May 13, 2024 by Romain Bouqueau

NAB Show 2024 Review: A Glimpse into the Future of Broadcasting

It was great to be in Las Vegas, seeing colleagues, reviewing all the developments and meeting new people face to face at the show. I greatly enjoyed the camaraderie of representing GPAC and holding the torch for open source with friends and colleagues on the FFmpeg stand.

At the heart of this year’s NAB Show were groundbreaking developments in technology and shifting industry paradigms that are setting new standards.

Here's a closer look at my key takeaways from the NAB Show 2024.

The Rise of 8K60 Real-Time Encoding

One of the things that stood out was seeing for the first time the commoditized adoption of hardware-accelerated 8K60 real-time encoding, facilitated by technological advancements from companies like NETINT and AMD. Interestingly these companies deploy through open-source software interfaces to facilitate integration.

By leveraging these advancements, both companies have made it feasible and more cost-effective for broadcasters to produce and deliver ultra-high-definition content at 60 frames per second, particularly enhancing live sports broadcasts and immersive VR experiences, and offering viewers unparalleled visual fidelity and fluidity.

Software Revolution with SMPTE 2110

Another significant development was seeing SMPTE 2110 as a viable software implementation.

The successful deployment of SMPTE 2110 software on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware underscored a remarkable evolution towards more cost-effective and flexible broadcasting infrastructures. This transition to standard hardware, once deemed infeasible due to the stringent timing requirements associated with Precision Time Protocol (PTP), highlights significant advancements in the industry’s approach to media delivery over IP networks. Pioneered by companies like Cisco and Open Broadcast Systems in previous years, this year’s event showcased broader demonstrations of SMPTE 2110 capabilities, with Cisco also highlighting developments in open-source software (OSS).

Historically, primary barriers to the adoption of SMPTE 2110 and other IP-based technologies were the associated cost considerations, technical considerations (particularly clock accuracy constraints) and workforce dynamics. Transitioning from traditional SDI-based infrastructure to IP networks necessitated both new hardware and software, which could be prohibitively expensive. However, as the technology has matured and standards have become more widely adopted, these costs have decreased, making IP-based solutions a more viable option for many broadcasters.

Moreover, the shift from SDI to IP has significantly altered the workforce landscape within the broadcast industry. Traditionally, broadcast engineers were highly specialized in SDI and other niche broadcast technologies. With the move to IP, the pool of available engineering talent has broadened considerably. IP skills are more common and transferable from other IT and tech industries, easing staffing challenges and reducing costs associated with hiring and training specialized personnel. This transition supports a more sustainable and adaptable industry, ready to tackle current and future challenges with a more versatile workforce.

This evolution is not only a step towards embracing IP but also showcases the practical viability of Software Defined Networking (SDN) in real-world broadcast applications. As the industry continues to evolve, the integration of SMPTE 2110 within IP-based workflows promises to enhance the agility and efficiency of broadcasting operations, ensuring they remain competitive in a rapidly changing technological landscape.

AI: Trendy Yet Challenging

While artificial intelligence continued to be a trendy topic, this year’s show revealed the complexities of finding novel and meaningful applications within the broadcast industry.

Some of the showcased technologies included automated video editing tools, AI-driven metadata tagging, and predictive analytics for analyzing audience engagement. However, all of these tools have been around for years, though perhaps the industry is more receptive to AI-driven tools these days. I’d add that the advancement of open-source solutions have laid the groundwork for a technology layer that is both accessible and adaptable.

Despite these advancements, the show also highlighted areas notable gaps and challenges where AI has not yet made a significant impact, underscoring the complexities of deploying AI in creative and unpredictable environments. These include creative decision making, real-time interpretation, subtitling and manipulation of production parameters as events and viewer reactions unfold. Few solutions adequately addressed the growing concerns around data privacy and the ethical use of AI, especially in terms of bias in algorithmic decision-making and viewer data usage. Streaming consultant Jan Ozer, in his 2024 Streaming Summit talk, Beyond the Hype: A Critical Look at aI in Video Streaming sums up AI’s role in future video technologies very well.

The challenge now lies not in harnessing AI technology, but in identifying opportunities where it can truly enhance efficiency and creativity.

Strategic Cost Optimization

Perhaps the most overarching focus at this year's NAB Show was on achieving cost efficiency while maintaining high-quality broadcast and streaming services. The time of consumer acquisition at all cost has definitely come to an end. Innovations in targeted advertising, data control, customer analytics, and open-source have become central to this effort, allowing broadcasters to maximize revenue and minimize waste.

For example, targeted advertising was a trend. It has the potential to be revolutionized by AI-driven platforms that can analyze viewer data in real-time, enabling advertisers to deliver ads to the most relevant audiences and at optimal times. Combined with A/B testing capabilities and mature analytics to avoid churn, it’s possible to enhance viewer engagement and ad effectiveness. Data control, too, has seen advancements through tools that provide more granular insights into content consumption patterns, allowing broadcasters to tailor their content more precisely to audience preferences.

The Elephant in the Room

Particularly noteworthy were the discussions on the show floor that tiptoed around the “elephant in the room", meaning AWS. These conversations not only highlighted the need for a shift towards more cost-effective cloud solutions, but also underscored the industry's movement towards decentralized cloud architectures. Companies are exploring alternatives such as multi-access edge computing (MEC), which brings computation and data storage closer to the location where it is needed, minimizing latency and reducing the bandwidth used for technologies like real-time analytics and localized content caching.

Furthermore, the adoption of hybrid cloud environments was a recurring theme, where broadcasters are integrating public cloud services with private clouds and on-premise data centers to create a more balanced, scalable, and cost-efficient infrastructure. This approach allows them to leverage the scalability of public clouds for peak demand periods while maintaining sensitive operations securely on-premise or in a private cloud.

These technological shifts are not just about reducing costs but also about enhancing flexibility, efficiency, and the capability to rapidly adapt to changing market dynamics or viewer demands.However, some cloud vendors create closed ecosystems with implicit lock-ins, which keeps prices high.

Industry Focus: A Double-Edged Sword

Yet, this focus might be too narrow. Addressing broader consumer needs and market trends are crucial for keeping the industry aligned with its audience. For example, ongoing issues with piracy underscore again the necessity for a balanced approach that considers both industry and user perspectives. It would be good to imagine that future sessions might address not only how to combat piracy technically but also how to tackle the root causes, such as the market demand for accessible content, driven by pricing and availability.

We need much more discussion on topics that directly affect consumer experiences, such as evolving content consumption behaviors, integration of user feedback into media production, or strategies that address increasing concerns around digital privacy and data security.

What I like with the GPAC open-source community (a project I maintain) is that we are user-driven! Addressing these areas could help balance the highly technical focus, ensuring that the industry remains responsive not only to its own operational needs but also to the expectations and rights of its audience.

Low Code/No Code: Unmet Expectations

I had quite high expectations on low code/no code solutions. However discussions on this showed there was nothing significant to solve the current industry issues.

Expectations were high for low code/no code solutions to streamline operations and reduce dependency on specialized technical skills. The democratizing low code/no code approach is meant to appeal especially to users without deep technical backgrounds in order to accelerate the deployment of new media services by minimizing the coding required, for example with drag and drop interfaces.

Despite these advancements, discussions and demos at the NAB Show highlighted a gap between expectations and reality. These systems showed some apparently high usability with nice UIs. However the maturity of such systems was insufficient and the customization to each business-case was somewhat difficult to understand.

On the contrary modular “store” approaches like Qibb seem to get traction from the industry (maybe not for the reason they initially envisioned). Anyway more openness would probably allow a faster convergence. To conclude, I would say that the solution lies in building a community (of users, customers, devs, etc), which is a hard problem that requires significant awareness and effort.

Conclusion

If I could choose only one keyword to sum up the 2024 NAB Show, it would be “commodity”. If there were two,I would add “increasing complexity”.

A decade ago, we had an era of remarkable stability in our industry with established codecs (AVC/AAC), ingest protocols (RTMP), and streaming formats (MPEG-TS, HLS). This period was followed by shifts driven by economic factors, the burgeoning interest in video by Tech Giants, and the democratization of video content production, which collectively reshaped the industry landscape.

The Covid-19 pandemic tested the industry’s scalability to unprecedented limits. It was a critical moment where industry leaders posited that if potential customers did not subscribe during the lockdowns, with more time at home and access to affordable bundles, they likely never would. This period accelerated various technological adoptions and innovations.

The technological visions set around 2014 have largely come to fruition by 2024: advancements such as DASH, CMAF, CENC, HEVC, and UHD have matured, and this year marked significant milestones with the commoditization of 8K60, FAST, and SMPTE-2110.

As we look forward, the industry faces a landscape marked by more acronyms, greater complexity, and increased demands on network and computational resources. The cloud and AI are set to dominate the coming decade, promising many new innovations.

Coming back to “commodity”, in this evolving scenario, the undeniable victor is open-source technology. Open-source has proven to be not just a tool, but the foundational framework upon which increasingly complex systems are being built, underscoring its critical role in shaping the future of our industry.

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