NAB: Absent Fireworks, Confab Becomes Giant Think Session About Future of TV

Instead of fiery rhetoric and breaking news, show favors musings on spectrum, OTT and the cloud
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Related: NAB Show 2015 Complete Coverage

The drones have returned to their hangars, the 8K demos have faded to black, and local station teams have scattered back to the DMAs from whence they came. But this year's NAB Show, which wrapped in Las Vegas this afternoon, yielded a steady stream of conversation about the medium's future that in some ways left more of an imprint than some previous editions' far dishier happenings.

Let me make an admission up front: While I have been to all of the other major U.S. TV industry events, before this week I had never attended NAB. My sense of the show, based on conversations with colleagues and people in the business, was that it often featured drama among the affiliate groups or simmering tensions with regulators. This is where, for example, two years ago Fox's Chase Carey launched a scud missile, warning that the company would respond to the insurgence of Aereo by simply moving the broadcast operation to cable.

This year, no similar jolt was delivered, but the show's expanded scope (attendance neared 100,000 and more tracks were added) plus the complexities of the marketplace led to a compelling series of conversations exploring the landscape. NAB chief Gordon Smith urged broadcasters to emphasize innovation. "There's a saying that goes, 'If you have one eye on yesterday and one eye on tomorrow, you're going to be cockeyed today," he said during his opening address. "So, we've got both eyes securely fastened on the future."

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler also hit town to address the upside for stations of the spectrum auction. Mel Karmazin, retired former CBS and Sirius XM chief, also made a rare appearance, plugging a CBS-Time Warner combination, which "makes the most sense" of any possible media merger.

Amid all of the futurism, business was conducted on the show floor and in station group suites as it annually is at NAB, but what struck me was the candor of execs readily conceding that things were not business as usual.

At the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Imagine Communications hosted its annual showcase. The company's big NAB news was a groundbreaking teaming with Disney to shift all master controls at Disney/ABC Television to the cloud. But along with the straight-ahead tech promo, the company also convened a "Future of Television" panel moderated by Inside Edition's Deborah Norville.

Panelist Sree Kotay, Comcast's chief software architect and exec VP of tech design and development, noted the shift in the TV tech world from simple engineering to embracing a role as a service provider—a pivot that is daunting for many traditional players, he suggested.

"I like working at Comcast, but I'm tired of working at a company that people hate," he said. "We need to build experiences that people love."

Building consumer experiences from the ground up was a running theme of NAB's newest offering, the Online Video Conference. It touched on everything from TV Everywhere to programmatic ad sales to the rise of OTTs.

Addressing measurement during one Online Video Conference session, TiVo's chief research officer Jonathan Steuer, prodded by moderator Tim Hanlon of the Vertere Group, said CBS chief Leslie Moonves' suggestion that "C-30" be adopted as a metric that would encompass time-shifted viewing doesn't even quite cover it. "We found that viewing of content continues for a much longer time than 30 days. If you have content that you like, you will continue to watch it on into the future."

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