In conversation with Michael Crimp, CEO, IBC

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Michael Crimp

IBC CEO Michael Crimp discusses the evolution of IBC, what to expect from this year’s event, hot technological trends, the value of trade shows for the industry and the importance of non-European visitors to the show…

IBC is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. What is it doing to celebrate this occasion?

50 years is a great achievement, and of course we will be recognising it. We are producing a commemorative book, and our annual party will be particularly special this year.

IBC is also starting a new charitable venture, supporting an Amsterdam group that provides support through sport for disadvantaged and disabled children. If you want to play against former Ajax players in our Saturday night match, bid now to join the IBC All-Stars!

But the most important way we can celebrate the golden anniversary is by carrying on being the leading global forum where the real issues of the industry are discussed and new strategies developed. Back in 1967 the founders of IBC knew that to be a success the event had to have three strands: a comprehensive exhibition, a visionary conference, and the networking opportunities to share ideas.

50 years on we have a huge amount to talk about: from Ultra HD to 5G connectivity; from IP to cyber-security. And IBC is still the best place to do that.

How has IBC evolved over the past 10 years?

The simple answer is that IBC has evolved along with the industry, or rather IBC has strived to identify the key trends which will transform the industry, and ensure that we are ahead of the curve.

Looking back 10 years, digital cinema was still a work in progress: the total transition we have now seen was just beginning. We had dedicated areas focused on mobile video and digital signage, again things that we take for granted today. You can see the equivalents in IBC2017, like the IP Showcase and all the work done on interoperability.

The one area I would say that IBC has evolved significantly is that we are much more proactive in leading strategic thinking and business transformation. Five years ago we started our Leaders’ Summit, the behind-closed-doors conference for CEOs from the top broadcasters and media organisations, and it has proved hugely successful.

This year we are adding two more similar, invitation-only events, this timed aimed at CTOs. We have a day focusing on cyber-security and another looking at the potential for 5G – a great example of IBC’s ability to look ahead and help determine the media industry’s position on new opportunities.

We are also trying a new business match-making venue this year, the IBC Startup Forum. Working with Media Honeypot, we are aiming to bring startups and scale-ups together with the media companies that might want to use their talents and the investors who might back the deals.

Will IBC and annual trade shows still be relevant in another 50 years?

Yes, I firmly believe they will. Of course you will be able to research basic information online – you can do that now. We have added to the online resources available with our IBC365 year-round online presence.

But it is much harder to exchange opinions and experiences that way. Human nature dictates that we learn best from direct contact, from friendly discussions, from chance conversations.

You cannot do that online. It is why we regard the opportunity to meet old friends and new peers as one of the key parts of the IBC experience.

What are some of the most important decisions you face in your job on a daily basis?

IBC is an interesting business to head. In some ways, of course, my job as CEO is the same as the head of any other company: make sure the staff are all pulling in the same direction, the customers are happy, the finances are secure.

But IBC is unlike any other business because our focus is on spreading and sharing knowledge, and because our shareholders are our customers. IBC is organised by the industry for the industry, and at the top of our organisation is the Partnership Board which contains representatives of the six leading professional and trade bodies in the industry: IABM, IEE, IET, RTS, SCTE and SMPTE.

So, my day job revolves around the invaluable feedback we receive, from our partner bodies and from the committees which again draw upon industry knowledge. I take all that input and try to develop a strategy for the continuing development of IBC as an agile platform for industry education, ready to respond to new trends and technologies as they arise.

Why are trade shows important for the business community, and why does IBC consider itself to be at the top tier?

Trade shows are the opportunity to get hands on with technology, and to ask the awkward questions of the vendors. With the whole industry in one place, it is also the chance to bring technology partners together, to talk through the details of interactivity and interoperability.

IBC is the best place to do this because we work hard to deliver the best experience for the visitor. More than just ensuring that all the industry’s vendors are present, we lay out the show floor logically by technology. Visitors looking to compare products will find them all near each other, minimising the unproductive time walking across a vast site.

Then we add value to an exhibition visit through free events like the movie screenings and our Awards Ceremony; through presentations on stages around the exhibition and in the IBC Big Screen; and through providing enough catering facilities and informal meeting space to maximise networking.

We do all that in Amsterdam, one of the friendliest, most accessible and cosmopolitan cities in the world. IBC is welcoming to everyone, which is why last year we had visitors from around 170 countries.

What are you most excited about for IBC2017? What do you hope attendees take away from it?

To take the second half of the question first, IBC attracts around 55,000 visitors and every one of them has a different agenda. My fervent wish is that every single one finds the answers to their own particular questions.

What am I most excited about? Personally, I know I am in the right job at around 11.00 on Friday, when the exhibition halls get that first surge of visitors and the hum, the noise of business being done, begins to rise.

The charity football match on Saturday night is going to be a good event, too!

In terms of technological trends, what are you most excited about as we approach IBC2017?

It is not really my role to get excited about technological trends. Our exhibitors, our conference and events team and our committees identify where the industry is going and therefore where IBC needs to be. My role is to empower them to deliver the best possible IBC.

But I do see IBC as an important enabler for change in the industry. Last year we pulled off an incredible achievement, with our partners, in building the first IP Interoperability Zone, bringing together large numbers of different vendors to demonstrate that the next stage of the IP transition, live production, was practical and the big challenges could be resolved. That was an initiative of massive global importance.

As IBC2017 progresses, I have no doubt there will be equally ground-breaking events.

How are the attendees and companies participating in IBC changing? How are you continually growing attendance for IBC each year?

The industry is so much broader than it once was. Consumers used to watch television, because that was all that the technology could achieve. Today, they expect to choose what they want to watch, when and where they want to watch it, on the device and platform which happen to be convenient at the time.

As the industry expands, so does the IBC community. This year, for example, we have the biggest temporary structure we have ever built for an IBC, to house hall 14, dedicated to content everywhere.

How important are non-European visitors for IBC? Given that international travel can be painful, what compelling reasons should those outside the EU consider?

The ‘I’ in IBC stood for International in 1967, and we absolutely regard ourselves as the one true global event in our industry now and into the future.

Amsterdam is, in truth, a very easy place for visitors in any part of the world to reach. Its airport is a global hub, of course, but the country and the city have a centuries-old traditional of welcoming outsiders. The EU maintains an open attitude and a practical approach to visas when required, so there should be no barriers to anyone wanting to visit IBC.

And why would you not want to visit IBC? The same open and welcoming attitude to IBC visitors applies to conference speakers and exhibiting vendors. Where else would you be in September?

The IBC Innovation Awards are always a draw. Can you comment on the calibre of entries this year?

When we decided to add the IBC Innovation Awards to our programme, our aim was to reflect the real nature of the industry. While other awards give prizes to new gizmos, we wanted to reward the real-world projects, where users and technology partners got together to tackle a real challenge and come up with a solution that was much more than the sum of its parts.

It is one of my personal pleasures that this concept has worked so well that the IBC Innovation Awards are the most respected in the industry. This year we tweaked the categories slightly to reflect the changes in the industry. We are honouring the best projects in content creation, content distribution and content everywhere.

The response has been better than ever, with a huge response from all around the world. Our finalists range from a small French-language service based in Canada to Google Earth; from a new approach to transmitters in the USA to an online service in India; and from Asia’s biggest broadcaster to the Spanish national railway company.

The Awards Ceremony on Sunday night is always one of my highlights. This year there is a special guest presenter: the academic and broadcaster Dr Helen Czerski. The show lasts about an hour and is free to all IBC visitors – I really cannot recommend it highly enough.

What are the latest developments in adding capacity at IBC?

We have a very strong working relationship with the RAI. The team there understands IBC and its future strategic vision very well. We are already talking in detail about our plans out to 2020 and 2021 and we are confident that, together, we will meet all of IBC’s needs.

There is always talk of the need to move to another venue, and of course as a responsible business we keep this continually under review. But where would we move to?

There is nowhere that offers the same combination of exhibition space, conference facilities and catering and networking under one roof. There is nowhere than can provide the range of hotels at all prices that Amsterdam offers, nor its friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

Talking of hotels, visitors this year may notice a large building site between hall 12 and the station. This will be a large on-site hotel, scheduled to be open in time for IBC in 2019.

And regulars who have resigned themselves to walking around the hoardings covering up the now not-so-new underground station will be pleased to hear that the North-South metro line is due to open in July 2018. Test trains are already running, and visitors to IBC next year will be able to speed from the centre of the city in under 10 minutes.

Is IBC seeing the same growth in outdoor exhibits?

The outdoor exhibits – not just OB trucks but satellite links, drones and more – are always popular, and identifying space is always important for us. I cannot visualise an IBC which does not have an outside exhibits area.

Incidentally, accounts of IBC 2017 talk about the two new outside broadcast trucks parked next to the venue, and the popularity of their exhibits.

The over-arching theme for IBC2017 is “Truth, Trust and Transformation”. What is the rationale behind this?

No-one can have failed to notice the rapid proliferation of terms like “fake news” and “alternative facts” over the last year. Broadcasters have traditionally been the trusted brand for news: is the era of social media and universal internet access changing that?

It is a critical topic to debate at IBC, because the industry’s response to it is central to its future, commercially as well as technically. Providing true, accurate and honest access to news (and related genres like sport) is expensive and demanding. How do we address this key issue.

The phrase has resonances in other ways than the obvious, too. One of the challenges of the transition to IP connectivity is the risk that the media industry will become a major target for malware and hackers. As the transport platform becomes more open, the more we need to focus on cyber-security and the intrinsic design of safe, secure systems.

OTT and social media delivery is sometimes seen as “disruptive” but probably “transformative” is the better word. It brings new challenges for creativity and business, and it is right that IBC looks at them. It runs right through the conference, not least in a keynote session from Brian Sullivan, president of the digital consumer group at Fox, in which he says “In a digital world the consumer has the power. Deal with it.”

Will VR and AR be addressed at this year’s conference?

Of course. And in the Future Zone, and no doubt on the show floor.

This is a great example of where IBC adds so much value to the industry. Technologies in this area are tumbling out, but the business and creative case seems to be lagging behind. We know what VR can do, but how can we tell stories with it? How can we monetise it?

IBC can bring all the sides of the industry together to dig into all the issues. And not just in debate but by seeing and experiencing the state of the art.

What is the thinking behind the new C-Tech Forum?

The Leaders’ Summit, our invitation-only, behind-closed doors strategic conference for CEOs, has been a success for around five years. Last year we tried a special session for CTOs, which turned out to be very successful and left the crowd wanting more.

The desire seemed to be for sessions which provided technological debate at a strategic level, aiming to help C-level executives understand the implications for business transformation. So, the C-Tech Forum is just that: two days of specialist presentations and debates, on the same behind-closed-doors basis as the Leaders’ Summit.

This year we are tackling two topics: a threat and an opportunity. On Friday we will look at cyber-security, and on Saturday it will be the possibilities of 5G and persistent, universal very high speed connectivity.

As ever, IBC is trying to anticipate the needs of the industry. This is a new initiative, and we will judge future plans based on the reception that the C-Tech Forum receives this year.

Cyber security and security breaches are becoming more frequent. How will IBC address these challenges in the conference?

Cyber-security is such a critical issue that we have devoted a day to it in our new C-Tech Forum.

Beyond that, we have an important session on cyber-security on Friday in the main conference, with experts from around the world and around the industry debating what can and should be done to protect content and operations.

Incidentally, we are also looking at artificial intelligence and machine learning, with conference sessions in both the technology and business transformation strands.

Why is the Startup Forum important to IBC?

Our industry is based on innovation, on people with bright ideas who can create new techniques and the technologies to support them. A decade ago no-one had even heard the term “app”: now we expect to be able to do anything and everything on our phones.

IBC has always strived to help new companies find a place in our community, through pod exhibition spaces or in special zones like the Launch Pad we introduced last year. Now we are trying a more proactive approach, the IBC Startup Forum.

We are working with a specialist agency, Media Honeypot, to bring together startup and scaleup businesses, investors and media houses. There will be a Deal Room as well as networking areas and a seminar programme. The goal is to take the best new ideas from a spark of invention to full fruition.

What is the Platform Futures – Sport conference aiming to address?

Platform Futures is one of the strands running through the conference. It looks at how the latest delivery and engagement technologies are opening new opportunities for the presentation of content.

Sport has always been a major driver – perhaps the major driver – of innovation in television and media. For many years now we have had a sport day as part of the conference. This year, we are dedicating the Platform Futures strand to sport on Sunday.

The stream looks at how new technology is pushing boundaries for live sports coverage; the increasing importance of fan engagement; and the phenomenon of ‘alternative sports formats’ like Twenty20 cricket and Rugby 7s, which provide exciting and lucrative alternatives to traditional competitions. It will also examine the unprecedented growth of eSports, and the exponential opportunities for broadcasters in a market that is now pushing towards the half-billion dollar size.

 

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