Editor’s Corner—The best and the worst of IBC 2017

IBC
Dan Frankel and Ben Munson

The 50th annual IBC conference in Amsterdam is officially in the books. This year, the show claimed record attendance, with 57,669 people across all six days showing up to take in the show.

Yet into each industry schmooze fest a little rain must fall, and so it was that this year’s IBC was plagued by damp, dreary weather. The silver lining, of course, was that all the drizzle provided ample excuse to stay close to the show, explore the massive exhibition floor, and avoid judgment for eating at the Coffee, Donuts and Hot Dogs school bus multiple days in a row.

Fresh out of our jetlagged haze, FierceBroadcasting is breaking down a few more of the highs and lows that marked another busy year for IBC.

Best

Broadcasters refine digital strategies: Living on digital platforms surely once felt like an uncomfortable inevitability for broadcasters and programmers, but if this year’s IBC keynotes were any indication, many have made the jump and are loving it.

Brian Sullivan, president and COO of the digital consumer group at 21st Century Fox, showed up for a day 2 keynote and used his time on stage to sing the praises of Fox’s recent relaunch of Fox Now. The service functions as a unified video hub for Fox’s different networks and represents the trend of reaggregation, which Sullivan said could save the bundle after the turmoil of TV Everywhere and the unwanted glut of apps it unleashed upon consumers.

Hendrik McDermott, senior vice president of branded on demand for NBCUniversal International, took to the stage on day 1 to preach about the power of social media as a subscriber recruitment tool for SVOD services. He said the old way of putting together video promo packages for NBC’s own verticals just wasn’t cutting it in terms of engagement, and that sending those clips out to a wider audience across social media is the right way to go.

Be it social or digital platforms, or embracing new distribution points like Facebook Watch, broadcasters and programmers showed a strong willingness to meet the viewer where they are. — Ben | @fiercebrdcstng

OTT integration into pay-TV services accelerates (finally): It took the better part of a year from the time Comcast announced its integration of YouTube to finally see the service usable via the X1 platform. But at IBC last week, the consensus was that such layering of OTT services on top of linear cable, satellite and IPTV platforms is about to get much quicker and easier.

“Now that you’ve got this infrastructure in place, you’ll see many other integrations without the financial pain that would traditionally happen,” said Greg Riker, senior VP of Americas for Rotterdam-based Metrological Group, which works with Comcast and Liberty Global. “What we’re seeing over the last two years are new technologies speed up the ability to bring in third-party content.”

For its part, Comcast was announcing the official launch of YouTube on X1 as IBC was getting started. But more quietly, the operator also rolled out CBS Sports Fantasy Football on its advanced video platform, suggesting that the trickle of available OTT services on X1 could soon become more floodlike. — Dan | @FierceCable

Worst

VR is still a thing: Virtual reality is a good platform for gaming, but when it comes to broadcast and online video, the new reality setting in for the media industry is that sticking your head inside a sweaty pair of goggles for an extended period of time is a tough sell for consumers.

A quick pass though the Future Zone at this year’s IBC revealed that more than half of the forward-looking exhibits involved virtual reality headsets. Yet across sessions during the show, speakers signaled hesitance around VR.

Sullivan said that Fox is investing heavily in the technology but also warned that he, like others, was also big on 3D and that blew up in his face. Adrian Drury, technology strategy and insight director at Liberty Global, said traditional TV viewers aren’t going to just start watching their shows on VR because it's available, and that even for more immersive content like sports, VR still presents an isolated feeling that turns off viewers.

As AI and voice control step into the spotlight, VR rightfully seems to be taking a backseat as the go-to media technology of tomorrow. — Ben | @fiercebrdcstng

Vendors hook their fortunes … to Android TV: The tech blogs have been talking for over a year about how Android TV will become only the latest video delivery platform that Google will get bored with and give up on.

So it was surprising to see several vendors, including Arris, introduce ambitious product lines based on the operating system. At IBC, Arris showed off a line of five 4K/HDR-capable set-tops for cable, satellite and IPTV operators.

The business strategy seems sound: In Europe and South America, Arris’ Tier 1 clients will be able to enter new countries and offer fully built OTT integration to their own branded services, no technology development or program rights deals required.

Whether Google will live up to its end of the bargain is an iffy proposition, however. Seven years ago, the tech giant built Google TV, another platform for enabling OTT services on top of linear programming. Sony, LG, Vizio, ASUS and Logitech were among Google TV’s backers, creating lines of pricey TVs and set-tops that worked with the standard. Ultimately, cheaper and easier-to-use Roku and Apple TV devices won out in the market, and Google gave up on its platform in 2015.

For his part, Duncan Potter, senior VP of marketing for the Suwanee, Georgia-based vendor, expressed confidence that Android TV will be able to build on a smoldering flame of momentum. But he conceded that Arris’ new set-top line can work with other operating systems if bailing on Android TV is required. — Dan | @FierceCable