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NAB2017 Media Entertainment and Technology

During the 94th edition of the world’s largest broadcast and audiovisual technology fair, I had the opportunity –along with more than 104,000 other visitors– to experience the leading global brands’ latest technological developments, which in turn dictate the evolution of the world of content creators, distributors, and, ultimately, end consumers. Below, I’ve included my reflections and the most relevant information I gathered.

The (not such an) Idiot Box and Big Data

TV as we traditionally know it continues to evolve from a mere “display” to a smart interface in order to compete with the richest OTT (Over The Top: content transmitted via Internet) experiences. Users are demanding that their content be accessible on all the different platforms and “recognize” them. What does that mean? If they’ve stopped watching a series in a particular place, they expect to be able to resume watching it on their smartphone, tablet, or TV and want that device to make recommendations based on their interests. That means that sooner or later the content users consume on their PCs, tablets, and smartphones will need to be brought to traditional television. Perhaps that’s too much to ask of the “idiot box,” but companies like Kaltura are working on a TV that is more intelligent, flexible, and attractive for both users and advertisers alike.

For the latter, the challenge is how to deliver a marketing message (traditional or otherwise) when the user is either not watching TV or is viewing content on Netflix, which has no advertising. Cookies, geolocation, likes, check-ins... all of this information is combined so advertisers can reach an increasingly complex ecosystem.

A time is coming when, for example, a person who stopped to eat at a fast-food place returns to his device to view content and ... guess what ad he’ll see. One from that same restaurant. Or more shocking still, the content will adapt itself to a particular category of consumer. A Lexus commercial would almost certainly be of little interest to a young boy watching television, but one of a toy would: the TV will be able to adapt the advertising to that particular consumer.

4k as Standard

In terms of resolution, Full HD already appears to be a thing of the past. 8K Super Hi-Vision is now on the way, leaving 4K Ultra HD behind as an almost transitional format (similar to what happened to the HDV 720).

Japan continues to make giant strides ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, which will be recorded and broadcast in 8K. This is a format with a resolution of 7680 x 4320 pixels, or 16 times the resolution of what we know as high definition (HD). Little by little, 8K cameras and monitors are starting to appear, heaping further significant economic pressure on the already battered TV industry. I had the opportunity to see some demonstrations on an 8K OLED screen and on a cinema projector screen, and I can say there is no comparison between the level of detail in those images and that of a HD screen; it’s really impressive.
Starting next year, Japan’s NHK television network will begin 8K satellite broadcasts as part of its preparations for the 2020 Olympics. This incredible resolution will surely push TV manufacturers to make more affordable 4K displays in the very short term in order to pave the way for higher at-home resolution and perhaps some “early adopters” of 8K.

New Players

Who would have imagined a few years ago that we would be seeing companies like Facebook and Google playing a lead role in the National Association of Broadcasters? This is proof of the democratization of content distribution. Facebook Live is the new mass market livestreaming platform, and everyone is adapting to that new reality, especially producers and developers of publishing technologies. Teradek, Livestream, LiveU and others offer direct transmission to Facebook from their hardware and software platforms, allowing users to broadcast professional-quality, multi-camera content without the need for even a cellphone. Facebook also enables users to livestream 360-degree video.

Google, for its part, continues to offer livestreaming in 2D and 360, but Facebook has the engagement advantage (people don’t visit YouTube to see what their friends or family members are doing, whereas they do use Facebook for that precise purpose). Google also has announced new enhancements to its Jump virtual reality platform, including new camera solutions and cloud stitching for truly impressive results.

VR for the Masses

It was clear this year that virtual reality (VR) is a new medium whose growth is real and exponential, although greater understanding, adoption, and development of the technology is needed. More manufacturers and developers have entered the arena, and progress is continuing at a dizzying pace. Just six months ago, there were technological challenges that no longer pose a difficulty, and over the next six months new technological advances will resolve other issues.
Consumer platforms also are taking hold. More and more 360 content is uploaded every day to mass consumer platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Littlstar, while others have been unable to secure the financing or growth they had expected (like VRideo). This weeding-out cycle is logical and ensures that only the biggest and/or most successful survive.
Brands and advertisers also are adopting this technology. I had the opportunity to chat with content creators working for Red Bull, Diageo, the NBA, and Coca-Cola, among others, and they told me consumers participating in VR activations had shown an extremely high level of engagement and message retention.

In terms of video capture capabilities, Nokia’s VR camera, OZO, continues to consolidate its current position as the best professional option. But for those who don’t have $45,000 to spend, Samsung Gear 360, Vuze, Orah, Theta, and ZCam are more affordable alternatives. Smartphones also can record 360 video thanks to very economical products like Insta360, which costs between $170 and $220. This will lead to a lot of 360 content being generated in 2017 and 2018.
Although virtual reality does not begin or end with a simple 360 video, affordable options serve a purpose in terms of perfecting the medium, introducing consumers to 360 content, and enticing them to purchase a GearVR, Vive, or Rift for Unity- or Unreal-based programmed experiences that are truly immersive. One thing to consider is that 90% of VR content is currently viewed on smartphones and without using HMDs (head-mounted displays). But as part of their constant evolution, consumers very soon will transition from “wanting to be there” (360 videos) to “wanting to be a part of” the story with interactive VR experiences.

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