The 2018 NAB Show and Contemplations on the Future of Video

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By Michael Inouye | 2Q 2018 | IN-5131

As with most shows such as NAB’s (National Association of Broadcasters), attendees have the opportunity to get a pulse on the industry today and to observe where individuals and companies believe the industry is moving to in the coming years. In this regard NAB 2018 didn’t disappoint. Thematically, the show doesn’t always overtly “advertise” what’s hot and new as happens at other shows, such as CES. The foundational pieces typically take precedence, and transitions like UHD/HDR/4K (or migration to IP, virtualization, growth of over the top [OTT], dynamic ad insertion, etc.) often serve as the main highlights. The rise of new services (particularly live OTT), however, did place strong interest around low latency (along with packaging and compression).

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The 2018 NAB Show: Where Are We Today and in the Near Future?

NEWS


As with most shows such as NAB’s (National Association of Broadcasters), attendees have the opportunity to get a pulse on the industry today and to observe where individuals and companies believe the industry is moving to in the coming years. In this regard NAB 2018 didn’t disappoint. Thematically, the show doesn’t always overtly “advertise” what’s hot and new as happens at other shows, such as CES. The foundational pieces typically take precedence, and transitions like UHD/HDR/4K (or migration to IP, virtualization, growth of over the top [OTT], dynamic ad insertion, etc.) often serve as the main highlights. The rise of new services (particularly live OTT), however, did place strong interest around low latency (along with packaging and compression).

In a previous Executive Foresight, we discussed how the pay TV landscape has changed and must include OTT along with more traditional services. Viewers today are presented with a growing breadth of content options and services, and this is pushing value chain players both to improve services (to better match traditional pay TV channels) and to innovate whenever and wherever possible. Matching the quality of experience (QoE) in more conventional services is critical since these OTT services often do not hold a tremendous cost advantage over cable, satellite, and Telco TV when compared to equitable content packages. Customers who have cut the cord with these services also carry these expectations with them from their former premium subscriptions. The near ubiquity of social media has also made low latency (which, in most cases, is “broadcast latency” at 5–7 seconds or at minimum under 10 seconds) a hot topic.

For most applications, broadcast latency is adequate, with ultra-low latency (1 second or less even) finding some interest among specific use cases (e.g., betting/gambling, auctions, etc.). The common use of HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) puts most latency within the 20–40 second range, which means that driving down to broadcast latency typically requires cutting the HLS chunks into shorter slices. Ultimately the market will likely settle on Common Media Application Format (CMAF) to help reduce complexity and bring some coalescence around a common packaging (something DASH hasn’t been able to do). On the compression front, AV1 generated some interest, but it is still early days and viewpoints vary quite considerably, although the strong backing does engender more optimism than VP9.

For topics on the near future, Artificial Intelligence Markup Language (AI/ML) was often raised and continues to generate interest, but like the early days of the Internet of Things (IoT) there are quite a few who still question what this technology actually means to the market. ABI Research wrote a report prior to NAB on the topic (link here) and conversations at the show reflected many of the same findings:

  • AI is being used to review video and generate metadata (in addition to cataloging and identifying content)
  • AI/ML is automating workflows (Pixellot even showed automatic sports production) and video processing
  • AI/ML is matching ads to users for dynamic ad insertion

What lies further ahead for video?

What about 360 Video/VR?

IMPACT


Conspicuously missing from the NAB discussion was Virtual Reality (VR), and that is because 360 video had very little presence at the show. There were a handful of 180/360 camera companies (Samsung’s professional camera was notable among the usual players), a small pavilion for game developers (which seemed out of place at NAB), and, save for a few demos here and there, not much else. While the 2017 show had considerably more VR (to some it was nearly the biggest topic at the show), conversations at the 2018 show greatly reflected the reduced VR presence. Contrasted to CES, which offers a more generalized look at VR, the NAB Show brought plenty of VR comparisons to 3D video. There were companies who still view 360 and VR with optimism but acknowledge that it’s a longer-term horizon investment.

The lack of interest from companies (and their customers) within the value chain certainly painted a negative sentiment regarding VR overall at the show, but we’re still talking about the nearer term, and companies like Dell, citing continued strong interest from the enterprise and commercial space, showed continued enthusiasm for VR via their updated workstation laptops and fixed platforms. Unlike 3D, VR still has staying power, but like Augmented Reality (AR) it will need the enterprise and commercial space to help it through this trough in consumer interest.

Personalization is another area where companies are looking to create additional value. For example, Nuance is working to help bridge the divide between voice control offered by service providers and the now popular virtual assistants used by consumers every day (e.g., Alexa, Siri, Cortana, Google). One way this could be accomplished is handing off certain requests to third-party services (like Alexa) when the user requests something more appropriate for that application (e.g., wanting to purchase a good) and then taking over again when it falls within its core functionality. Alternatively the user could simply ask the service provider’s virtual assistant to have Alexa order them something online. Voice can also be used for authentication and profiles. At CES 2018 some companies raised the potential of using facial recognition to switch to user profiles, but voice avoids some of the pitfalls associated with cameras like privacy and, ostensibly, the twin problem (which could also happen with a close relative with very similar facial features). Profiles and thus past purchases could also help with targeted advertising along with a better understanding of which products consumers are interested in.

A Lot Can Happen in the Next 5+ Years

RECOMMENDATIONS


The 2018 NAB Show, viewed in a vacuum, might cause some companies to write off 360 video and VR—some have even commented that “VR is just like 3D.” This stance, if viewed as an absolute, however, would be misguided. Even if we look beyond the successes in enterprise, VR is still getting attention at other trade shows—just not at NAB or CES. Instead, we will have to look more at the creative shows (e.g., SXSW, Tribeca Sundance Film Festival, etc.), where we will see a much more vibrant set of ideas, in order to more readily envision what a potential future may bring.

Many VR experiences are perhaps better suited to a location-based VR establishment than in the home, but physical props and locations (and actors) create the most immersive experience possible. This parallels the successes seen in the location-based VR and VR arcades segment, and it ties into Oculus’s recent announcement around immersive VR theater. The company is hoping to emulate the popular immersive theater which would allow greater engagement with the set and cast as well as the audience. VR would simply virtualize the experience and potentially bring these experiences to the home. Live actors will still be part of the experience and, assuming Facebook can reduce issues around the Internet’s anonymity, it could avoid some of the issues other social VR experiences have experienced to date. This is, of course, one such example of where VR could go in the home, but it also presents new opportunities for service providers as well. If virtual productions become popular then service providers could sell tickets to these events just as they do with Pay-Per-View (PPV) or Video on Demand (VOD). The only difference is that this type of production would be more varied and likely occur with more regularity (at least at higher volumes).

Service providers are already opening their doors to OTT services, and they could soon find opportunity as an aggregator and hub within the home at large. Voice could become the user interface (UI) whereby users can seamlessly navigate their smart home, program their cloud DVR, and share content. The service provider is in a prime position to serve as this central hub, particularly as more users shift their viewing back to the TV. Further evidence suggests more video viewing is moving to connected TVs rather than to mobile devices in the home.

We also have to consider other modalities of consuming video—in other words, technological devices other than mobile devices, TVs, and computers. Nokia at NAB 2018 presented a glimpse of what they believe the video space could look like in 2025, and in this vision the screen could be anywhere. From tables to windows to mirrors, any surface could be a screen, presenting a significantly higher number of touch points and ways to display content. A bay of windows, for example, could serve 180 video viewing experiences for high immersion. While ABI Research views this particular application as further out than 2025 for mainstream audiences (at least looking outside the very affluent segment), it does speak to the potential for technologies such as Mixed Reality (MR) or Extended Reality (XR), which could easily overlay a virtual screen on any of these services without having to invest in actual physical displays throughout the house. This brings us to our last point and perhaps the strongest reason to keep VR and 360 video in the back of your mind (and not removed from your collective memory)—and we can say it in one word: Apple.

If recent rumors are to be believed, Apple is indeed working on an AR device, but now it’s reportedly a XR device, which includes applications for VR. Apple has historically said it views AR as the best market opportunity, but the inclusion of VR within its upcoming dedicated XR device is telling. There are few other areas for video to truly innovate—increased resolution, brightness/contrast, etc. is nice, but it is hardly revolutionary. The video industry has plenty of evolutionary steps to take and many paths to follow, but companies operating within the value chain need to keep their senses open to new avenues and market potential—even those that appear to be leading to a dead end. Sometimes you have to stray from the path or break down walls to discover the best opportunities.