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CUTTING ROOM A brief history of time by Dick Hobbs A nd another IBC is written into the annals of history. Another week in Amsterdam, sharing knowledge and experience. Say what you like about IBC: it is a great chance to meet, talk and learn. Now at IBC I actually perform a number of tasks behind the scenes which keep me largely occupied and out of trouble. And I am issued with a house telephone so anyone in the IBC organisation can find me even when I try to hide. On television, too, time was sacrosanct. The idea that the early evening news could start at around six was just silly. It started at 18:00:00:00 or someone would be looking for a new job. Everyone knew when that was, because there was a network of station clocks, linked to the Greenwich time signal. People used to set their watches by it. None of that counts for anything any more. VHF analogue radio apart, nothing that reaches the home is accurately timed any more. And I worry about Radio 4. One of the organisations who did contact me regularly was IBC TV, the new look service which provides 24 hour streaming of all sorts of events and content around the show. That includes a number of live broadcasts each day: regular programmes and special events like commentaries on keynote conference presentations. All the television we watch is digital. That means once it leaves master control, it goes to an encoder, which will impose some degree of latency. Somewhere else, that digital stream will be multiplexed into a transport stream, which again may add a delay. The chances are it will go up to space and back at least once, which takes a finite and distinctly measurable time. On the first day I was called and asked to rush to the IBC TV studio no fewer than three times, because a guest had not turned up and would I stand in. In each case, the guest arrived at pretty much the go live time – sometimes after it – and I did not need to bluff my way through whatever they were going to talk about. On day two I did actually have to be an instant rent-a-pundit, but that is a different story. When it gets to home the stream we want is stripped from the multiplex and decoded. Given that the chipset to do this is built down to a price rather than up to a performance specification, I think we can be reasonably certain that this will add some time, too. So there is a distinct delay between a picture leaving even a live studio and it reaching the eyeballs of you and me. The fact that these people, all of whom I am pretty certain were on a much higher pay grade than me and had minders to mind them, failed to understand the concept of time with respect to live television made me pause for thought. In the changing world of television, does time matter any more? We are told the next big advance will be in IP infrastructures. Now this is where it gets exciting, because IP is not a time-dependent way of handling data. IP is clever, but its cleverness is in ensuring that the message gets through come what may, not on doing it in any sort of deterministic way. In the classic days of broadcasting, the clock was king. The idea of crashing Big Ben on radio was absolutely anathema. When Eddie Mair did it a few months back, on the PM programme on Radio 4, he ran a week of features about this cardinal sin. The solutions proposed are that live IP signals should find their way through the hardware of Cisco, Juniper et al, with the best efforts of ethernet. Only at “the edge” – the posh way of saying where it goes back to being good old video – will it get timed. To me, that means live IP signals will be slowed to the lowest stream in the system. So even live television will no longer be live. Given all that, and the fact that we are increasingly watching online which adds a minute or so for the internet; or we are just using Sky+ or iPlayer to watch at our convenience, does time matter any more? We probably need some means of synchronising pictures somewhere inside the machinery. And there probably has to be some sort of way of describing individual pictures so edit software knows where to switch from one file to another. But is time as we used to know it an old-fashioned concept? Will the News at Ten become the News at Ten-ish? And do I need to be on permanent standby at IBC for those senior executives whose grasp of time – and common courtesy – is equally tenuous? 98 | KITPLUS - THE TV-BAY MAGAZINE: ISSUE 106 OCTOBER 2015