Q & A with Michael Crimp, CEO, IBC

Q & A with Michael Crimp, CEO, IBC

IBC is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. What is it doing to celebrate this occasion?

50 years is a great achievement, and of course we will be recognising it. We are producing a commemorative book, and our annual party will be particularly special this year.

IBC is also starting a new charitable venture, supporting an Amsterdam group that provides support through sport for disadvantaged and disabled children. If you want to play against former Ajax players in our Saturday night match, bid now to join the IBC All-Stars!

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But the most important way we can celebrate the golden anniversary is by carrying on being the leading global forum where the real issues of the industry are discussed and new strategies developed. Back in 1967 the founders of IBC knew that to be a success the event had to have three strands: a comprehensive exhibition, a visionary conference, and the networking opportunities to share ideas.

50 years on we have a huge amount to talk about: from Ultra HD to 5G connectivity; from IP to cyber-security. And IBC is still the best place to do that.

How has IBC evolved over the past 10 years?

The simple answer is that IBC has evolved along with the industry, or rather IBC has strived to identify the key trends which will transform the industry, and ensure that we are ahead of the curve.

Looking back 10 years, digital cinema was still a work in progress: the total transition we have now seen was just beginning. We had dedicated areas focused on mobile video and digital signage, again things that we take for granted today. You can see the equivalents in IBC2017, like the IP Showcase and all the work done on interoperability.

The one area I would say that IBC has evolved significantly is that we are much more proactive in leading strategic thinking and business transformation. Five years ago we started our Leaders’ Summit, the behind-closed-doors conference for CEOs from the top broadcasters and media organisations, and it has proved hugely successful.

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This year we are adding two more similar, invitation-only events, this timed aimed at CTOs. We have a day focusing on cyber-security and another looking at the potential for 5G – a great example of IBC’s ability to look ahead and help determine the media industry’s position on new opportunities.

We are also trying a new business match-making venue this year, the IBC Startup Forum. Working with Media Honeypot, we are aiming to bring startups and scale-ups together with the media companies that might want to use their talents and the investors who might back the deals.

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In terms of technological trends, what are you most excited about as we approach IBC2017?

It is not really my role to get excited about technological trends. Our exhibitors, our conference and events team and our committees identify where the industry is going and therefore where IBC needs to be. My role is to empower them to deliver the best possible IBC.

But I do see IBC as an important enabler for change in the industry. Last year we pulled off an incredible achievement, with our partners, in building the first IP Interoperability Zone, bringing together large numbers of different vendors to demonstrate that the next stage of the IP transition, live production, was practical and the big challenges could be resolved. That was an initiative of massive global importance.

As IBC2017 progresses, I have no doubt there will be equally ground-breaking events.

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What are some of the hot topics that will be addressed during the conference?

One significant development from that first IBC 50 years ago is the nature of the conference. The founders were insistent that an exhibition needed a technical conference, and in 1967 it was based solely on papers outlining the latest research.

Today the technical papers programme still forms the centrepiece of the conference, and it is still seen as the most important, as well as the most prestigious place to introduce new thinking. But today our conference is much broader, speaking to the creative and commercial people in our community as well as the engineering and operational.

This year’s conference is subtitled Truth, Trust and Transformation, and has five tracks running over five days. Session topics range from the deeply technical, like new codec design, to fake news and alternative facts. Speakers range from Alberto Duenas, the principal video architect at chip-maker ARM to Dan Danker, the product director at Facebook.

There is not just something for everyone: there is a lot for everyone.

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The IBC Innovation Awards are always a draw. Can you comment on the calibre of entries this year?

When we decided to add the IBC Innovation Awards to our programme, our aim was to reflect the real nature of the industry. While other awards give prizes to new gizmos, we wanted to reward the real-world projects, where users and technology partners got together to tackle a real challenge and come up with a solution that was much more than the sum of its parts.

It is one of my personal pleasures that this concept has worked so well that the IBC Innovation Awards are the most respected in the industry. This year we tweaked the categories slightly to reflect the changes in the industry. We are honouring the best projects in content creation, content distribution and content everywhere.

The response has been better than ever, with a huge response from all around the world. Our finalists range from a small French-language service based in Canada to Google Earth; from a new approach to transmitters in the USA to an online service in India; and from Asia’s biggest broadcaster to the Spanish national railway company.

The Awards Ceremony on Sunday night is always one of my highlights. This year there is a special guest presenter: the academic and broadcaster Dr Helen Czerski. The show lasts about an hour and is free to all IBC visitors – I really cannot recommend it highly enough.

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The over-arching theme for IBC2017 is “Truth, Trust and Transformation”. What is the rationale behind this?

No-one can have failed to notice the rapid proliferation of terms like “fake news” and “alternative facts” over the last year. Broadcasters have traditionally been the trusted brand for news: is the era of social media and universal internet access changing that?

It is a critical topic to debate at IBC, because the industry’s response to it is central to its future, commercially as well as technically. Providing true, accurate and honest access to news (and related genres like sport) is expensive and demanding. How do we address this key issue.

The phrase has resonances in other ways than the obvious, too. One of the challenges of the transition to IP connectivity is the risk that the media industry will become a major target for malware and hackers. As the transport platform becomes more open, the more we need to focus on cyber-security and the intrinsic design of safe, secure systems.

OTT and social media delivery is sometimes seen as “disruptive” but probably “transformative” is the better word. It brings new challenges for creativity and business, and it is right that IBC looks at them. It runs right through the conference, not least in a keynote session from Brian Sullivan, president of the digital consumer group at Fox, in which he says “In a digital world the consumer has the power. Deal with it.”

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Will VR and AR be addressed at this year’s conference?

Of course. And in the Future Zone, and no doubt on the show floor.

This is a great example of where IBC adds so much value to the industry. Technologies in this area are tumbling out, but the business and creative case seems to be lagging behind. We know what VR can do, but how can we tell stories with it? How can we monetise it?

IBC can bring all the sides of the industry together to dig into all the issues. And not just in debate but by seeing and experiencing the state of the art.

What is the Platform Futures – Sport conference aiming to address?

Platform Futures is one of the strands running through the conference. It looks at how the latest delivery and engagement technologies are opening new opportunities for the presentation of content.

Sport has always been a major driver – perhaps the major driver – of innovation in television and media. For many years now we have had a sport day as part of the conference. This year, we are dedicating the Platform Futures strand to sport on Sunday.

The stream looks at how new technology is pushing boundaries for live sports coverage; the increasing importance of fan engagement; and the phenomenon of ‘alternative sports formats’ like Twenty20 cricket and Rugby 7s, which provide exciting and lucrative alternatives to traditional competitions. It will also examine the unprecedented growth of eSports, and the exponential opportunities for broadcasters in a market that is now pushing towards the half-billion dollar size.

How are you catering for the AV professionals visiting the show?

IBC is a hugely important event for the AV industry, but largely because of the convergence of all media industries. Whereas once there might be specialist sessions, or even a separate event, for the presentation industry, or digital signage, or local television infrastructures, now they have all become part of one open, connected media world.

There is no difference, for example, between a broadcast monitor wall and a large-scale digital signage system or an industrial control centre. They all depend upon IP connectivity and intelligent processing to put multiple virtual screens on a single high-resolution display. That same IP connectivity might connect a broadcast facility or an AV centre.

Our IBC Big Screen is the absolute showcase of presentation technology, featuring multiple high resolution, high output projectors and Dolby Atmos audio.

All of this is available to all visitors to IBC, and we continue to warmly welcome the many AV professionals who attend each year.

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