NAB 2023 Impressions – Making Integration Work

Maarten Verwaest
April 21, 2023

We attended this year’s NAB Show in Las Vegas, the first since 2019. Happily surprised to see that things have returned to normal, as we joined 65,000 friends in the industry to wander through the recently expanded Las Vegas Convention Center. The addition of West Hall and the closing of South Hall for renovations have led to a reshuffling of booth locations.

Insights shared by the DPP (the Digital Production Partnership) and IABM (the International Association of Broadcast Manufacturers) suggest that the industry is ready to put the pandemic in the rear-view mirror, and to take advantage of some of the new and emerging technologies to reach more consumers on more screens.

As usual, the challenge is to separate the bling (like generative AI) from the real stuff creators, producers, studios, networks and streamers want and need. Technology providers, especially BigTech, urgently need to create clarity in economics and sustainability metrics. There are huge opportunities for vendors and broadcasters to co-create roadmaps, remove roadblocks to workflow automation, provide better business intelligence, and improve asset search and retrieval. But to bring this to fruition, the tech community – sellers and buyers – must make sure integration works.

As part of this 2023 NAB review, we discuss different integration approaches, as a whole being incredibly more complex and subtle than the cliché “make or buy”. First, we review the drivers of change (why), the things you as a media organisation might expect (what), before we discuss the different options of how to bring change and innovation to a success (how).

Take Aways

  • Streaming is not in decline. Streaming as we knew it is being replaced by a plethora of new distribution windows (SVOD, FAST channels,…)
  • Emerging concerns about the costs incurred by cloud computing stimulates producers to look for alternatives and hybrid storage solutions in particular
  • Generative AI was probably the most prominent talk of the town, but the real game changer is virtual production
  • Non-generative AI has become a commodity (offered free of charge as part of Adobe Premiere and Davinci Resolve), giving creators superpowers and seriously disrupting the closed captioning and localisation markets
  • To reap the benefits of innovation and to reliably automate production and distribution processes, the Media Tech community (vendors and customers!) need to make sure integration works. There is a variety of integration approaches from vertical integration to open source. To be successful, it is key to align your integration strategy with your objectives, your resources and your risk profile.

NAB show is where innovation comes to life. Is your company looking to discover novel approaches and innovative technologies that are the envy of its competitors? Are you an innovator? Have you discovered new ways to organise, lead, coordinate, or motivate change?

Does it matter? It does. Innovation in MediaTech and process automation in particular have the potential to create a long-lasting advantage and produce dramatic shifts in competitive position. Over the past 100 years, technology innovation, more than any other kind of innovation, has allowed producers and broadcasters to bring better stories. Yet, strangely enough, few companies have a well-honed process for continuous technology innovation. To do so, businesses need to adapt and learn to evolve from a big bang to a more agile approach, less super-sized RfP procedures and more proof of concepts, shorter deployment cycles. Media companies – suppliers and customers alike – need more agile products and services.

Why is technology innovation so vital? What makes it different from other kinds of innovation? How can you and your company become blue-ribbon technology innovators? Let’s start with the why.

So why is Technology Innovation vital for the success for you as a Producer?

In an earlier NAB review, Aditi Pandey (Tech & change leader at NRK) suggested that the streaming business is slowing down. We agree to a certain extent. It is true that, while SVOD services were very successful during lockdowns, streaming service providers are experiencing “subscriber fatigue”. Yet viewers have not disappeared: they are rapidly moving to AVOD and FAST channels. According to NAB, the FAST channel business in the US has doubled from 2021 to 2023, and is predicted to top $12bn in 2027.

Here is how Evan Shapiro described FAST channels earlier on

“Like earlier TV stations, FAST channels are linear – stuff is on, and then it’s over (although one of the secrets of the successful FAST operators is that they heavily rely on AVOD). Like the early days of cable TV, everyone seems to be launching channels. Unlike cable, however, FAST channels have few barriers to entry, requiring little start-up costs aside from the acquisition of content. Like early Cable TV, new distribution platforms for FAST are opening rapidly, and many are walled gardens, catering to individual cohorts.

Unlike cable, satellite and telco platforms, there are no affiliate fees to underpin the business model. Instead, publishers rely on advertising, which they are required to share substantially with their distributors. FAST channels are often hyper-niche programmers, using repurposed, licensed, and non-exclusive content, running on loops, to fill out their 24 schedules. Few individual FAST channels have substantial viewership; rather the platforms that aggregate FASTs are attracting sampling, among curious audiences, browsing the offerings.”

Besides the complexity of the production and distribution landscape, although indirectly linked with it, is an increasing concern about sustainability. The explosion of cloud-based services (production and distribution alike) requires excessive transcodes, exports and copies. This not only takes a lot of non-productive time; it is a source of errors, it inflates the environmental footprint and it hampers security. If you care about environmental liability and security, you should challenge your suppliers and strive for a more integrated approach.

What the next wave of media tech innovation is likely to be – the Integrated Workspace

The bottom line is that, for you as a producer, it is becoming increasingly complex and expensive to reach your audience. You compete with an ever-growing offering of existing content, high-budget and niche. To be successful, you have to make your stories available via hundreds of distribution channels. It is not feasible using conventional methods (by remastering the content in the edit suite) so we will see a growing of companies competing in the delivery and digital servicing space; localisation is imperative, an area where AI subtitling has reached a decent level of maturity; search and recommendation engine optimisation are critical, so control over meaningful metadata is key.

Given that the volumes of available material as well as the number of output formats are going up, and that at the same time turnaround times need to go down, producers have to look for more scalable and flexible ways to store, manage and edit video.

Producers rely on Limecraft, for its integrated workspace approach that helps them coping with the complexities of the current video market

Hybrid Cloud

It is true that, compared to running all your hard-and software on-premise, cloud production may offer significant advantages in terms of collaboration and flexibility. However, it often comes at the expense of sustainability and cost. Therefore successful producers and post facilities are looking to combine the best of both worlds: a hybrid storage architecture that allows you to store and process on-premise for reasons of performance or cost, made available through a cloud-based workspace. This boils down to an integration problem as you need to make sure the cloud provider seamlessly integrates with your vendor of local storage and hardware.

💡A great example of a hybrid storage deployment is the case of Hotel Hungaria. For their high-end docu wildlife production, they deployed a combination of cold storage managed by Archiware and Scale Logic near line storage made accessible through Limecraft. The case will be discussed in this Webinar.

Useful AI

Another important aspect is the use of AI. Not generative AI as we know it, which is the new kid in town (everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to use it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it so everyone claims they are doing it too). We refer to about solid and reliable methods and tools to index video for the sake of efficient search and retrieval, allowing more efficient (re)use of content, assisting editorial decisions, as well as automated subtitling and localisation. Technology that helps producers to bring better stories, not make them redundant.

Great examples are automatic speech recognition (ASR) services embedded by Adobe Premiere and by Blackmagic in Davinci Resolve free of charge. Rather than asking the user to copy and paste between a text-to-speech application and the editor, the technology has become seamlessly integrated into the workspace.

Virtual studios

Somewhat 50% of the booths at the NAB 2023 were talking about being part of the Virtual Production scene directly or indirectly. More needs to happen so that these experiences can be democratised enough for adoption in the media production scene, in particular mastering the flow of metadata. Virtual production using (real-time) gaming engines for volumetric productions is no longer a bleeding edge. The end result is less fixing in post. Traditional studios are quickly adopting XR within their sets and production, opening opportunities for parallel ads (different content can be inserted, increasing the value of ads for distinctive markets).

How to make Integration work?

In earlier days, when considering technology innovation, technology users would ask themselves whether to make or buy technology. By installing software at the core of their businesses, we know that many post-production facilities and broadcasters created beautiful custom-built architectures.

Sometimes, often after realising the cost of maintaining and updating software is substantial, makers become buyers, etc. But to understand the real opportunities and threads of integration, we have to step go beyond the simplified “make or buy” decision model. Depending on your operational and financial resources, the complexity of your requirements, and the implementation risk you are willing to take, you can opt for one of the following integration strategies or any combination thereof.

Overview of integration approaches, including vertical integration, the wholesale or aggregation model, alliances-based integration and open source. As a technology buyer, you need to align the integration strategy with your objectives, budget and other resources, and risk profile


Vertical Integration

In case your requirements are easy to articulate and nicely match those of one of your preferred vertically integrated suppliers, you can partner with a single vendor. Great examples of vertically integrated suppliers are Blackmagic and Adobe. For years, many have thought the acquisition of DaVinci back in 2007 was one of CEO Grant Perry’s dumbest moves of all time. As of this year, they have integrated AI services at the core of Davinci Resolve. No more copy and paste. Adobe is making similar moves, after acquiring and integrating in 2021.

The disadvantage? Your requirements may change over time, due to which you will need to look for another vendor, or at least to look for further integration with other vendors.

Open Source

Since the advent of digital workflows, film and television production has been dominated by proprietary software solutions — often as a spin-off of countless hours of costly in-house development or R&D undertaken by studios and VFX houses. But with the ability to access and customise the source code, open source software has proven to be a cost-effective and flexible solution for filmmakers at every stage of the production process from pre-visualization and storyboarding to compositing and visual effects.

Possibly the best-known example is FFmpeg, a free and open-source software project that provides a collection of libraries and programs for handling multimedia data. It allows users to record, convert, and stream audio and video in various formats. It is used by a raft of vendors, including Limecraft, although not all mediatech vendors are transparent about their underlying stack. FFmpeg supports a wide range of multimedia formats and protocols, including video formats such as MPEG, AVI, and WMV, and audio formats such as MP3, AAC, and FLAC. It can also be used for basic editing tasks like cutting, joining, and resizing videos, as well as adding filters and effects.

Open-source solutions are great for solving common problems. We wouldn’t be surprised of the challenge of live subtitling will eventually be cracked by buyers and sellers in this area. Think of France Télévisions that unveiled a prototype at SATIS last year, and Motion Spell that distributes open source licenses for packaging live subtitles.

Integration by Aggregation – the Wholesale Model

In case a single vendor solution (vertical integration) doesn’t suit your needs, you can partner with a wholesale provider. If it is important for you to have a single point of contact, to outsource the reliability, the security context, you can outsource the integration problem to a third-party integrator. The wholesale provider usually presents itself in the form of a marketplace (e.g. Amazon).

While the aggregated offering may seem slightly more functional and scalable at first sight, care needs to be taken for next-level vendor management, so that you are not restricted to the solution space made available by the marketplace or the integrator. In either case, the wholesale model comes at a significantly higher cost, as the reseller has to earn a decent margin on the individual components they are making available.

Integration through Alliances – the Co-creation Model

A more modern approach, albeit only feasible if the technology buyer or user has a broad and deep understanding of their current and future requirements as well as the capabilities of the technology, is to engage with a dynamic ecosystem of suppliers that operate on equal footing. As partnering suppliers are treated independently, they can be more easily replaced. Your architecture becomes more agile and future-proof, and you will always realise the best value for money.

Great examples of integration through alliances are the integration platforms offered by Qibb or SonyCI, or how Limecraft is embedded in Ooona, or using a panel in Adobe.

Interestingly, we learned that Avid, formerly known as vertically integrated, opened its tech stack for third parties. Adobe Premiere can now be used as a client of Mediacentral UX, and companies like Woody Technologies and Limecraft nicely interact with Avid, thereby creating a lot of value for the end user.