View From the Edge: IBC 2022
Did I enjoy IBC? Of course; it was a great event. I love IBC. I am pretty sure I would rather see Christmas cancelled than IBC. I’d certainly rather stand in the queue at Schipol talking to broadcasters than stand in the queue for the Christmas sales talking to the consumerism-minded.
The moment I arrived back on the ground in Amsterdam after a couple of years away is the moment I remembered where my happy place is: networking with folks who are passionate about broadcast technology. All set with a backdrop of exhibition stands that give an indication of success (or at least ambition to succeed), and lubricated with an air of international viruses and odours that the Metaverse will never be able to synthesise. Real. Energising. Awesome.
Indeed, I had a conversation with a few folks over the weekend, something along the lines of, “Isn't it great to be back around a table with a beer, just able to talk about what we love doing. Wouldn’t you do this every month?”
After a very short pause: “Hell, no. You would die really quickly!”
“How about every quarter?”
After a longer pause: “Man, that would be nice, although not with the exhibition. It’d be just great to see friends, colleagues, clients, peers, and so on. The exhibition is too much like hard work for anything more than once a quarter. But yes, I think my body could survive a quarterly meetup with the tribe.”
“But isn’t the great thing about coming back after two years the fact that we all have so much to talk about. There is so much change in the industry. Perhaps we should do it every two years instead?”
After a very long pause: “Not at this stage. I am just so happy to be back. Let’s run out of things to say before we plan to spend more time apart!”
Naturally, there were a few issues. By now you have read enough of the ‘OMG it’s going to have to move because Amsterdam can’t run an airport’ topic. Or the ‘Hotel prices are getting silly’ discussions. Naturally, you plan to take the train next year. (All the way from San Francisco?). And it might make sense to rent a house for the year next to Leidseplein.
But all that stuff is symptomatic of success. When everything is excellent, all we can do is ‘like’ - but when we spot a tiny flaw we can ‘comment’ and ‘share’ the queue in Schipol into a headline story, which is, in all reality, a distraction from what IBC was about.
IBC found the industry in a great mood, and in great shape. There were some obvious things that stood out. Hall 14 had become Hall 5; it was no longer appropriate to house the OTT world in a tent on the doorstep. The Streaming community has not only grown up, but has muscled in among the old giants. IP-based operators are thrusting and elbowing the traditional telco players off the board. Satellite operators are looking across their empty stands to wonder what the cool kids are doing crowded around the computer-based demonstrations. And while there is still a large bloc of traditional broadcasters hidden in bland, meeting-room-format stands waiting for their next appointment to turn up to renew a 40-year-old contract, across the aisle there are ‘Internet Unicorns’ who are flooded with people trying to squeeze into glass-sided meeting rooms, seated on beanbags and surrounded by colour.
But don’t be fooled by the performance. The Unicorns had very very little to show this year beyond their fan bases turning up. The real innovation in the streaming space is on the tiny stands dotted all around the north halls. The bigger the stand, the slighter the innovation is almost a hard-and-fast rule in IBC, and always has been. Nothing at all on any of the biggest stands made me go ‘Oh wow, that's new.’ In fact, mostly my take was, ‘Oh wow, you finally caught up—that’s been going on for 5 years.’
I was disappointed by the big guys, and I think that is a bellwether. With the news this year being dominated by Netflix being beaten up for reaching a phenomenal scale and ‘saturation,’ and being bullied by short-sighted investors into ruining their product by introducing advertising just to please shareholders, the loftiest heights of the industry don’t know where to go next, and are too busy delivering simple things well to be able to find ways to really ‘wow the crowd.’
There is stress in those big public companies that is stifling their innovation completely at the moment. Billion-dollar contracts are cool, but disruption is cooler, and the Unicorns have done their disruption now, and it’s time for other actors to take the stage.
So what was disruptive?
My time was totally consumed by the explosion of interest in GreeningofStreaming.org, which is a constant delight to me. I am proud and excited that we, as an industry, seem to be finally growing up, taking our gloves off, and getting down to focusing on energy efficiency and sustainability across the board. It is a true change throughout the industry, and I think I have been lucky to be in the middle of that. But I will write more about that in these pages in the next month or so, so let me look at other disruption in the sector.
One thing absolutely dominated: The Nordics. The Nordics were spreading all over IBC like COVID at an anti-vax party. Spawn of the Nokia and Ericsson schools and products of a great education system and long, dark winters in front of their laptops, the Nordic streaming companies came out en masse and were punching way above everyone else's weight this year.
Everywhere I turned there was another diacritic sign attached to a brand, or a badge or a logo. Just as we mono-linguist English speakers were thinking Dutch branding was just German with a lot more J’s in it, now the Scandinavians have graffitied all over the corporate alphabet with extra dots and circles, and put us all in doubt about how to read company names without embarrassment. They owned the show.
There are a number of key conferences that have been growing in Sweden and Finland and Norway. They seem to have given the Nordic countries energy and confidence, and they brought it all to IBC. Lots of innovation. Lots of real deals laid on the table. Lots of skill. (I’m very glad we named our company’s new product ‘Norsk’ by coincidence!)
Move over US Unicorns: something is coming in from the Cold North, and it's the opposite of an ice-age.
So, in summary of my experience of IBC, the warmth of reuniting with you all was fuel (obviously highly renewable!) for me. I would happily have had my travel cancelled for a month if we could all have stayed there and carried on and on. I look forward to many more!
Dom Robinson writes about why it's important for the streaming industry to focus more on customers first over investors and share prices