Podcast: Bruce Devlin, Thomas Bause Mason, and Barbara Lange of SMPTE Discuss Standards​

In this podcast, Aimée Ricca speaks with SMPTE Standards Vice President Bruce Devlin, the new SMPTE Director of Standards Development Thomas Bause Mason, and SMPTE Executive Director Barbara Lange about Standards, the standards process, and documents such as Technical Specifications. www.smpte.org


Aimée Ricca:                00:15               Hi, and welcome to our series informal chats with industry leaders so that you can get to know them and the technologies that you use better. We are here live on the floor of NAB show, and it is bustling with activity. We are very fortunate today to have Bruce Devlin, who's the SMPTE Standards Vice President; Barbara Lange, who's SMPTE Executive Director; and Thomas Bause Mason, who is the brand new SMPTE Director of Standards. 

Aimée Ricca:                00:41               Welcome. It's nice to have you here. 

Barbara Lange:             00:43               Thank you, Aimée. 

Thomas Bause Mason:   00:44               Hello, Aimée.

Aimée Ricca:                00:46               So, Bruce, Thomas is new to the SMPTE team. Can you tell us what the role each of you is within SMPTE? 

Bruce Devlin:               00:54               Excellent. Yes. Well, for those of you like a good time bedtime read, can actually download the SMPTE Standards operations manual from the internet, and you can read exactly what we do. It says here in front of me that the Standards Vice President shall be responsible for the coordination and supervision of all engineering activities. I'm actually moving my finger across the text. I'm not very good at ...

Aimée Ricca:                01:16               It just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? 

Bruce Devlin:               01:18               It does. 

Aimée Ricca:                01:18               Yeah.

Bruce Devlin:               01:19               Then the nice thing is that the SVP, who's responsible for everything, can describe my role in two lines. It just says responsible, volunteer position. I volunteered for this role. Then the next one, which is Thomas's role, it actually requires two and a half pages to describe exactly what ...

Thomas Bause Mason:   01:36               I noted that. I noted that. Yes.

Bruce Devlin:               01:38               You still took the job.

Thomas Bause Mason:   01:41               I did indeed.

Bruce Devlin:               01:42               I like you. You're a good man. 

Bruce Devlin:               01:44               So the Director of Engineering essentially that's a staff position, and you're the guy that makes it all happen. So I sit back in my deck chair with my pina colada saying, "Thomas, I think we should do something wonderful in IP." Then you basically have to put all the processes in place. You got to make certain of all the engineering around the process works. You got to substitute for me if I have to go and get another pina colada. So you're basically the guy who has to really crank the handle and make all of this work.

Aimée Ricca:                02:13               You forgot one thing. 

Bruce Devlin:               02:14               What was that? 

Aimée Ricca:                02:14               He gets paid.

Bruce Devlin:               02:15               Oh, he gets paid. I knew there was something that Mrs. Devlin asked me to ask you. 

Thomas Bause Mason:   02:21            That's how I mention it. Actually, I thought you were on a tropical island somewhere and I'm in the basement. 

Bruce Devlin:               02:27               Yeah. Yeah. Mrs. Devlin thanks that as well. That's actually we're stuck here in this little goldfish bowl. 

Barbara Lange:             02:31               This fishbowl, right. Right. 

Aimée Ricca:                02:35               Well, for those you that can't see the podcast studio is a fishbowl. We are in glass and people keep walking past and looking at us. But that's, I guess, the fun of being an AB.

Bruce Devlin:               02:46               Absolutely. So joking aside, I should really say what we actually do.

Aimée Ricca:                02:51               Yes.

Bruce Devlin:               02:51               Because what it says in the manual is kind of boring and tedious. The reality is that the Standards Vice President kind of acts like the focused fool, the difficult decisions because SMPTE's a due process body, and we write down our processes and we follow them. Thomas role really is to make certain that we follow those processes. You're kind of like the policeman that makes certain that we got to do everything, but you can never write down everything. There's always these kind of corner cases where somebody has to be responsible to make that executive decision. That's really what the Standards Vice President does so that the main piece of power that the Standards Vice President has is to be able to discuss what's being discussed in committee outside the committee. Everybody else in the committee has to maintain essentially a veil of secrecy to protect all sorts of anti-trust and other sorts of legal issues, but the SVP is able to take advice and publicize that. 

Bruce Devlin:               03:51               So one of the things that Thomas and I will be doing every three months is to tell the world what we did in our Standards Committee meetings because I'm allowed to say we can say it. Thomas, you and I are going to tell the world. 

Thomas Bause Mason:   04:03               I think you probably want to add there's kind of the aspect of continuity, right? I'm hopeful to be with SMPTE for a long time while I seek the unlimited term, limited in your job, right? 

Bruce Devlin:               04:15               That's true. The SVP is an elected position. Do you want to describe what elected position actually means, Barbara? 

Barbara Lange:             04:22               You are elected by the membership in that role for two-year term. If you are deemed worthy, you could be elected another time for a two-year term. So it's a two-year term, and Thomas is exactly right that the volunteer leadership will evolve and change over time. Whereas, we hope that the staff is that continuity and that enables, keeps the machine running as the director of the machine in the form of the Vice President can re-add the strategic vision to the role. We on the staff are helping to execute that vision. 

Bruce Devlin:               05:03               I think with Thomas joining the team, I've got a really strong software background. You've got a strong software background.

Thomas Bause Mason:   05:10            Yep.

Bruce Devlin:               05:10               The industry appears to be going towards software. I kind of get the feeling there might be some changes coming up maybe, Thomas. 

Aimée Ricca:                05:18               So that's actually my next question was, Thomas, before you came to SMPTE, tell us what your background is.

Thomas Bause Mason:   05:27               Yeah. I started out in Germany actually in software development in different fields, common factory, and nuclear industry. So power plants, yes. 

Aimée Ricca:                05:40               Very powerful. He's very powerful. I like it.

Thomas Bause Mason:   05:44               Yeah. I'm bright and ... 

Aimée Ricca:                05:47               Are you radioactive? 

Thomas Bause Mason:   05:49               Radioactive, yes. I also have a passion for photography, and I wanted to combine the software development with photography, and I got master's degree equivalent in media technology and then got into broadcast and worked for service providers, broadcast stations until I got the connection to LA, got a job offer at a broadcasting facility in Los Angeles. Took that, made the step to the U.S., lived in LA for six years, worked as postproduction supervisor, started building and coding departments, NBC Universal hired me. Did the same thing there, but then shifted over into emerging technology and looking out what's supposed to come two worlds, NBC Universal and Time Warner five years. Yeah. 

Aimée Ricca:                06:40               Well, it's industry you should mention emerging technologies because Standards and emerging technologies, how does that work? 

Barbara Lange:             06:48               Interesting.

Thomas Bause Mason:   06:52               There's new technology coming along, and usually it's a wild rest. At some point, people are going to move along and becomes a broader, adopted technology. If it gets into the mainstream, what you really need as a large company is interoperability standards. With that interoperability and to say cost sharing and equipment by implementing common standards, you can build more cost-efficient workflows. 

Bruce Devlin:               07:24               The standards give you an element of stability for awhile, don't they? I mean, you don't want just interoperability on a Thursday and everything's changed by Friday because somebody's changed the open source code. You want something that's going to last at least until you've got a bit of a return on the investment you made on whatever it is you're interoperating. I think that's where standards really play. They give you the bedrock of stability upon which you can build the business. 

Barbara Lange:             07:46               I was just going to say it's the foundation on which all the features and function and the fancy bells and whistles that companies like to add can be built, but you need to have that interoperability or those bells and whistles won't ring. 

Bruce Devlin:               08:00               It's quite amazing walking around the show here to see how many of the companies have built their business on top of something that's a SMPTE standard.

Barbara Lange:             08:05               Yeah.

Bruce Devlin:               08:06               Many of them don't even know. It's quite scary.

Barbara Lange:             08:09               So that is an area that we need to improve upon, and I think that is what I'm very excited about both Bruce and Thomas being here with these webcasts and other tools at we'll be able to talk a little more about the work that we are doing so that people will recognize the work that we're doing. Otherwise, it's not worth doing. 

Bruce Devlin:               08:33               Yeah. SMPTE work should not be a well-kept secret.

Barbara Lange:             08:35               That's right.

Bruce Devlin:               08:36               Everybody should know.

Barbara Lange:             08:36               That's right. That's right.

Aimée Ricca:                08:36               So I do understand that in addition to standards, SMPTE has other kinds of documents. Can you tell us a bit about the other kinds of documents that SMPTE has? 

Bruce Devlin:               08:47               I should mention one special type because, Thomas, you're not really new to the standards process because you've looked after a study group or two. Do you want to just tell us what a study group is and why they're important? 

Thomas Bause Mason:   08:57               Well, yeah. I should mention actually that during my time at NBC Universal, which was 11 years, I was consistently involved in SMPTE and SMPTE standard process. I was a TC chair twice for ...

Barbara Lange:             09:15               What is a TC? 

Thomas Bause Mason:   09:16               Technology Committee. So it's a really structured, SMPTE structured in various technology committee. We have wonderful film, for example. There's one for file systems, which I shared for two years. There's one on IMF. Some might know this. IMF Standard. So that's another technology committee I shared for like four years I think. So then besides that, I did study groups, as Bruce said, and actually UHD, HDR, and flow management, and that is really kind of the start where the players in the industry get together, talk about the technology, and it's not really talking about solution. It's more talking about problems but no how you want to solve these problems. It's more making people aware of them and then how can standards help in the specific technology area. Again, it's more, for example, HDR. Do we need other standards, do we have the standards we need, do we need new ones, do we need to change standards, and it also means reaching out to the industry. So it's not meant to be a closed effort. It's really an open effort where everybody's invited to participate, but also the output is given to the industry.

Thomas Bause Mason:   10:36               Standards study group reports are usually free, right? 

Barbara Lange:             10:39               Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bruce Devlin:               10:40               Yeah. Those are called the Engineering Report, and those tend to appear on the SMPTE website as opposed to the Standard, which has an ST prefix, which appears in the entrepreneur store where our recommended practice, which is kind of constraining a standard. How are we going to use this thing that we've invented or an engineering guideline, which, as it says, tries to explain what's happening, or an IDD, the registered disclosure document, which is something where say you're a manufacturer, you've had something in the field for 20 years, and you want to tell the world how it works. It's kind of like making the technology kind of open source. So that's an IDD. Those are the main documents. 

Barbara Lange:             11:21               What's new on the horizon? 

Bruce Devlin:               11:23               That's a very good question, Barbara. So one of the things that SMPTE's working on is specifications, and specifications really ... Well, they're kind of augment and compliment what Standards already do. So what we're trying to do is create an environment where people can create business requirements, where they can foster the emergence of new technologies, where they can group together, I don't know, half a dozen standards and a few associate tidbits of technology to build workflows that genuinely work.

Barbara Lange:             11:55               And serve a specific ...

Bruce Devlin:               11:55               And serve a specific business process. The goal really is to publish these specifications and the business requirements that generated them together so that people can really understand the problem that we're trying to solve. Personally, I feel that this is ... It's really important for SMPTE. If we can get it right and the specification becomes super popular, then what we've just done is load the friction of turning that kind of fast-changing specification into a permanent standard that sometime later in its evolution.

Aimée Ricca:                12:26               So all of these documents that SMPTE has, all of these different kinds of documents, they all serve their own purpose and explain to us exactly why do we need all of the different documents.

Bruce Devlin:               12:41               Well they serve different fundamental purposes. So the Standard, if you like, is the stable bedrock. It's a generic kind of piece of technology upon you can build a piece of infrastructure. So one of the most famous that SMPTE's published recently is the SMPTE 21-10 Suite of Standards. So there's a stable standard about how you put video in IP. There's a stable standard about how you put audio in IP, and there's a stable standard on how you put auxiliary data on IP. So these are kind of like the bedrocks. But then you might use them slightly differently in a TV studio compared to an OB van. So you might end up, and I'm not saying this is happening, but you might end up with a different recommended practice for the stable ways in which you use those standards.

Aimée Ricca:                13:24               Okay.

Bruce Devlin:               13:25               But then again you need to explain to people how this stuff works. So anybody who receives this empty journal will have seen some really quite spectacular wall charts, which are the engineering guidelines about how to plug together some of the HDR, SDI standard connectors, for example. How does it all fit together? So the engineering guideline is much more an explanation of how stuff works. Then the specification, which is new, not quite finished yet, be ready in summer, we hope. That's yet another different sort of thing, which is much more business oriented, much less purely about the technology. 

Barbara Lange:             14:00               Solving a specific workflow problem, right? 

Bruce Devlin:               14:01               Specific workflow problem. 

Barbara Lange:             14:03               Yeah.

Bruce Devlin:               14:05               Thomas, tell us about the engineering reports because there's a couple of yours on the internet. People can read them. If they like this podcast, they'll go and download your work. 

Barbara Lange:             14:16               You'll be a New York Times Bestseller. 

Thomas Bause Mason:   14:18               Yeah. I mean, the interesting part about the engineering reports is that you're always kind of ahead of the actual standards. So you really talk about the cutting edge technology and we have now study group on virtual reality and augmented reality, mixed reality. So that's going on forever.

Aimée Ricca:                14:40               So is that the first step in a standards process? 

Thomas Bause Mason:   14:45               It could be yeah. I mean, the study groups also look at certain issues, which come out of an existing standard, right? We had a study group I believe on fragment frame rates. The industry couldn't get to an agreement of what to do. We were looking for some input for some standards, so we decided to set up a study group to look at the issue of fragmented frame rates and how we can do conversions from fragments frame rates to inter frame rates. Then the output really was indicating the standards process and what the standard should entail.

Barbara Lange:             15:27               But oftentimes the study group, the result of the study group would be, "Hey, there's a need for a standard here. Let's form a committee to look at that topic." 

Thomas Bause Mason:   15:39               Yeah. Very right. It's what's standards do we need, what standards do we need to update, and who do we have to talk to to get a certain technology going.

Bruce Devlin:               15:49               I think that's one of the key bits is how do you identify the people who would be interested in this, and if those people aren't interested in it, then there's ...

Barbara Lange:             15:57               Not a need. 

Bruce Devlin:               15:58               There may not be a need. That's really one of the key points of a study group is does this problem would be told it's a problem, is it really a problem. Sometimes we discover no, it's not a problem, or sometimes, like in the case of the study group on how a time code is used in MFX, and yes, I will get hate mail for that one. You discover it really is a problem and we should really write stuff down and do something. Yes, anybody listening to that, that was a plea for you to cooperate. Please join the MXF groups and SMPTE so that we can fix some of those issues that have grown up a bit over the last 10 years. 

Barbara Lange:             16:30               So I'm going to ask a question, if you don't mind, Aimee. I've heard often ...

Bruce Devlin:               16:35               That applause is for you asking a question of course, Barbara. 

Barbara Lange:             16:37               Oh yeah. It was great timing. 

Barbara Lange:             16:40               I've often heard that we lack a lot of user input in the standards process. That we could always use more users. Can you talk a little bit about what that means and how can we change that so that users are more inclined to participate? 

Bruce Devlin:               17:00               Do you want to start this? 

Thomas Bause Mason:   17:00               Yeah, I can. I mean, we also cooperating with user groups, right? That would be my view on it. We have connection to the EBU. We work with NABA. I personally was involved in some NADA activities where we wrote reports on technology, and the view really in this user groups is that they're not a standards organization. So if they discover among themselves that there's a need, they're going to approach SMPTE and ask SMPTE if they can help with the standardization process.

Bruce Devlin:               17:31               There was a very interesting observation in yesterday's David Croft Summit. One of the broadcasters stood up and said, "It was interesting that 10 years ago if there had a technical problem, the broadcasters would then go, content creators and broadcasters, it was like cable and satellite, they'd go and ask the vendors. But now, in this disruptive era, they're discovering the vendors don't understand the new media business as well as the media people do." So I think one of the things that's really changes literally this year is that the people who are running media companies have to have a much bigger voice than they have had over the last decade within organizations like SMPTE because they're the ones that really understand the disruption that's hitting the media business. I think that's really key for us. So I think we're going to see more input that the standards bodies, but I think the specifications process will also help that because it will give them a chance to discuss business issues with technology solutions inside a safe IPR framework. 

Barbara Lange:             18:35               Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bruce Devlin:               18:35               That will allow them to discover is this really a specification at all or is this a standard or is this just a problem that has no solution. I think that's key.

Barbara Lange:             18:44               I think it's actually classic place where SMPTE ought to be. After 102 years, they've always been times of chaos. We are living through one of those times again, and I think people turn to an organization like SMPTE to help clarify those questions and where the experts can come together and convene and discuss these topics. So I actually think that it's the more chaos, the better for an organization like SMPTE. 

Bruce Devlin:               19:14               I'm very glad you didn't say we had all the answers. I think the best we can promise is we can help all the users ask better questions. 

Barbara Lange:             19:21               And you used a good word, a safe environment where these conversations can happen. That's collectively the only way we're going to solve some of these problems together. 

Aimée Ricca:                19:33               Thomas, do you have anything to say in summary about being on board with SMPTE? 

Thomas Bause Mason:   19:39               Well, I mean, I was joking with my wife. It's really the Valhalla of standards, develop media standards development. So if you want to be at the heart of it, SMPTE's the place. I would say what attracted me to SMPTE is a very, I want to say a family atmosphere, right? So it's a very different to a corporate environment, actually quite fun, right? So that was one of the attraction. I think the other point is maybe getting SMPTE or the perception of SMPTE right that SMPTE is a global standards organization. So being involved in really an international organization working in across the world and having meetings across the world is very fascinating and very attractive. 

Barbara Lange:             20:33               We're super happy to have you, Thomas. I think I can't speak for Bruce, but I'm sure he would agree that we're really glad to have you on board. We look forward to you making a real impact.

Thomas Bause Mason:   20:46               I hope so. Yeah.

Bruce Devlin:               20:47               I'm elated we've formed a good team in the past, you and I, Thomas. I'm hoping we'll continue that partnership. 

Thomas Bause Mason:   20:52               Then we close with software rules. 

Aimée Ricca:                20:57               Well, thank you all for joining us today. We really appreciate you taking the time from the busy NAB show, the very busy NAB show, and coming down to chat with us.

Barbara Lange:             21:07               Thank you, Aimee. 

Bruce Devlin:               21:08               Thank you.

Thomas Bause Mason:   21:08               Thank you.