This is, of course, the IBC issue of this splendid magazine. Much of the rest of its pages are filled with what you will see there, or (in some cases) what vendors and their marketing communications agencies want you to see there.
This year’s IBC is a particularly special event, though. It is 50 years – almost to the day – since the very first International Broadcasting Convention, held in London in 1967. Authorities from Edmund Burke to Lemony Snicket have said words to the effect that “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”. Can IBC67 tell us anything useful?
The way we make and distribute content today is completely different to 50 years ago, the most startling difference being that most of it was still in black and white. The big drama hit of 1967 was John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga, which occupied primetime Sunday for no fewer than 26 weeks from January to July. For decades after, audiences talked of the wonderfully colourful dresses in The Forsyte Saga, but it was shot and broadcast in black and white.
Colour came to Europe that year with the launch of BB2 (controller not-yet-Sir David Attenborough). It was tennis from Wimbledon that first saw colour broadcasting (John Newcombe was men’s champion; Billie Jean King beat plucky Brit Anne Hayden). Attenborough was asked to come up with a primetime show that would drive sales of colour receivers, and invented the one-frame snooker championship Pot Black in 1969.
In Europe we bought a lot of television programmes from America (so no change there then). Family cowboy saga Bonanza was popular, as was an emerging hit sci-fi show called Star Trek. Top sitcom was Bewitched. These all arrived on our shores as cans of film, so telecine was not a creative art but a practical solution to the transmission of recorded content.
It is no surprise, then, that one of the founders of IBC was John Etheridge, then general manager of the broadcast division of Rank Precision Engineering, which shortly became Rank Cintel, Rank Brimar (maker of the CRTs) and Rank Taylor Hobson (now back to its original name of Cooke Optics and still making some of the world’s best lenses).
Etheridge’s two partners behind IBC were from companies now forgotten, at least in the industry today: John Tucker of EMI and Tom Mayer of Marconi. As an aside, this was the foundation of the spirit of co-operation which IBC celebrates, as they were fierce competitors in business. EMI and Marconi had each developed a colour studio camera and were keen to become the preferred choice.
Many of the vendors who took stand space at the first IBC are no longer with us, but several are. I have already mentioned Cooke Optics, which pre-dated television let alone IBC. Photon Beard was founded 134 years ago: Peter Daffarn still talks about the traumas of moving from gas lighting.
Vinten, too, is more than 100 years old so a long established business in camera supports by 1967. Back then it was showing the latest models in pedestals and pan and tilt heads, capable of supporting “cameras weighing from 100 to 500 pounds”. I’ve just done a back of envelope calculation to work out that an Arri Alexa with Cooke lens and accessories would be 11kg tops. The 1967 Vinten capacity for 225kg cameras seems very over the top to our eyes.
Facts like the weight-bearing capacity of a head were very much in people’s minds at the first IBC. Technical specifications were everywhere. Scully, for example, wanted visitors to know that its range of audio recorders featured total harmonic distortion less than 0.005% at +18dBm. When was the last time you made a buying decision based on that sort of data?
Jumping forward to now, what are the questions that will be on people’s lips at IBC2017? There are the obvious hot topics around IP connectivity and the SMPTE 2110 set of standards, and that is a really important issue for today and tomorrow. But what else will people be talking about? I’ve got a couple of strands in mind which I think might move from slow burner to hot topic this time around.