Howard Lukk, Director of Engineering and Standards, SMPTE
Dr. Richard C. Cabot, Standards Manager, Audio Engineering Society
Mark Harrison, Managing Director, DPP (Digital Production Partnership)
William T. Hayes, President, IEEE Broadcast Technology Society
James DeRuvo, Film and Technology Reporter, DoddleNEWS
Larry Jordan: Tonight on the Buzz we meet some of the key media standards organizations. These are the folks that create the specs that allow all of our gear and software to work together. They also determine the direction of our industry by setting the ground rules for future technology.
Larry Jordan: We start with Howard Lukk, he’s the director of engineering and standards for the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, which is also called SMPTE. Tonight, he describes what SMPTE is, what they do, and why they are so important to the future of our industry.
Larry Jordan: Dr. Richard Cabot is the standards manager for the Audio Engineering Society, or AES. Tonight he describes their organization, what it does and the latest audio technology that they are currently discussing.
Larry Jordan: Mark Harrison is the managing director of the Digital Production Partnership, or DPP. They are focused on developing a standardized, fully digital, internet enabled content creation and distribution process to enable content creators to seamlessly distribute their work across broadcast, cable and the web, as he explains tonight.
Larry Jordan: William Hayes is the president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE Broadcast Technology. Tonight he describes his organization and how they fit with all the other standards bodies.
Larry Jordan: All this, plus James DeRuvo with our weekly DoddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.
Announcer: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking – authoritative – one show serves a worldwide network of media professionals – current – uniting industry experts – production – filmmakers – post production – and content creators around the planet – distribution. From the media capital of the world in Los Angeles, California, the Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to the Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry, covering media production, post production and marketing around the world.
Larry Jordan: Hi, my name is Larry Jordan. Last week we started a new weekly feature on the Buzz called ‘I Was Just Thinking.’ This is a cross between an editorial and a reflection. Our producer Debbie Price has been pushing for this for a while. She told me that she thought it would be fun to have a kind of commentary from me on what I’m thinking about this week. She wants it to be a regular segment where I can muse about anything that takes my fancy. It’s not a teaching moment, it’s a musing moment, funny or poignant.
Larry Jordan: It took her some arm twisting to get me to say “Yes.” While I’m happy to provide opinions that revolve around technology, I don’t often write commentaries on my general thoughts. On the other hand, if it gives you something to think about, and perhaps comment upon, I’m all in favor of more conversations. So you’ll hear the latest installment at the end of this program, and I’m already wondering about what I’m thinking for next week.
Larry Jordan: By the way, I want to invite you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Every issue provides quick links to the different segments on the show, plus articles of interest to filmmakers, and best of all, it’s free and released every Saturday.
Larry Jordan: Now it’s time for a DoddleNEWS update with James DeRuvo. Hello James.
James DeRuvo: Hello Larry.
Larry Jordan: So what have we got?
James DeRuvo: Well, it took them a while, but Apple has finally taken a stand for net neutrality. Apple’s head of public policy, wrote a letter to the FCC warning that abandoning the policies of the last eight years would result in giving ISPs too much power to choose winners and losers. It will be inevitable that the fast lanes will be created which will give companies willing to pay for it, faster streaming access, while the rest of us are stuck in bogged down buffering traffic.
Larry Jordan: So what’s your take on this?
James DeRuvo: Considering they’ve committed over a billion dollars to original streaming content, Apple has a considerable stake in keeping the internet open with net neutrality. Though their support is a little late to the party, the arguments they put forth warn us that calamity looms if we abandon the simple principle that when it comes to online internet activity, bits are bits no matter where they come from Larry.
Larry Jordan: That’s Apple. What’s next?
James DeRuvo: I don’t know if you know who Casey Neistat is? He’s a very famous YouTuber and he’s got this reputation of losing his drones and abusing his gear. He’ll do whatever he needs to do to get the shot that he wants, and now, he’s being investigated by the FAA for reckless drone flying in New York City. With multiple complaints, unfortunately no action has been taken due to what the FAA says is a lack of evidence, but they do say that he’s been flying where he’s not supposed to.
Larry Jordan: Well James, it seems like his activity is exactly the reason why the FAA wanted to regulate drones in the first place?
James DeRuvo: Indeed. All you have to do is look at a few of his videos to see that Neistat has this reputation of not caring if the gear gets broken or lost as long as he gets his shot. And if he has to break a few rules or laws to get it, it seems like that’s what he’s willing to do. Although he claims he doesn’t want to be irresponsible, or get in trouble, with the FAA investigating hundreds of near misses around the country, it’s guys like him that make the rules of Part 107 so important.
Larry Jordan: So that’s what the FAA is up to this week. What’s our third story?
James DeRuvo: Can you believe it’s been 25 years since Robert Rodriguez launched ‘El Mariachi?’ 25 years. When he made that movie, and he sold it to Sony, Sony made $2 million on a film that he made for $7,000, and they gave him a Canon A1 video camera as a thank you. Now, 25 years later, he’s creating this new reality streaming series called ‘Rebel Without a Crew.’ It’s based upon the book that he wrote about his experience making ‘El Mariachi’ for $7,000, and what he’s going to do is he’s going to give five young filmmakers that same $7,000 to make their first feature film and then on top of that, he’s also going to make another film for $7,000 and take us through his entire journey all over again.
Larry Jordan: What’s the key benefit that independents can get from this?
James DeRuvo: ‘El Mariachi’ showed independents that you can make a film on a shoestring budget with nothing but a dream. His new reality series ‘Rebel Without a Crew’ will show us how it can be done, and in the end, with all the tools we now have that he didn’t have at all, we have no excuses left to make that film that we’ve been wanting to make.
Larry Jordan: An amazing time. What are the stories we’re following this week on DoddleNEWS?
James DeRuvo: Other stories we’re following include what makes a successful indie film, more on Nikon’s homegrown D850 sensor, and how you can turn your smartphone into a field monitor external recorder.
Larry Jordan: Where can we go on the web to learn more about these, and other stories?
James DeRuvo: All these stories and more can be found at doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the senior writer for DoddleNEWS and James, happy anniversary, it’s been a year since you started working with us and we are delighted with you every week. Thanks for joining us.
James DeRuvo: Indeed Larry, it’s been a great year.
Larry Jordan: Here’s another website I want to introduce you to. Doddlenews.com. DoddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries. It’s a leading online resource, presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry. DoddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platforms specifically designed for production. These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings, provide in depth organizational tools for busy production professionals. DoddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo Arts Community, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers. From photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts, and everything in between, Thalo is filled with resources you need to succeed. Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go. Doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: Howard Lukk is the director of engineering and standards for SMPTE, that’s the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. Hello Howard, welcome.
Howard Lukk: Hello, thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: We are having a great show talking about standards organizations, except I’m confused. Why are standards organizations necessary?
Howard Lukk: Well if you think about maybe the last time you went to Europe, or maybe you haven’t gone to Europe, and those different electrical plugs, and all those adaptors you have to carry around, think if we had that in every different household. So standards are necessary to keep things even and balanced so that we can plug in and get electricity pretty easily with anything we buy from the store. That’s an analogy about standards.
Larry Jordan: Well having carried my share of electrical cables and plugs around, I can identify with that perfectly. Now what is SMPTE?
Howard Lukk: SMPTE deals with the portion of the industry that deals with professional media. So film, television, broadcast and some of the streaming stuff we’re getting into too, so it’s the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, and we look at standards that work across the media industry.
Larry Jordan: Well, one could argue that so does AES and we’re talking to them next, and so does IEEE, so where does SMPTE fit into this mélange of standards groups?
Howard Lukk: Good point. We fit in on the professional side of standards, so we deal with a lot of things that have to do with from the camera, all the way to the theater to a certain extent, and we don’t get involved in too much of the consumer equipment, say the television. That’s where the other standards bodies come in, and we do some audio standards too, but AES does the primary work on most of the audio stuff, for the recording and the PA and also some of the stuff that touches into broadcast. We work very closely with AES.
Larry Jordan: Which gets to my question. How do you guys avoid standing on each other’s feet?
Howard Lukk: Lots of communication. We have liaisons with a lot of the standards bodies that are around, so we actually talk back and forth with them to make sure that we’re not working on standards in their area, and they’re not working on standards in our area. Then we cross pollinate quite a bit, so there’s a lot of things that we point to their standards, and they point to our standards as well too, so with good communication it keeps us out of trouble if you will.
Larry Jordan: Let’s take a look again back at SMPTE. Is it a all paid group? Is it a small or large group? Tell me more about the organization itself.
Howard Lukk: The organization is about 8,000 members worldwide, so we’re kind of a global effort, and in the standards body itself, we have probably 800 volunteers that help write the standards. So nobody’s paid other than a small staff that we have. I’m of course one of the people on the staff that just tries to keep all the cats herded together as they go forward, so it’s really a voluntary organization from a lot of people that are experts in the industry that help us make these standards.
Larry Jordan: What do the 7200 people at SMPTE doing that aren’t setting standards?
Howard Lukk: We’re also a membership organization. SMPTE is really three pillars if you will. We have the standards pillar, we have a membership pillar, and then we have an education pillar. So we do a lot of industry meet and greets, a place where people with likeminded activities can come together and talk about the latest things that are going on in the industry. Then we do a lot of outreach education and also hold conferences as well too where we do a lot of education of stuff that’s going on in both the standards and the industry at large and broadcast, and television and film.
Larry Jordan: How do you walk the fine line between a governmental regulation, say FCC or ITU, and what SMPTE is doing?
Howard Lukk: Yes, SMPTE is really a volunteer standards organization in the sense that all of our standards are not mandatory or mandated by government. They’re all just volunteer standards that people agree that this is the way we’re going to operate. So, we stay out of that. Now we do from time to time have some of our standards go into the ISO or the International Standards Organization, and that can then become actual governmental standards in certain areas, and certain national bodies. But as America is kind of a capless society if you will, we don’t like to have regulations put on a whole lot of folks, so all of our stuff is voluntary and there’s certainly no necessity in this area of the industry to have mandatory standards.
Larry Jordan: If you don’t have any legal clout, why does anybody pay attention to you?
Howard Lukk: The case that it’s sure nice that if you buy this piece of gear from manufacturer A and you try to plug it into gear from manufacturer B, that it actually works. So it really provides an economic balance of not having to adapt things between all the different types of device that we use in production to make both television shows and film. So it really helps people integrate a lot better, and have a lot more choices from a lot of different manufacturers to actually do the same thing.
Larry Jordan: One of the things I learned in one of the interviews that we’re going to hear shortly, is there’s a difference between a standard, and an implementation. You guys are creating standards, so what is actually a standard?
Howard Lukk: Well a standard is actually a document that a large group of people have come together and agreed that this is the way we want to do something. We want to connect point A to point B, and this is the way we want to have that connection work. That is a standard. To implement it, then manufacturers have to read that standard and adopt it into the equipment that they have that they put out into the field. So there’s a gap between writing that standard that’s down on paper that everybody agreed to that this is the right way to do it, and then actually making it work out in the field so it actually does what you say it should do on the paper.
Larry Jordan: Does that mean that a standard is the end result and the manufacturers are up to the process? Or are you describing the process itself?
Howard Lukk: It can actually work both ways. So we’ve had places where manufacturers have built equipment already, and then we’ve done the standard around that manufactured equipment. Or we’ve had places where people come with a pain point or something that they need a solution to, and we get together and create a standard, and then manufacturers build it from that point. So it really can work in both directions and it really is a process if you will as far as making the standard.
Larry Jordan: Give me an example of a couple of popular standards so we can get a better clue of what you’re working with.
Howard Lukk: Sure. One of our most popular standards that got voted the top out of all of our standards with people when we polled them, was timecode. Timecode is really a big essential thing that you need to do to make sure you can keep track of each frame that you have, especially when you get into an edit bay and you want to associate things and go back and get to the exact same place that you were before. So timecode is a big standard.
Howard Lukk: The other one we have that’s been quite well received is SDI, or serial digital interface, which allows people to connect with one cable. Audio, video and timecode through one digital stream that connects from one place to the other one. We have a new one coming up which is ST2110 which is a standard for professional media or IP, and that’s just coming out of the oven now, and that kind of moves everything into the internet, and the IP protocol world.
Larry Jordan: So the coax cable is going away and being replaced with an Ethernet cable?
Howard Lukk: Yes, it’s happening, and it’s happening quicker than most people thought it might happen. So we’re converging along with the computer industry. It’s really dominated a lot of the equipment now that we have in the professional media marketplace.
Larry Jordan: Seeing as you’re a volunteer organization, who can become a member of SMPTE?
Howard Lukk: Anyone can become a member of SMPTE. If you have interest in SMPTE, basically we do charge a slight fee because we provide you things like a journal and things like that, but anyone that’s interested can sign up and become a SMPTE member.
Larry Jordan: You also mentioned there’s three pillars. Standards, membership and education. What does the education outreach do?
Howard Lukk: The education outreach basically has some web casts, so we have web casts about different topics that go on all the time. We also offer some courses that you can take to bring you up to speed, especially in the IP area. That’s really becoming popular. They also hold events, conferences around the world. The biggest conference that we have is the fall conference in Hollywood, the annual technical conference we have and education is bringing together a lot of people with white papers that are on the verge of technology, on the cusp of that to present to the public.
Larry Jordan: Before we run out of time, one thought just occurred to me. Do you guys ever revisit a standard, or once that’s standard’s published it’s locked, and nobody ever goes back to it?
Howard Lukk: Oh no, we revisit them almost every five years, until they become so stable that they don’t need to be visited any more. So especially in the first year or so of a standard, there’s a lot of things that we learn back from the field, maybe it wasn’t written correctly, maybe there’s a bit here that was missing, or we didn’t think about. That information comes back to us and we revise the standards as they’re needed, so they’re a living document for a while until they become very stable, and then we keep them in the library and make them publically available.
Larry Jordan: You are herding 800 cats. You still having fun?
Howard Lukk: Oh yes, absolutely having a great time. It’s great because we’re at the cusp of technology, so it really keeps you on your toes, and you have to read up a lot and attend a lot of conferences, and you meet a lot of fantastic people from around the globe, so it’s a lot of fun.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to learn more, where can they go on the web?
Howard Lukk: www.smpte.org.
Larry Jordan: That’s SMPTE.org and Howard Lukk is the director of engineering and standards for SMPTE. Howard, thanks so much for joining us, I’ve enjoyed our conversation.
Howard Lukk: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Doctor Richard Cabot manages the Audio Engineering Society standards operation, consisting of ten working groups and about 1,000 registered members. Their standards activity covers a wide range of audio technologies, including digital audio, networked audio, metadata, acoustics, interconnections, modeling, and measurement. Hello Dr. Cabot, welcome.
Dr. Richard Cabot: Hi.
Larry Jordan: How would you describe AES?
Dr. Richard Cabot: Oh AES is the oldest technical society focused on audio in the world. We were started by a group of engineers back at the early days of high fidelity. Just in the 50s. And we’ve progressed through all of the transitions that the audio world’s gone through, culminating now in digital audio and network audio, and we remain the place that people go to to get and to share technical knowledge in the audio field.
Larry Jordan: Well why do we need a standards group for audio? I mean, what role do you serve?
Dr. Richard Cabot: Well we need standards because there are lots of bright people out there, and they have lots of bright ideas, and unfortunately they’re not always compatible with one another. So rather than have a lot of people doing things their own way, and you not being able to then buy equipment that you know you can use with the programs that you buy, … Standards are an attempt to get around those things and to create a mechanism whereby people can share their technical ideas, battle them out in a relatively safe area and hopefully come to agreements on a common path to take.
Dr. Richard Cabot: I think one of the best examples of that we have in the industry, is the mp3 standard where there were lots of folks working on ways to compress audio, make it take up less space, and they sat down and even though there were some big companies involved, and some small organizations too, and there were lots of different ways to proceed, they hammered out something which was a hybrid that they could all agree on, and then made it much easier for that to become effective in the marketplace, because people could use it and know that it was going to be compatible no matter where they got their equipment or their source material from.
Larry Jordan: How do you determine what needs a standard, and what can remain proprietary?
Dr. Richard Cabot: It’s generally driven by requests from the people in the industry. We don’t try to enforce standards in the sense of going in and saying, “Hey, you guys need to standardize this.” It’s more that the people involved recognize that there is advantage to working together, but of course in the legal environment we have in the United States and around the world, there are problems with companies just trying to get together and sort things out on their own. So a standards organization like the AES provides a legally defensible common forum for them to collude but not in the legal sense, in the technical sense.
Larry Jordan: It seems to me that your role as the standards director for AES, is part technical but also it’s like herding cats. You’ve got companies that are going in different directions. Is it principally a political organization to get a standard done, as well as technical?
Dr. Richard Cabot: There’s some politics involved. Generally not as much as you might expect because it’s involving technical people who tend to be less political than the folks on the other side of the business. It’s rare that we have real conflict. They do come up and we’ve managed to work through them, and keep everybody on the same page. Yes, my job is partly home room teacher, and partly technical resource, but mainly the resource I serve as is someone knowledgeable of the process and the procedures and the legal issues. It helps that I understand the technology because then I can suggest edits, I can suggest ways of wording things or of finding common ground on things when that’s necessary. I can edit documents, work on documents and understand what I’m working on, whereas if you just hired somebody who was an editor, off the street, they would not have that ability.
Larry Jordan: What’s the difference between a standard and an implementation?
Dr. Richard Cabot: A standard says how things should be done, what’s allowable, where you can deviate, where you’re not allowed to deviate. An implementation is what a user then actually does with it, what a manufacturer creates for their final product, and hopefully the implementation is conformant to the standard. If the standard’s done correctly, each person’s implementation or each company’s implementation will work with the other companies.
Larry Jordan: As an example, so I make sure I’ve got this clear, in the case of an mp3, you say this is what an mp3 file is, but some manufacturers could get their VR hardware encoding and some could do software encoding, so that the process to get to the end result is up to the manufacturer, but the end result is set by the standards committee?
Dr. Richard Cabot: Yes, and it’s a little more than that in fact in that the mp3 standard, as an example, standardizes the way you decode the file. It standardized the file and how you decode what’s in it. It doesn’t say anything about how you create it in the first place, so there’s quite a bit of freedom in people’s implementations and how they create, how they encode the audio in the first place. In theory, you could have different quality of implementations.
Dr. Richard Cabot: Now on the playback side, where the standard does apply, there’s still a fair amount of freedom in the manufacture where they do hardware or software implementation or even within that hardware implementation, for example how they do it. How wide the word width is, in different places within the computations, how they structure memory tradeoffs versus CPU tradeoffs, because there are generally ways to save memory by putting more CPU effort on it, or save CPU effort by putting more memory. So the manufacturer’s free to make the tradeoffs that fit their particular requirements as long as you can take that file and put it in and out comes audio.
Larry Jordan: What are the current hot topics the organization is discussing?
Dr. Richard Cabot: Well we’ve got quite a few that we’re working on but probably the hottest at the moment relate to networked audio. When you’re trying to send digital audio around on what’s the equivalent of Ethernet, where you have equipment that’s plugged together with an Ethernet interface, and that equipment may be in the same room, it may be miles apart. But you feed the audio in and it comes out and people can share it and you can have multiple listening devices or receiving devices hooked up to that same stream. You can do matrix switching of audio around between the different devices. There’s a lot of flexibility you can get in the same way that you get flexibility in passing around emails on a network, and it’s sort of a rough equivalent.
Larry Jordan: This is a standard which is not yet final, but you guys are talking about?
Dr. Richard Cabot: No. There’s an issued standard. AES67 is the fundamental standard in that area, then we’ve got standards related to directory listings as to how you find the various things that are on the network, how you see what they’re carrying and decide that you want to hook up to them. That’s AES70, and we’ve got a lot of work going on in enhancing those standards because people always have bright ideas, so people come up with ways of improving on the existing standard, or they find areas where the standard isn’t specific enough and implementations don’t really quite work together the way you’d like. So they say, “Oh well we need to standardize this difference and come to an agreement on how we’re going to do it,” so that everybody’s implementation can then work together and it’s not going to be too onerous a change for any one of the participants to make.
Larry Jordan: That’s got to be a fun job as you help shepherd this through?
Dr. Richard Cabot: It can be. Other times it can be dreadful, other times it can be tiresome because you’re going through documents and doing editing but it’s a fun job yes, and you get to work with a lot of neat people, a lot of bright people from all around the world.
Larry Jordan: Who can be a member of AES?
Dr. Richard Cabot: We’re open to anyone who’s interested in audio, has a love of audio, wants to participate.
Larry Jordan: For people who want to learn more, where can they go on the web?
Dr. Richard Cabot: www.aes.org.
Larry Jordan: Dr Richard Cabot manages the Audio Engineering Society’s standards operation, and Dr Cabot, thanks for joining us today.
Dr. Richard Cabot: Thank you for having me.
Larry Jordan: Mark Harrison has 20 years experience as an award winning freelance producer and director. As well, he’s held a number of senior innovation roles at the BBC. Now he’s the managing director and co-founder of the Digital Production Partnership, or DPP, an international business change network for media companies. Hello Mark, welcome.
Mark Harrison: Hello there Larry. Hi.
Larry Jordan: I have no idea what an international business change network for media companies is, so what is the Digital Production Partnership?
Mark Harrison: We’re an organization for any company that works in the media sector, and that’s broadcast, non broadcast, anybody who makes and works with, supplies to the world of audio visual content. Any of those companies who are really committed to trying to ensure then the right kind of shape for the future.
Larry Jordan: Who founded the DPP and why did they start it?
Mark Harrison: It came about originally as just an informal get together that was initiated in the UK by the BBC, and two other broadcasters, ITV and Channel 4. It responded to a feedback that we were getting from the UK broadcast sector in particular at that time, about how slowly the world of broadcasting was getting to end to end digital production. Everybody noted that in the consumer realm, consumers were all end to end digital, with audio visual content even. But we couldn’t seem to manage it in the world of broadcasting. So why were we so slow?
Mark Harrison: The view was that one of the big impediments was that all broadcasters did things differently, and the deliverables and the requirements that they had for their suppliers, particularly production companies, were all different. While we had that, we had loads of complexity. But actually there was something much simpler at the heart of the problem. We were still using video tape. So there we were, producing and shaping content digitally, and then when we’d finished, we’d put it onto a video tape and then we’d give it to a guy on a motorbike to take it to a broadcaster who would then digitize it again, and use digital systems to play it out, whether over the airwaves or online. And as long as we had video tape in the middle of this process, we were never going to reap the benefits of being digital.
Mark Harrison: So we said, “OK, let’s see whether we can get rid of video tape in UK broadcasting.” That’s actually precisely what we did by defining a common delivery specification using existing standards, just taking them and working with them to work out how to have a single common file delivery specification. But perhaps more importantly, we also managed all the business change with producers, post producers, suppliers, broadcasters, so that on a single day in 2014, everybody in broadcasting in the UK moved across to this new way of delivering programs.
Mark Harrison: That was really successful and so much so that people said, “You know what? … maybe stick around?” And that was the point at which we decided to become a formal organization and see how else we might help to intervene to help drive change.
Larry Jordan: So the DPP sets standards like SMPTE and IEEE?
Mark Harrison: No. It’s really important to understand that we’re not a standards body. There are great ones, and SMPTE is a very close partner of DPPs. There are lots of great people who set standards. What we do is, part of our work anyway, is we take existing standards and we look at how we can implement them. What are the business problems that need solving is what we’re constantly asking, and increasingly is what our member companies tell us about. “We’d like to be able to do this and it would be so much easier to do it if we had some common specifications for doing it.” So then what we do is we look at existing standards and we take this standard, we’ll work with it, and in technical jargon, it’s if you constrain it, take those bits of it that could be particularly useful in a particular real world setting, then could we make something that everybody’s then able to use? So common technical specifications is a part of our work, but that’s not all. We also do a lot of insight work and an awful lot of helping different players in a supply chain to engage with each other.
Larry Jordan: Recently you announced a partnership with SMPTE to create a new version of the IMF format for broadcast and online.
Mark Harrison: That’s right.
Larry Jordan: We already have about a billion codecs, maybe more, I lost count. Why do we need this?
Mark Harrison: By the way, I should emphasize I’m not a technologist, and maybe that’s where I’m useful in this conversation because I don’t know about codecs, and I certainly don’t want a billion and one. But I know about some real problems, and one real problem is that nowadays as we all know I think, movies typically run to like 400 versions, and we know that problem exists in the movie sector. But now, higher end television programs, particularly the more successful franchises in factual and in non-factual programming, can run into hundreds of versions as well. It’s crippling broadcasters and distributors to be having to make so many different versions. It’s also creating so much complexity in how we actually go about distributing content.
Mark Harrison: So wouldn’t it be great if we could have like a takeaway restaurant menu of all the different elements you could possibly want in different versions? Then you could pick from that menu, and out of that select the things that you need for a particular territory or a particular version. And wouldn’t it be great if that could all be automated? So it became a computerized process whereby you could generate many different versions out of a single master set. That’s what IMF for broadcasting online is. It’s not actually a codec at all. In fact, part of what might be specified would be the codec that’s required. It’s more like a menu of available options.
Mark Harrison: You’re based in the UK. Does that mean that you’re just focused on UK broadcast?
Mark Harrison: No, absolutely not. In fact, very quickly just over the last two years, we have become an international organization with members around the world. We partner very closely with the North American Broadcasters Association, NABA, as well as SMPTE in the US. So we’re particularly strong actually in north America.
Mark Harrison: And as well as becoming international, we’re also no longer just about broadcasting. Many of our member companies don’t work in broadcast at all, they actually work in non broadcast content production and distribution. As you may well know, we’re not at a place where actually there’s more content that’s commissioned and produced for non broadcast use than there is for broadcast.
Larry Jordan: Is the DPP open to new members, and do you need to be a studio or large enterprise to join or who are you looking to have become part of the organization?
Mark Harrison: Membership comes in all shapes and sizes. We currently have nearly 300 member companies, from a standard start just over two years ago. It ranges from the giants, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Fox, Turner, the really big players, right through to production companies, start ups. We have companies with just one or two people in them. It means that if you’re very small you pay a very low membership fee. And if you’re very big, you pay a much bigger membership fee.
Larry Jordan: For a small person, how much are they spending to become a member?
Mark Harrison: It can be £500, so $600 for a small company.
Larry Jordan: For people that want more information, where can they go on the web?
Mark Harrison: They should go to our website, which is www.digitalproductionpartnership.co.uk.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, digitalproductionpartnership.co.uk, and Mark Harrison is the managing director and co-founder of the Digital Production Partnership, and Mark, thanks for joining us today.
Mark Harrison: It’s been a real pleasure Larry, thanks.
Larry Jordan: I want to introduce you to a new website, Thalo.com. Thalo is an artist community and networking site for creative people to connect, be inspired and showcase their creativity. Thalo.com features content from around the world with a global perspective on all things creative. Thalo is the place for creative folks to learn, collaborate, market and sell their works. Thalo is a part of Thalo Arts, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers. From photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts, and everything in between, Thalo is filled with the resources you need to succeed. Visit Thalo.com and discover how their community can help you connect, learn and succeed. That’s Thalo.com.
Larry Jordan: William T. Hayes is the president of the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society and rather than describe IEEE myself, I think I’ll let Bill do it. Hello Bill, welcome.
William T. Hayes: Well thank you very much. Yes I am the president of the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society. BTS is just one of the 47 societies and counsels that make up the IEEE. For those not familiar with it, the IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional organization. We have over 420,000 members globally, and the IEEE’s mission is to advance technology for humanity and we’ve got members obviously, we’ve do conferences, publication standards, educations, all kinds of outreach to the engineering and electrical and electronics. We’ve developed communities of support for various technologies. As I said, I’m the president of one of those societies which is focused on broadcast technology.
Larry Jordan: I’m already tired just listening to the description of what you’re doing.
William T. Hayes: It’s a big organization.
Larry Jordan: So far today we’ve talked with SMPTE and we’ve talked to AES in terms of standards organizations, how do you fit in with them?
William T. Hayes: BTS obviously focuses in some of the same areas that both SMPTE and AES focus in, and that is standardization in media. But IEEE’s net is much wider than that. IEEE has societies in everything from biometrics to plasma sciences, and nuclear sciences. So our standard operations go far beyond media. If you’ve ever used wifi, that’s an IEEE standard. Firewire for computer connections, that’s an IEEE standard. So IEEE’s reach is much broader, although I’m a member of both AES and SMPTE as well, so sometimes focusing helps get the work done.
Larry Jordan: Let’s put your Broadcast Technology Society hat on, and narrow it down to the kind of stuff that you do. How do you avoid stepping on SMPTE or AES’s toes or the other way round?
William T. Hayes: Well it’s actually not as difficult as you might imagine. BTS, because our focus is much more on the distribution side of this, of media to mass audiences, so we focus in the areas of taking content that has been created using AES and SMPTE standards, and our focus is on delivering that from the organizations that create it, to the consumer who want to receive it. So we are actually much more symbiotic and cooperative. We seldom run into places where we’re stepping on each other’s toes and as a matter of fact, in some of the standards, we actually use each other’s standards to enhance what we’re doing.
William T. Hayes: A case in point would be the SMPTE standard that’s been worked on IP video, uses an IEEE standard called precision time protocol, as part of its standard. So we actually cooperate quite well together.
Larry Jordan: Well within your organization, how do you view your role?
William T. Hayes: As the president of the Society? I’m the cheerleader. I’m the one who’s out there trying to get more people interested in participating. The one area where we’d like to see more participation is in the user community. We’re all focused on making technology better, but where we find a shortage is people who are applying the technology, you know, to close the loop. We can design something and standardize it, but if we don’t have users helping us through that process, what we can tend to do is create something that’s, while it’s standardized, is not what the user actually wants. So my job is mostly an ambassador to try to get more practicing people and more end users to get involved in this. The manufacturing community loves to support this, because obviously they’re selling products either in our professional spaces or in the consumer spaces that are utilizing these standards. So they’re very happy to participate in it, but we’d just like to see more of the people, the applications side of this. So engineers at radio stations, and TV stations or in various industries that are actually working with the technology that’s being standardized, be part of it. So that’s really where I see my role.
Larry Jordan: Well I’m a consumer that is in a media space, and I would consider myself a professional for the next 30 seconds or so. Technology is happening and changing so quickly that most of us poor users can’t keep up. Do standards organizations have a role in trying to stabilize all this technological change? Or are they enhancing it?
William T. Hayes: Well the whole idea of standards is not to create limits, in my vision it’s to create the pathways. In the old days when technology was very much long term and you bought something like a TV, it was a 20 to 30 year product. It sat in your living room. Most of the time you didn’t throw them away, you put them somewhere else, so the standards that were created for that had this long lifespan and so creating them took time, but once they were created, they really didn’t change much over time.
William T. Hayes: Now technology is much more commoditized and disposable, and the technologies are changing rapidly, so standards organizations, in order to keep up with that, have gotten away from writing these very hard concrete limited rigid standards, to creating what we would call tool kits where we create standards that are extensible, that can be added onto. The idea is to provide a pathway for growth and development that doesn’t necessarily require the consumer to throw away everything they have, and buy all new again. The worst thing we can do is create a standard and then three or five years out, a new technology comes out and a person buys that and the standard doesn’t work with it, so they can’t get what they want. So the whole idea with standards now is to try and be much more flexible and create them as tool kits and that allows growth and development so that they do have some legs and some life expectancy.
Larry Jordan: So what new technology are you guys debating? What future can I look forward to in the next couple of years?
William T. Hayes: In the television space, in the US and in Korea, and pretty much globally, it’s all about the new digital TV standard, ATSC3. ATSC is the digital television standard used in the United States, Korea, Canada, Mexico and a number of places. We’re working on a new standard that allows terrestrial broadcast television to become much more internet like with the ability for back channel, to utilize smart devices and bring in content not only from the transmitted service over the air, but also from a smart connection via broadband connectivity. So that’s what we’re focusing on right now. And it’s happening on a global level. We have participants from all over the planet that are working on various components of this. And again, this is another one of those tool kits, we’re creating this extensible standard that will be start being deployed, probably in the next year and a half, but it has the capability to be expanded upon so that it should last for several decades of service and perhaps beyond that.
Larry Jordan: It seems to me your role is caught between all these different warring factions of people that have opinions and different countries you’re dealing with. Are you still having fun?
William T. Hayes: Oh yes. To me that’s the best part of it is consensus building. And it’s great on a global level because not only are you building consensus with technologists, but you’re also learning about cultures and, not my favorite part, a little bit about the politics going on around the world. We had this conversation where there’s no technical reason not to have global standards. Typically it has to do with politics and political boundaries, so it’s fun to sit with engineers from all over the world, have a conversation about the technology, ease of vision of what it can do and then realize, we have to figure out how do we get our politicians to say this is OK?
Larry Jordan: Well for people that want to keep track of what the IEEE is doing, and your group specifically, where can they go on the web?
William T. Hayes: Well for BTS it’s just BTS.IEEE.org and if you’re interested in the IEEE, it’s IEEE.org.
Larry Jordan: William T. Hayes is the president of the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society and Bill, thanks for joining us today.
William T. Hayes: Thank you for having me.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: I was just thinking, last week one of my teaching assistants at USC told me he wanted to be a film director and that he was working to get into the film school. I asked him, “What do you want to learn in film school?” “How to use the gear” he replied. Now, USC has a justifiably famous film school, but I told him that film school is not necessary for success as a filmmaker. Watching films, analyzing films, deconstructing what makes a camera shot, or a scene work are all essential steps to becoming a successful director and that process can be learned in film school, but it can also be learned in your spare time.
Larry Jordan: Instead, I asked him, “Which is more important to a director? How to use the gear, how to work with a crew to create your vision, or how to enable your actors to tell your story?” Directing, I suggested, has far more to do with people skills than technical skills. This doesn’t mean that tech isn’t important, but that all too often we think tech is the answer when it is merely a tool. Even high budget films have fallen into this trap. He’s putting his career on hold for the wrong reason. I told him that he already has an outstanding camera in his pocket. It’s his smartphone.
Larry Jordan: If he wants to learn the challenges of directing, I told him “Shoot a short film every weekend. No more than two to four pages of script. Put yourself on a tight deadline, so that you have to think and work quickly. See how framing and camera position affect your story. Discover how to motivate a crew. Learn how to work with actors, especially student actors, to help them find the emotional heart of a scene. Develop your communication and people skills, analyze your shots, practice your editing, and constantly critique your work. Then do it again, and do it again. If you get into film school, great. If not, also great, because the things you most need to know to create a great film are learned on the job, not in the classroom.”
Larry Jordan: Just something I’m thinking about. And as always, let me know your thoughts.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank this week’s guests, Howard Lukk from SMPTE, Doctor Richard Cabot from AES, Mark Harrison from DPP, William Hayes from IEEE and James DeRuvo from DoddleNEWS.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews, all online and all available to you today. Remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Saturday.
Larry Jordan: Talk with us on Twitter @DPBuzz and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com.
Larry Jordan: Our theme music is composed by Nathan Dugi-Turner with additional music provided by Smartsound.com. Text transcripts are provided by Take1 Transcription. Visit Take1.tv to learn how they can help you.
Larry Jordan: Our producer is Debbie Price, my name is Larry Jordan, and thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.
Larry Jordan: The Digital Production Buzz is copyright 2017 by Thalo LLC.