Our tech future: Highlights from the BVE 2017 conference

BVE 2017 conference with Neal Romanek
Neal Romanek
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March 8th 2017 at 11:59AM : By Neal Romanek

TV Tech Global's Neal Romanek was a moderator for the conference sessions at this week's BVE. Here are some of his takeaways

First of all, many thanks to the team at BVE for allowing us to host this past Wednesday's Screen@BVE conference sessions. TV Tech Global likes to be at the centre of new developments in the moving image tools and tech world, and the BVE conferences - allied so closely with the world media capital that is London - are as close to the centre as you get, outside of L.A. or possibly New York.

As the selected moderator of the Screen@BVE conference sessions, and editor of one of the industry's top tech publications (I reject all accusations of modesty), I started Day 2 of BVE with a fairly fixed idea of what the sessions would bring. I was pleased instead to be surprised and challenged by the day's panelists.

VR, no - cloud, yes

Mark Harrison is the MD of the UK's Digital Production Partnership, a consortium of British broadcasters, originally formed to manage the transition from analogue to digital television. In his early morning presentation "The DPP 2017 predictions and trends", Harrison presented research from the recent DPP survey in which members were asked to rate the most important issues they would be facing in 2017. Of the top eight issues, the efficient use of the cloud was rated as the most important issue and - surprisingly? - VR/AR were rated at the bottom. 

General themes - what Harrison called "mood music" - that were predicted to be significant in the development of the industry were: mobility, quality, live, speed, and security.

Passing the pub test

Later in the day we were treated to a presentation by Stephen Mai, head of marketing, brand and design at TheLADBibleGroup. Mai outlined some of the strategies the LAD Bible has used to become one of the most successful online news brands in the world and the most watched online media site in Europe. 

Mai was a last minute replacement for LAD Bible content head, Ian Moore, who had been scheduled to speak. But Moore has left the company to spend more time with his family. No, really. Moore had been regularly commuting to the LAD Bible headquarters in Manchester from his home in Denmark. Apparently being present in the life of his newborn child was something of a priority for him.

Mai's presentation "10 commandments of audience engagement - marketing content for millennials" laid out a great toolkit for anyone creating online content. Some tips from the LAD Bible team's marketing playbook included: caring about others is a priority for millennials, short video is NOT automatically the best video (Mai cited Vice's great success in embracing longform content), and it's essential to listen to your audience and ask what they want.

The LAD Bible has worked diligently on understanding its audience and the content it offers them. Mai said LAD Bible content must always pass "the pub test", which is: Would this piece of content be something we would talk about at the pub?

Coping with the cutting edge

In the afternoon, I was joined by former ITV head of production innovation, now industry consultant, Martyn Suker and Ooyala Media Logistics product manager Lee McMullan for a look at "A new age of television and its impact on production".

We have become used to the treadmill of ever-developing industry technology, but the BVE audience expressed frustration. One producer in the Q&A afterward explained how she had a library of fantastic, early years footage of Hilary Clinton, but could do little with it due to the issues of ever evolving file formats. She despaired at ever being able to fully catch up given that archive formats were never likely to sit still.

Another producer in the audience worried about the pressure to deliver in an ever ballooning variety of formats. Was the online-fave "portrait" orientation going to soon become a standard delivery format?

Despite Mark Harrison's DPP prediction that VR would be a low priority or broadcasters this year, the day's final panel, "VR in broadcast" was enthusiastically attended. The panel featured respected technology maven Richard Mills and Neil Graham, both of Sky VR, Will McMaster head of VR at Visualise, and Erfan Saadati of Kaleidoscope VR. This year, BVE also featured the VR Experience @ BVE which gave visitors a chance to sample a variety of VR tech and content. 

The VR conversation seems to have evolved past its obsession with technology to the practical art and craft of creating in this new medium. Will McMaster and Erfan Saadati, both already possessing a wealth of VR shooting experience passed on practical tips to the audience, many of whom were had moved beyond VR-curious to active VR content creators.

Saadati emphasised again and again that it was best to abandon all preconceptions about directing VR - in fact, he was suspicious of the idea of a VR "director" at all. He said the best approach to the new medium was to take nothing for granted and to start with the assumption that you knew nothing whatsoever about how to shoot it. Only by setting aside his preconceptions entirely was he able to discover what VR really had to offer.

When I was walking the BVE tradeshow floor, someone at a vendors stand said that BVE used to not be much of a highlight for the industry. It was a big show for students, they said. Now BVE is the big kick off for the broadcast tradeshow calendar, but it's still a place for students, with a conference line-up that keeps challenging and enlightening us, no matter how long we've been around