This is the blog of Ant Miller, senior research manager and dilettante geek at large at the BBC.
I wail moan and cuss about the challenges and fun to be found here.
These are my personal opinions, and not those of my employer. Or anyone else here for that matter.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

IBC Conference and Exhibition Reflections

I may have given a bit of a false start to my IBC coverage this year. Sadly, after the enthusiasm of the first day I found the week long event a rather draining, and truth be told, demoralising experience. It wasn't without highlights though, and I think it's only fair I give a potted account of the best and the worst of the conference and the exhibition.

OK, so, highlights: Eric Huggers keynote was really good- in fact the session was excellent with great insights from IBMs Saul Berman and the hugely entertaining Rory Sutherland of Ogilvey- Rory's speech was a master class in erudite education disguised as a joyful ramble, and the image of a McDonald's drive-through full of half naked gluttons will be with me forever! However, these three luminaries, and their able interlocutor Raymond Snoddy, were among the very few in the exhibition who appeared to be prepared down the barrel of the gun of IP delivered content.

Quick sidebar here- The Canvas demonstrations shown (just a mocked up UI in fact, but ratjer a nice one) by Erik seem to have lit a fire under those in the broadcast market who had hitherto let such ideas slide them by. Now at last, some 3 years after the BBC rolled its sleeves up and started to see how a fully joined up IPTV platform could work, the great and good of european broadcast have started the HBB-TV project. This work is good, but it's late, and though the BBC are facing fair criticism for relying on proprietary components (especially from Adobe) it's perhaps salutary to recognise that this lumbering industrial standards approach from the old guard of european broadcast technology is years behind the reinvigourated BBC approach. Having said all that OFCOM and the BBC Trust may yet mandate that an open standards based approach be taken- who knows how that would turn out!?

Across the conference the best attended sessions tended to be those with the most 'conventional' view of broadcast. This is not to say that 'conventional' is bad- I'm thinking here of the excellent in depth DVB-T2 review gave possibly one of the best insights to the incredible engineering work that's gone into developing the next generation of Freeview in High Definition- that's to say FreeviewHD- and slot it into the Digital Switch Over in UK broadcasting. (For more good introductory guides the EBU stand at IBC was excellent). For all this excellent work though, it is worth considering for a moment what wasn't at IBC....

There was a very modest mobile presence- Qualcom had a big stand, which I thought looked very quiet. Nokia had a modest stand, but Apple weren't there at all. Does that matter? It does when you think of the massive impact the iPhone has had on the way we think of people buying content. App Stores were an unseen buzz all over the show, and to think I actually heard someone, a well respected senior engineer from a major broadcaster, say without a flicker of irony that 'There are no new business models'. That sounded a lot like denial to me. (Not to his fellow panelists, who nodded sagely at this mantra.)

What clearly does matter is that this year Sony saw fit to skip the show entirely- usually they'd have had a stand covering several thousand square metres, showing off displays, cameras, broadcast and domestic kit. Their absence left a gaping hole. I think it also matters that there was no Google, no Twitter, no Yahoo, no Nintendo, no Electronic Arts, no Facebook, no computer games publishers at all. The way I see it IBC is a wake for the dominance of linear broadcast- I'll accept that most living rooms have TVs still, and that most people watch most of their TV linearly, but the days when this was the big picture, and all other forms of electronic media were fringe niches, has finally passed.

I'll go next year, briefly, and I really hope there's more of a realisation evident that TV in it's "lean-back" form is a niche in a bigger world of mobile, internet entertainment, social media, games, online movies. And what's more, that TV is better when it does recognise this- better for its engineers, better for its creatives and most importantly better for its audiences. Signs are not good though- a year ago, my esteemed collegue late of this parish, John Ousby, wrote a similar piece for the BBC internet blog, and I doubt he'd have noticed a great improvement.

Still, Amsterdam was nice.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

IBC Conference highlights- day one

Thursday at RAI for IBC, and the programme starts way too early for me to get to see. Shame, session one looked good. Then came the keynote with Roger Mosey looking at advanced ways to present sport. Would have loved to see that too, but at just that moment I got a call for help from a colleague setting up his project on the EBU stand. God project, good chap- had to go help.

What I did get to see included:
  • Thomson Grass Valley analysis of noise in HD video- very interesting because it specifically looked at High Frame Rate which the BBC has explored as an alternative to 3D for high fidelity video.
  • A presentation from NHK on a new Java based distributed home network model for interactive video based on Broadcast Markup Language (rather looking forward to digging around their stand later in the week).
  • A really interesting juxtaposision of the Sony/Sky and BBC approaches to adding 3D graphics into football and rugby coverage (rugby is harder, and only the BBC are doing that right now). The philosophy of the approaches was different, but complementary, and both presentations included great video examples.
  • A great map of the mobile marketplace and revenue streams- in such a complex business these sorts of graphical analysis are invaluable! Good work from First Partner!
Right, time I went and mingled- I want to try and get the ball rolling on an IBC UnConference/ barcamp next year. This event so needs it!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

To Amsterdam for IBC

OK, just a quicky this one- for the next week or so I'm in Amsterdam attending the largest broadcast technology show in Europe, IBC. I'll be attending as many conference sessions as I humanly can, visiting as much of the show as I can (it's colossal!) and also supporting the Avatar-M stand in Hall 7, stand A08e. This trip marks a sort of a transition- unlike NAB my responsibilities this time are not just to the one project, but to the whole of R&D in the BBC, and I'm going to try my best to find the most interesting, most transformational technologies and companies there to take the knowledge back to colleagues in the UK.

The number of BBC personnel at IBC is a sensitive subject, and I'm not going to state numbers here. However I can say that this year everyone who is going has had to fully justify their attendance, and many, like me, are doing several jobs out there. Plus, most of us are still doing the day job via the internets (I'm typing this on the train from Brussels to Amsterdam!).

Each day as and when I find cool stuff I'll be posting a few links, and hopefully images, on this blog. I'll also tweet from the various conference sessions- possibly as Meeware, or potentially as a new Twitter account I may be setting up for this sort of job- "Ant Miller BBC R&D" or "BBCResearch&Development"- tbc. All part of the KM job you see.

Through this marathon geekout I shall do my best to avoid dwelling on the fact that I am missing out on probably the best festival of the summer- The End of the Road. Terrific line up, perfect size, and it looks like the weather will be spot on too! At least Rowan's going- look out for her updates as @Rowstar and for a full review on Breakfast in Bed.

P.S. If you too are in Amsterdam for IBC (or even just chilling out in what is a superb city), direct message me on twitter or drop me an email, or even comment here, and I'd be glad to catch up.