SMPTE Forum In Geneva: Future Business Success Hinges On Delivering Highest-Quality User Experience, Regardless Of Device

Executives cite need for more efficient compression, less fragmented production technologies, faster transition to IT, new ways to handle big data, among others 


White Plains, NY, 23 May 2012 – The success of media and entertainment companies over the next 10 to 15 years rests on providing the highest-quality user experience, no matter the device a consumer is using – and on having more efficient technologies, that can handle far more data, to deliver that experience. Such was the broad consensus of 20 executive panelists at the Forum on Emerging Media Technologies last week in Geneva sponsored by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. Produced in collaboration with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the event drew technology and business leaders from more than 80 global media, entertainment, and IT companies. 


“Consumers don't care about the delivery platform, just the content they want,” said the EBU’s director general Ingrid Deltenre at the opening of the two-day symposium. Indeed, data from 80,000 research interviews conducted annually by Ericsson suggests that consumers are no longer thinking about devices but the viewing experience itself, said Dr. Giles Wilson, the company’s head of technology for the TV solution area and a Forum panelist.


With those realities in mind, more than 110 executive attendees from 22 countries identified and discussed several things that could enable their long-term success, from more efficient compression technologies and content-agnostic production environments to pervasive IT infrastructures and solutions that can handle an imminent wave of big data.


“The discussions at the Forum are a perfect illustration of SMPTE’s unmatched ability to bring together technologists, researchers, scientists, practitioners, manufacturers, and strategic thinkers – all in a science-based, non-commercial setting – to connect the dots between research, education, standards, and business success,” said the Society’s executive director, Barbara Lange.


Expansive blog posts of all Forum sessions are available here. SMPTE will make session presentations available for purchase in July at


Growing Consumption Demands Greater Efficiencies

The typical household in many developed countries now includes tablets and smart phones as well as computers, televisions, and DVD players, said Forum panel leader Tom Morrod, a senior broadcast analyst at IHS Screen Digest. As a result, he predicted that the share of viewing hours via television screens will fall rapidly in the years to come – and that the shift to multi-screen viewing will place huge, and perhaps unreasonable, demands on Internet traffic.


One way to move this content more efficiently is via next-generation compression technologies. Panelist Prof. Dr. Albert Heuberger, the executive director of Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS, cited the MPEG-DASH effort and its focus on delivering the best-quality streaming video over a given Internet connection. Dr. Wilson said the next-generation HEVC codec is already showing a more than 50% improvement over current AVC techniques. 


Yet broadcast remains an important connection for many. ATSC president Marc Richer said that next-generation broadcast systems in the U.S. should focus on mobile devices to support consumers there. He also pointed to the importance of FoBTV (Future of Broadcast TV), an effort by multiple standards bodies to create a universally accepted digital terrestrial format than can drive greater efficiencies and slash overhead costs.


Production Systems: Content-Agnostic, Cloud Ready

SMPTE Forum panelists also cited the need to transform basic production systems. Charles Sevior of the Australian firm Charan Group Consulting spoke of an ongoing move to generic IT infrastructures and said the broadcast industry would do well to increase its alliances with major IT vendors and qualified system integrators so that it could stay focused on creating highly differentiated software and specialized hardware.


Heuberger extended the idea of generic systems to a content-agnostic production environment that includes camera and sensor format metadata for use by downstream processing tools. Previews could take place in the cloud, he said, and virtual processing workspaces could support multiple, collaborative users working around a common mastering format from which target deliverables could be created.


One of the important benefits of moving to this kind of cloud-based production is the ability to quickly test, accept and scale, or reject business models and content-delivery approaches, said Martin Guillaume, IBM’s Global Business Services leader for media in the U.K. and Ireland.


Big Data’s Footprint Getting Larger

Looming large over these discussions was how to handle a massive and impending data wave from new technologies. With growing interest in camera rates of 48 frames per second or greater, cinema is now moving from a scale of megabytes per minute to gigabytes per minute, said Pete Ludé, senior vice president at Sony Electronics and the president of SMPTE. A 100-minute movie at 48fps is nearly 6 terabytes in its raw form, he said.


As for broadcast, the Super Hi-Vision (SHV) system developed by the Japanese public broadcaster NHK has 16 times the resolution of HD and 22.2 channels of audio to match the high-quality visual experience. Dr. Yoshiaki Shishikui, the head of the advanced TV systems research division at NHK’s science and technology research laboratories, told attendees that prototype SHV camera sensors are now ready and system trials will take place this summer in London.


“These exponential increases in data are another factor that will force motion-imaging companies to switch to IT-centric infrastructures because they can draw on enterprise-class hardware derived from the IT industry’s massive R&D budget,” Ludé said.


Yet executives should not overestimate how quickly this IT transformation will take place, said Dr.Karl Schubert, the CTO of Grass Valley. The move from analog to digital took 20 years, he said; the move to Internet Protocol-based infrastructures will take only half that.


Great Stories Still Win

With consumers increasingly comfortable with multi-screen and multi-channel viewing, Forum attendees heard how new storytelling approaches are being tested to see which take hold – and the bedrock belief from multiple panelists that great stories still carry the day.


Anthony Rose, the co-founder and CTO of the U.K. connected TV startup zeebox, spoke of a program paid for by a clothing company that let teen girls vote via screen or mobile phone on the apparel being discussed, putting them in the position of dictating fashion styles instead of being told what’s worth wearing. Meanwhile, Sevior described a performer-search program in Australia that lets its audience vote via music download. For audience members, the download counts for two votes instead of one; for the program provider, it creates an additional revenue stream.


Christophe Diot, chief scientist at Technicolor, observed that if the last decade has been a time of great technology development, the world may now be entering the consumer years, when this technology will be used to deliver the experiences that audiences want.