WBW: Last Year’s NAB Show Review

I went to Las Vegas for the First Time to Learn Insanity – the Backwards Way to Broadcasting!

By Steven Clickford (@Sclickfo | @steven.clickford)


Just less than a year ago to the day, after one of the best days of his life, not because of drones, 4K video or some other “shiny” object; but experiencing so much I wished I had done this earlier.

So in this post, I’ll summarize the technological discussions in the seminars at the NAB Show, taken place at the Las Vegas Convention Center, the third largest in the world behind two in California. Makes Hartford look like doll house! Doing quick math it’s nearly 15 times the size, and some shows I went to Connecticut was only to tradeshow floors long, while the other few were not used. So yeah it was huge. But everything west of the Eastern Time Zone is large.

This tagline to this year’s Vegas show was “The MET Effect – Media Entertainment and Technology”. While this is important in this age of “change” according to many throughout the show, the concern I had even going there was how changes could have unintended consequences. The Saturday shows were not traditional sitdowns, but small groups congregating in one large conference room.  The first one I attended was using was Implementation of A Multi Vendor, Standards Based, All IP Production Control System. In plain English this means converting control room equipment from hard-wired to an Internet Protocol based system. Instead of traditional broadcast routing and switching, it’s away from those coax cables to patch panels and something you see in data centers to plug in to wireless base stations and desktop and laptop computers. While this may seem cool, the problem is if a router isn’t properly setup and improper use of security and reliability, the production could go into hell in a handbasket almost immediately. Some of my “dumb” questions were to be set up to challenge the speaker to remind the people about the importance of stability in a network.

So I went to about 3 different speakers in this one seminar, the first guy was a integrator for a New Hampshire based company that helped Vice go from their web only to do a nightly broadcast on HBO from their hipster Brooklyn facility

On Sunday, the first seminar I went to was The Effects of Bit Rate Reduction on Acoustic Watermarks for Ratings Systems. An engineer from Boston’s Greater Media spoke about using various monitoring technologies, building basic programs to record programming off the air to see if the waveforms were responding properly to spit out very low bits of data for the Portable People Meters. Originally invented by Arbitron, later bought by Nielsen, Arbitrons’s PPM enables listening families to take a pager sized device wherever they go and the device listens to very specific audio energy (the “watermark”) to detect they are listening to the proper station to then report to Nielsen, etc. Greater Media wanted to be sure that the technology was being used effectively.

They did various tests, such as using uncompressed cuts of Adele’s Hello and some hip hop music on 96.9, and country music on 102.5, and some rock music on WROR, and for the most part despite songs having bipolar like melodies across their various stations the concept of the “watermarks” worked for the most part. Their HD Radio feed had no concern.


Getting Catfished by a “Catfish”

However most of the NAB Show seminiars on engineering and technology was a like attending a cult. The next speaker that followed was a guy who was preaching Virtualization in Radio. He started talking about how radio managers wanted to go to the cloud but were always denied due to the technical limitations. He started showing a slide of all the racks that it takes to build a radio station

One of the first slides was showing a briefcase and what it contained 20 something years ago “containing crap” and the next slide showed an iPhone, featuring apps that was once “contained crap” and mapped out that same crap used to be physical in the old briefcase analogy. The idea is to turn a “modern studio” that’s “crowded”, using “boxes with specific applications” to a simple “modern” devices, soft controlled over IP.

Whatever…

The man who then spoke was  guy nicknamed “Catfish”. He preached on applications, the commercial off the shelf computer server companies, referring them to “different companies.” I thought this was really around the fringe viewpoints: “How does AWS stay up? COTS”. I didn’t think Amazon’s Web Services generic hardware would stay up. In fact cheap Chinese made hardware with generic fans, BIOS, etc I would think would hurt reliability.

A German dude was asking a blanketed question “Can we use software to use a living room as a radio studio?”

These generic, IT types who use hypothetical examples is yet another dangerous sign of the standards for technology related to broadcasting. It borders on unethical. I’m sorry but a pajama boy being in his living room to be taken seriously in radio you’ve got to be flipping me!

So how do you control these things? Via a web browser! So I guess you’ll need some PC to access. This guy with broken English stated this idea is “the beauty of technology”. COMPLETELY withholding the phrase  that it’s the software that should be the beauty. Apparently technology is software in this dude’s mind. Stating the technology was cool, and he thinks it should be embraced. You gave these choices, let the tech dictate what you want.

Oooookkkk. Can you see all the WRONG things these IT-centric, generic approaches to specific needs?

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