NAB 2009 Highlights

This year's National Association of Broadcasters' show was a bit surreal. Wedged between the original February and proposed June dates for the digital television (DTV) transition, during a time of economic uncertainty when broadcasters' advertising revenues continue to plummet, coupled with equipment budgets already stressed by the move to digital over-the-air (OTA) equipment costs, it was easy to see why NAB 2009 could have been a non-starter.

Some companies and potential attendees chose to forego the convention (while others sent smaller delegations than usual), so registrations were down about 20% to about 84,000, including more than 1,200 members of the press. Actual attendance numbers have not been released, but anecdotal evidence—including the length of cab lines and conversations with cabbies—put the number quite a bit lower.

For those who did attend the show, however, there were key product demonstrations and easy access to vendors which provided a few "Eureka!" moments.

Just prior to NAB, Tim wrote an article suggesting four areas to watch at the show: Automation, HD, Metdata and Mobile. He also suggested a few companies that would be of interest to those who attended the show. This week we're following up on those same four topic areas.

At Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona in February, the DVB-H transmission standard for OTA television transmissions was all the rage, but at NAB a group of broadcasters and electronics companies showed off packet-based delivery via IP and streaming. The group, called the Open Mobile Video Coalition, says that CBS, NBC, PBS and Fox affiliates in Washington, DC were conducting field trials of content to wireless devices, including mobile phones and laptops as well as transmissions to car entertainment systems.

Noting that Atlanta and Seattle are being discussed as potential field trial markets, this joint effort with the ATSC standards body means that a potential standard for mobile devices may be forthcoming, and prototype devices from Dell (an Inspiron laptop) and Samsung and LG Electronics (mobile phones) were shown at NAB.

One potential stumbling block, however, is the need to convince mobile service providers such as AT&T and Verizon to subsidize the handsets and mobile data devices that compete with services that these carriers already have, which are based on either Qualcomm's MediaFLO or MobiTV.

Speaking of MobiTV, Media Excel showed off an enhancement to its Hera 4000 line of transcoders. Media Excel uses Texas Instruments' Digital Signal Processor (DSP) chips to transcode live content from one format/delivery platform to another, and the enhancement centers on the ability for the Hera 4000 line to deliver HTTP streams to iPhones. As these encoding appliances are field-upgradeable, and the new feature is available as a free upgrade to existing Hera 4000 customers, Media Excel stated its confidence in its ability to drive market value through the transcoding of content for the iPhone.

"iPhone enables an exciting set of features for live video delivery and HERA 4000 allows operators and content aggregators alike to take full advantage of those immediately", says Nikos Kyriopoulos, Media Excel's Product Manager. "We intrinsically support iPhone’s streaming protocol including segmentation, encryption and network rate adaptation."

Wowza, in showing a preview version of its Advanced server, also noted the benefit of being able to deliver to the iPhone as a potential game changer.

"Sixty of the best mobile service providers are selling the iPhone," says Wowza CEO Dave Stubenvoll, "so we think this is a very addressable market for our new server." (Click here for a podcast interview with Stubenvoll.)

RipCode's recently appointed VP of marketing Neal Hartsell, sat down to talk briefly about "transactional transcoding"—a term RipCode is using to describe its business-rule driven, real-time transcoding to meet various needs and platforms. Hartsell, the newest addition to RipCode's senior team, and Greg Lowitz, the company's new VP of sales, both come out of the telecommunication and video server space, respectively, so they are familiar with addressing scalability issues that online video providers are now facing.

The whole RipCode transcoding platform has been rebranded with the TransAct moniker, but one tool in particular, called TransAct Monetizer, was of interest at NAB. Monetizer allows dynamic appending of pre- or post-roll video to any requested video asset, optimized by device. RipCode's philosophy is that by transcoding video ads on-demand in a cloud-computing scenario that still maintains the security benefits of an enterprise or service-provider deployement, advertisers have the flexibility to provide unique ads based on up-to-date video content requests, further enhancing the ability to target content by viewer location, time of view and network impact.

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