NABShow Las Vegas 2019 — Effective Storytelling In The Digital Age

The NABShow 2019 (Las Vegas, NV USA)

To sum up the highlights of the NABShow and BEITC 2019 “Cinematography meets AI and the cloud on the blockchain”.

That combines the emerging new technologies that can be utilized in media production, from filming to post and its supply chain prior to that. “AI”, “cloud” and “blockchain” are not words you would normally associate with media and entertainment, but it will now play important roles in how content is produced. Let me breakdown the summary in the succeeding paragraphs.

Traditional cinematography will benefit from the use of AI in visual effects and post production techniques utilizing resources like the cloud. It is now best practice to adopt a digital workflow that involves the use of IP networks that connect to cloud storage. The cloud can also perform encoding and transcoding services, which include gathering timecodes and metadata to help editing clips. The cloud is also providing the required terabytes of storage for video, which can then be accessed by back haul networks for post. AI is then being applied to the workflow using algorithms that process content using machine learning models that can enhance a scene.

One aspect of AI, neural networks, is narrowing the gap between skilled and unskilled editors. That actually speeds up workflow to allow post to release content at a much faster pace than before without requiring more experts. That also cuts costs that would otherwise go to more higher skilled editors. At times those talents are also not available, so the use of AI software helps tremendously in the post process. Coloring, de-noising and faster encoding are things the software can perform. It requires more powerful hardware, and this is available with high-end professional systems.

How about the blockchain? How does it fit into the equation?

Let’s get one thing straight. The blockchain is not the platform for post production editing and workflows. Instead, the blockchain can be used by production companies to validate their supply chain and ad spends to prevent fraud and avoid shady business deals. Transactions once validated will also be transparent and tamper resistant, allowing the production budget’s auditors to trace the entire lifecycle of the project.

This can result to more savings and verified sources that will have credibility for future projects. The problem today is that some costs are not fully understood and that can be an accounting nightmare. By using a private blockchain solution it can be trusted to validate transactions and secure the information from any tampering. That should encourage production to be more honest with their spends since everything they do will be transparent to let’s say the investors and the studio’s executives.

Now that we have defined the statement, what will this lead to?

The idea it aims to bring is effective storytelling in the Digital Age. The workflow and post production process is without a doubt digital now. Filming can be shot in full digital formats e.g. Red Camera. The clips, which are also stored in digital media, are processed using digital workflows utilizing computers and software. The aim today is to make it more efficient to get the best performance in the hardware and software that is used to produce the movies, documentaries, commercials, short films, animations and TV shows.

5G, Fast And Necessary

The hottest tech word in 2019 so far seems to be “5G”. From CES to MWC, it has been repeated at many keynotes and exhibits. With the requirements of streaming and cloud services for more data, it also requires more bandwidth. 5G aims to deliver this beginning in 2019, as telco providers start deploying their 5G networks. This will deliver 20 Gbps to mobile devices, so you can pretty much do everything from anywhere. Retouchers can work on images from their tablets or smartphones and watching streaming movies in UHD 4K will be smooth and latency free. The ultimate benefit that serious video geeks would see from this is the capability to support 8K resolution streaming.

What is exciting to production companies about this network is it can allow cameras to record directly to the cloud. That means the material is immediately available for producers to work with. While the network is meant for wireless cellular systems, it can be used with on location or OB setups which won’t have to rely on satellite transmission.

One thing that needs to be looked into are protocols for digital content distribution on 5G networks. This is because the following processes need to defined for these standards — encoding, decoding and encryption. It is negligent to use 5G speeds without a secure protocol management system that should prevent content from being hacked. This is a concern among studios since they don’t want anything from pre-production to be leaked or any content pirated.

Next Gen TV, The Future Of OTA Broadcasting

There is more anticipation for ATSC 3.0 aka Next Gen TV. What we can expect is the much needed upgrade to OTA that will converge IP networks with traditional broadcasting. This is available for free and does require hardware that supports it, most importantly on the TV. Otherwise a special converter box will be needed. Next Gen TV will bring high resolution UHD broadcast with HDR to home TV’s with support for receiving signals on mobile devices. Another thing it will deliver is embedded rich media content that allows interaction with viewers. An advanced emergency broadcast system that can target multiple OTA devices is also another feature. You can read more about ATSC 3.0 from this article I wrote.

This also allows broadcasters to have access to something advertisers have had on the Internet — user data. With IP integration, broadcasters will know more about their viewer’s information. This may be a concern, but companies like Google and Facebook have been doing this for a long time already. Sometimes unethically, so this may require broadcasters to follow new rules regarding how they collect data e.g. GDPR.

Creative Content Creation

NAB is a convention that is about technology in entertainment. Right now we are seeing so much creativity among content creators, and that is entertaining. Filmmakers are taking it to another level with UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) aka drones, entertainment robots, immersive content that use mixed reality (AR and VR) and imaging using computational photography. We have so many different products available that make all this possible. The good thing is that it is being used by all types of creators, from newsrooms to street bloggers.

The results are YouTube and Vimeo channels that feature the work of these creatives. What makes it possible are the equipment used, many of which were exhibited at the NABShow floor. All types of rigs, gimbles, mirrorless cameras, lenses, storage devices and gadgets were there. Because of these innovations, creators can monetize their content more often because they will get engagement from audiences on popular platforms. I don’t have a comprehensive listing of all the products featured at the NABShow, but you can see who the exhibitors are from this link.

ESports Takes The Spot

NAB featured the spotlight on ESports in 2019. It has finally made its presence felt in the media and entertainment industry, but isn’t it supposed to be a sport? Yes, and that is what makes this unique. It combines entertainment value with sports competition. Gamers compete to win prizes, but also to demonstrate their skills that require stamina for marathon gaming and multi-player challenges. A tournament was actually held at the NABShow this year.

Esports is worth billions of dollars with estimates as high as $1.65B by 2021 with a target audience of over 629 million people according to Broadcast TECH Magazine. Now that is a lucrative market that is also quite diverse when it comes to race, gender and age. The media industry will certainly look at ways they can enter this market and the best way is thru broadcasting. There are already networks that stream ESports competitions on OTT. ESPN is one mainstream outlet for ESports that is gaining a large audience. Sponsors are also going to get in on the game to target the gaming market’s potential.

ESports is also a growing market for equipment and OEM vendors, as is evident in the large viewerships of live games. ESports does have a following that also is the audience that watches live streaming. ESports events have actual commentators who do a play-by-play discussion that also allows audience participation via chat on platforms like YouTube and Twitch. The interactivity in ESports is also what makes it unique. Normally, in sports, athletes cannot interact with fans while playing. In ESports, gamers do communicate with their audience and this is a new form of entertainment indeed that allows real time interaction and engagement.

Network Engineering Excellence

Year in and year out, the NABShow is always showcasing the great feats of network engineers in the broadcast and entertainment industry. From products to services, we see remarkable improvements every year as vendors bring new features. The pace of technology moves very fast, but this leads to the best results as we see the best content on our displays. Higher resolution broadcasts and streaming was made possible due to faster network speeds and better coding techniques, and this deserves due recognition.

This year’s technical keynotes were focused around ATSC 3.0, SMPTE 2110 and wireless standards like 5G and WiFi 6. SMPTE 2110 is an ongoing discussion, with the industry using it more for professional content delivery. Bandwidth is an essential topic, and every year there are new ways to increase it that delivers better performance than the previous generation. 5G and WiFi 6 are main talking points along with GigaEthernet. With faster networks, important features like data encoding, cybersecurity and vendor interoperability cannot be neglected. This is why new standards are developed every time something new is released.

It’s No Longer Just Canon and Nikon

The dwindling sales in DSLR and digital compact cameras was due to the smartphone and a change in consumer preferences in the last 10 years. Most consumers are not professional or amateur photographers, they would much prefer a simple to use device for taking photos and uploading direct to social media. Smartphone vendors realized this quickly and began to incorporate cameras into their products. Every smartphone released by major vendors now have a camera that take amazing photos. You don’t even need to be a photographer to know how to take pictures. Advanced AI and computational image processing techniques make amateur look like pros.

This might be sad news for Canon and Nikon shooters, but it doesn’t spell the end for these camera makers. They have gone into mirrorless, something Sony has capitalized on in recent years. Sony also has the highest rated mirrorless camera system as of 2019, but competition from Canon and Nikon is keeping the market in a tight race. These camera makers remain relevant in the industry especially in professional video equipment let’s not forget. Their booths at NAB always highlight sets that feature high-resolution cameras and lenses that can turn a mediocre scene into a masterpiece. Other camera and imaging companies like Adobe, Blackmagic Design, Fuji and numerous companies from around the world are introducing updated products that enhance content creation for independent creators, and this is where the demand is.

The fact is that imaging is moving into a new direction that doesn’t rely solely on optics. AI and computer vision technology has reached a new level that allows images to be generated that look like real people and objects. Algorithms like that used in GANN (Generative Adversarial Neural Networks) can generate realistic looking characters like what Nvidia has demonstrated. If a scene can be rendered entirely in CG, which is what some studios are doing now, it can save costs to production. Some may argue that there have been movies that are CG generated, but not all of the movie was. Animations don’t count since that is much different from CG rendering. Now the level of realism is much more advanced and this can change how movies are made. It also has less liability and requirements to creating an actual set, with less risk to actors and equipment damage.

The Changing Landscape In Media

You may already be aware by now that OTT has overtaken traditional broadcasting when it comes to news and content. There are more sources for information from the Internet via services like YouTube and social media sites like Instagram. Has this made broadcasters irrelevant? It shouldn’t since the real media is still broadcast news. However mainstream media has fallen behind in terms of audience and engagement. Many now consider mainstream media boring and “fake news”. The point is that OTT is much more readily available because of the Internet, more people will likely get their dose of news and entertainment from there than regular TV.

With OTT, a never heard musician can quickly setup a live streaming show from the comfort of their home using the Internet and a platform like YouTube. In traditional broadcasting you would need to have a studio, which is expensive. You also need to have an airtime slot for your show, whereas with OTT, you can stream anytime and from any where you like. Podcasts are also allowing anyone to share their views online without having to do it at a radio station. Some public figures became popular in media this way e.g. Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Podcasting also circumvents censorship since some radio stations may ban certain people from speaking their mind, but with a podcast they are free to say what they want.

OTT also allows for better collaboration among creatives, public personalities and social influencers. In the past you would need a broadcast studio to set it up, which takes up time and money. Now it is as easy as opening up an app and camera connected to a computer with an Internet connection. You don’t even need to be in the same place as the person you are collaborating with. People are doing it everyday and sharing these videos. It actually entertains and educates as well. Certain videos show collaboration between different professionals. You can also view debates between opposing ideologies. This type of content is what engages viewers. Popular platforms benefit from this because of ads they can sell to publishers who want to increase visibility. This is how traditional broadcast TV worked, and now it is happening with OTT.

The broadcast industry’s update is Next Gen TV. Trends actually show that the cable TV industry is in decline too because of OTT. Those who cut the cord are also returning to OTA, and will appreciate it more with Next Gen TV features. Thus, the OTA market is once again on the rise. Cable providers have the Internet to fall back on, since most are also ISP (Internet Service Providers), and can offer bundled packages that aim to keep customers rather than lose them to OTA. It is going to be competitive and that should in some way bring rates to a level that will at least keep existing customers.

On a final note, here are the winners of NAB SHOW PRODUCT OF THE YEAR AWARDS.

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Multimedia, Imaging, Audio and Broadcast Technology

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Vincent Tabora

Vincent Tabora

Editor HD-PRO, DevOps Trusterras (Cybersecurity, Blockchain, Software Development, Engineering, Photography, Technology)

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