There was
plenty to see from computer greats Sun, Apple, HP, IBM, Adobe and
representation from the Telco giants.
BT Broadcast Services showed off its corporate Enfocast system
which it has recently announced will be implemented with Enformatica
Limited as the world's largest interactive business TV network.
all sounds upbeat. So, why
did so many of us sense something missing and feel a mild case of the
blues coming on? No one had the answer, but I’m working on a few
explanations. A friend of
mine said “this show is like a fire hose, but this year it seems to be
more about financial advantage than creative ideas and applications”.
Normally, higher attendance and large crowds make getting around
the town’s convention venues a nuisance.
But that same crowded intensity generates an exciting frenzy and
buzz of conversations, interest, and ideas.
Normally, the industry economics are eclipsed by visionary
excitement: new tools, methods, in creating content for the broadcast,
entertainment, and corporate environments alike.
This year, it seemed to be about the business of it all.
Lots of keynote allusions to an industry about to “shape
the way new methods of distributing and interacting with content affect
our business” as AOL’s COO Richard Parsons suggested. However, the thrill was gone, the driving force seemed to be
about rescuing one’s company and career from financial difficulties.
I suppose you didn’t really have to be in Las Vegas to
recognize the underlying causes: a recent lingering recession, the post
dot-com bust, less post-September 11th travel, decreased
funding for challenging, new projects, and an obscene emphasis on
“bottom-line results”. Of
course, these factors are evident whether you sit in London, Belgium, or
Boston. But at the
convention, an ominous sense of reversion to the business basics felt
like a descent “back to the boring”.
Microsoft’s Monday night party atop the forty-three story of
the Mandalay Bay hotel (will someone tell my why it’s called the
“Foundation Room” up there?) didn’t seem like the outpost of a new
inventive industry. It had
a business atmosphere like an accounting practice, instead of a new
generation of wound-up creatives rallying for the digital revolution.
OK, this is all one man’s opinion. But though this year’s NAB was mainly a display of new
products for sale, lacking in bold, new ideas, I have to concede that no
one can refute Parsons’ closing remarks that the best is still ahead
of us. On harnessing new
digital interactive “convergence” capabilities his words were: “The opportunities have never been more
promising, the challenges never more daunting, the stakes never higher.
But ladies and gentlemen, it's ours to lose."
It’s a let down to experience flatter business conditions. But if we consider that many experts refer to a slow, steady thirty year growth cycle to major new products and inventions, this “convergence market” is still in early days, and the real excitement around broadband access, digital services, and the merge of interactive video, business, publishing, and entertainment is all yet to come. Perhaps most unwise would be to underestimate what is around the corner in 2003 and beyond – an unstoppable resurgence in innovation, despite economic phases and tumbles. So, the next time you’re walking through France, Egypt, Italy, Malyasia, and New York on the same block, volcanoes and geysers erupting as you go, you’ll know your not only in the fastest growing city in the U.S., but in the digital media heartland where the party is just getting started.
Mr. Greenfield can de directly contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org