IBC 2017 — Well, that was interesting!


The International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) celebrated its 50th anniversary last month, with over 56,000 visitors attending what’s billed as the world’s leading media, entertainment and technology show. The venue also hosted the IBC Conference, featuring a series of in-depth talks, discussion panels and award ceremonies celebrating technical achievements. Labber Dave Bevan shares his insights from the event.

While I have visited IBC many times in the past (1984 in Brighton was my first!), this was my first year as part of an exhibition team. I had the privilege of working in the Future Zone on the BBC’s R&D stand, demonstrating our speech to text research and its application in our newsroom in London. I also received a last-minute invitation to speak about the BBC’s work in artificial intelligence.

This is a round-up of the week I spent in Amsterdam—both the thoughts I shared on the BBC’s work in speech-to-text and AI, and a reflection on other vendors’ exhibitions that caught my eye.

Having eventually arrived by air on Windy Wednesday, we added finishing touches to our stand on Thursday, ready to welcome visitors over the weekend.

The stand and the panel: Practical applications of artificial intelligence

Within moments of the doors opening on Friday, we had many visitors milling around our stand. Conversations were had with many, including teams from other national public service broadcasters — all seeking to understand how this “artificial intelligence” technology could benefit their own journalist and programme-making colleagues. Many stand visitors assumed our use of Speech-to-Text was focused on subtitle production. While we do use our technology for that purpose in some parts of the BBC, we in BBC News Labs are focusing on using it to transform our approach to content creation by developing a variety of prototype web-based media editing and search tools. Our stand featured a live demo of one of these tools allowing visitors to catch our vision and allowed us to discuss how this change of approach can radically improve journalist productivity.

Late Friday I was approached by a member of the BBC’s on-site leadership team, asking if I’d consider contributing to a conference panel on artificial intelligence. I eventually said yes, and the rest, as they say, is history! The session received a good write-up in the IBC Daily News magazine, and was also recorded for posterity.

I was able to talk about the various machine-learning centred initiatives we have embarked on in BBC R&D and BBC News Labs, and how we practically apply the technology in our newsroom — by enhancing content production systems, improving audience experiences, and bringing new high-efficiency publishing tools to our journalists.

I shared my concerns that while broadcast software manufacturers excel at managing audio, video and timecode tracks in their editing products, the concept of also managing associated metadata “tracks” representing transcripts, copyright and camera metadata etc. in the same editing products, is virtually non-existent today. As an industry already living in a metadata-rich world, we’ve an awful lot of catching up to do to ensure these “tracks” become first-class citizens in our tools and media systems — from the point of acquisition at a camera and/or microphone, through editing and file exchange systems, to transmission, into archive, and of course, all the way to the consumer at home on their internet-connected devices, and not forgetting the search engine providers that scavenge our metadata to surface our media to the world at large.

The Vendors: Items of interest

My weekend was pretty-much tied up with exhibiting and preparing for my unexpected talk, so I had little time to actually visit the rest of the exhibition.

When I did get a chance to wander, several stands took my eye. One was showing the work of the research department at NHK — the Japanese national broadcaster. They led the world to 4K video, and are now leading the world toward 8K. They had one of the world’s first 8K large-sensor cameras from Sony on their stand and were showing material they had filmed in Amsterdam earlier that week.

It was, to say the least, stunning. However, as with 4K, and more-so with 8K, you need REALLY LARGE screens to be able to see the detail present in the picture — 96” to do it proper justice. They were also showing a brand new flexible and ultra-thin (< 0.5mm) OLED display-screen that could be rolled up and stored in a tube, as well as a large 96+” 8K monitor made up of 4 separate 4K screens that was just 5mm thick.

Recently there has been rapid progress and convergence in international manufacturing standards that are allowing the industry to move from traditional cabling systems (a typical uncompressed HD video signal requires a data rate of 1.4Gbit/second and is traditionally delivered over a high-spec coax, fibre or short-range HDMI cable), to Ethernet and IP networks. In this new world, every network port has to support 10Gbit. As an indicator of progress, a completely IP-based broadcast scanner (OB truck) was being shown for the first time this year, built around the latest SMPTE 2110 standards.

This year also saw the internet giants roar into the broadcast space. Google, IBM and Microsoft all had large stands showing their various machine-learning based technologies.

Besides all the tech, IBC offers various opportunities to catch up with friends and colleagues from vendors and broadcasters alike. If you’ve an interest in how broadcasting works, IBC is a fantastic, if at times overwhelming, introduction to all the tech involved. If custom switches are your thing, you’ll find many stands dedicated to them at the show. Same goes for everything from microphones, cable and connectors at the ‘small’ end, to complete trucks, satellites, sound desks, virtual reality, 360 video, cameras and lighting at the other. Many software manufactures had demo/tutorial areas on their stands with rolling programmes of talks and workshops from leading practitioners in their field.

Extra Reading

If you’re wondering what was covered in the conference portion of the event, a significant number of the sessions were recorded and are freely available to watch.

BBC R&D also put together day-by-day roundups of our activity at the conference: