As IBC opens its doors at the RAI Centre in Amsterdam, from September 10th to 15th, it is becoming increasingly clear that everyone in the communications industry is going to have to collaborate to turn the idea of ‘content anytime, anywhere' into a reality
For anyone who has been in the communications industry at any time in the last 30 years, the word "convergence" will be familiar. With broadband availability moving towards universality and mobile networks increasingly being regarded as data highways not just for voice, there is finally a chance that this convergence will happen.
While there will be multiple applications running over this data bandwidth, it is clear that what will drive it will be media. Audiences love the concept of being able to see the content they want, when they want it, at the time they want it, where they want it, and on the device they want.
It is not just a consumer issue. At first digital signage was simply a poster on a plasma screen. Today it is seen as a highly targeted, highly productive means of reaching audiences over what is effectively a private interactive television network. Retailers love the idea of being able to talk to potential purchasers at the instant they are making a purchasing decision - put a recipe for a chicken casserole above the chicken display in the supermarket.
So it is that telcos, mobile network operators (MNOs) and ISPs are now very much in the media business. They have the carrier infrastructure, and they have to be sure they are getting their fair share of the revenues from what will be a booming business, particularly at a time when voice arpu is falling.
On the other hand, broadcasters and production companies have the content that will be the real driver for audiences. Clearly, everyone has to collaborate to make the content anywhere become a reality.
At a time when the landscape is moving fast, it is wise to invest in knowledge; to understand what the commercial challenges are as well as the technology issues, and to see where the established players need to collaborate and where they still compete.
IBC has been an established date in the broadcaster's diary for more than 40 years; over the last decade it has become vital for telcos, MNOs and the data industry too. It is the leading event for anyone involved in content creation, management and delivery, attracting visitors from more than 130 countries.
There are multiple levels to the event. First, it is an authoritative conference, bringing experts from around the world to debate the key issues of the day.
This year the IBC conference has been reorganised into three distinct streams: technology advances; content creation and innovation; and the business of broadcasting. Each contains a series of technical papers, commercial and operational debates and masterclasses from leading creative professionals.
Most important, each crosses the boundaries between traditional broadcasting and the new creation and distribution of media. The content creation and innovation strand, for example, includes a full day on IPTV and mobile media. In addition, to counteract the inevitable concern that conference debates are always led by senior executives who may not be perfectly in touch with the consumer, a session is given over to listening to a panel of students from Japan, Russia, UK and USA talking about how they consume media and their expectations for the media of the future.
Every minute of every day, some 13 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube. Is this just vanity publishing that no one watches, or is user-generated content the future for the media industry? The answer to that question has far-reaching implications for the business and technology plans of data network operators.
Alongside the formal conference there is another opportunity for debate and exploration. There is a series of business briefings: presentations by people who have been there and done it, and share their experiences (good and bad). There are also business briefings on mobile media, for IPTV and online video, and for digital signage.
These presentations are linked to specific zones within the exhibition, again dedicated to mobile, IPTV and digital signage. The zones are an initiative to attract innovators of emerging media into the IBC community. They give exhibitors, and particularly start-up businesses, a simple and low-cost route into the exhibition, and they present visitors with a rapid overview of the latest technology in a particular field without them having to walk all around the show floor.
The full exhibition is large and comprehensive, filling the exhibition space - 11 halls - in the Amsterdam RAI Centre with around 1000 exhibitors. The layout of the exhibition is designed to make it easy for the visitor to find the solutions they need. If you are looking for the latest in communications technologies - from compression and multiplexing to set-top boxes and home hubs - then all the key players are grouped together in one area.
Equally, if your business plan requires you to move into content production or channel management, then you will find what you need in other halls. One hall includes the IBC Production Village, which combines a huge camera demonstration area and hands-on experiences of the latest equipment with a number of active presentations, including the production base for IBC TV News - the event's own on-air and online programme.
Another free presentation strand, "What caught my eye", is helpful for newcomers to a subject, but is always popular with regular visitors too. Experienced practitioners tour the exhibition looking for the latest and best in their particular fields, and in a short and lively workshop talk about what is new and exciting. It also gives tips to the audience on where to find a given highlight and the right questions to ask of the vendors.
There is a third element to IBC alongside the conference and exhibition: a whole range of offerings that add value to your time spent at the event. The business briefings, which are free to all visitors, are a good example. Others range from training opportunities to the chance to network with your peers. And most evenings there are free screenings of some fine television productions and movies in the state-of-the-art digital cinema created by IBC.
The IBC conference runs from September 10 to 14 and the exhibition from September 11 to 15, at the RAI Centre in Amsterdam. Exhibition only registration is free and includes all the added value opportunities including the business briefings, screenings and networking. There are a range of conference packages available for IBC2009: more information - and online registration - can be found at www.ibc.org.
The assumption among consumers is that video will be an integral part of any communication in future: if they can shoot something on a mobile phone and upload it to YouTube, then they will expect to be able to see it on their televisions at home too.
If you have any interest in the technology to make this happen, or the business cases that will realise a fair return on this investment, then IBC is the place to join the debate.