An insiders preview


What do you think will be the hot topics of discussion at NAB?

It's obviously a big year for anyone who is coming out to the show. There's a tremendous amount of business that is going to be done at the show and a tremendous amount of innovative display and intellectual debate.

Our show tends to be a little ahead of the industry, in terms of implementation. When we started the Multimedia World exhibit six years ago, it was considered on the edge, and now it's the kind of stuff that broadcasters and the allied industries are vitally interested in. So we think we reflect the current needs and the next few years of needs as well.

What will be there that is ahead of the curve?

The datacasting opportunities and melding of Internet content with television and radio will be a big trend. The big milestone coming up for TV broadcasters is 2002, their date for being on-air with digital television. A lot of buying that is associated with that date is likely to take place. It'll be a big year for digital television infrastructure.

Do you think that, by 2002, all broadcasters will have a chance to get their digital stick in the air?

There are a lot of things that have to play together on the planning side and financial side to make this come together for everybody. But the problems are well known, and there's money to be made, so industries that are resource-constrained are gearing up for demand that they haven't seen in decades.

Is datacasting the new business model and the reason broadcasters will want to make the move to digital?

I think it opened the eyes of broadcasters to the fundamental difference between analog and digital operation. You really can't have a fair understanding of what digital transmission offers without thinking of some of these diverse services. And, over the past few years, we've been so involved with traditional issues dressed up in digital clothes that some of the real gold in the datacast mines hasn't been prospected with serious intent. This is the most empowering movement among broadcasters in years.

There are still some issues with regards to the DTV sets and copy protection, among others. What will you and NAB be up to in the next year to help solve some of those headaches?

Well, the only way we've been able to alleviate headaches is with aspirin. This is an area where it's been very disappointing in terms of seeing the overall transition move forward. Everyone agrees that there will be no robust transition unless broadcasters, manufacturers and program providers all work together and do their share. But absent government involvement, it's hard to be optimistic about how fast penetration of DTV will increase to mass-audience level.

How much of a snag is copy protection?

The reality is that devices with connectivity between set-top boxes and digital television sets will either be absent or very few until there's an agreed-upon copy-protection method. Right now, the net effect is, we can hook up cable set-top boxes to only a very few brands of DTV sets unless there is an agreement. And this is an agreement that is always imminent.

What can be done to move that agreement along?

The studios need to recognize that, if we only made television sets and VCRs, we could build a system that was fairly immune to piracy. But handling video in a computer, and the distribution methodology of the Internet being so pervasive, it's hard to see an ironclad solution being technically feasible. So either you hate the new world and run from it, or you bend your business plans to acknowledge the capabilities that exist in that new world.

What are your thoughts on the progress made on the consumer manufacturing side?

The fact that there is a lot of diversity of product, prices are coming down, and there's interest in large-screen displays is encouraging. But I think we have a way to go to make DTV-receiver technology a commodity. We need some uniformity to indicate how well these products are going to work in people's homes. The consumer experience is either a very good one or a very bad one. Either the set is black, or it has perfect digital pictures. We want to see the latter be the common experience as much as possible.