JWR Articles: Commentary - NAB Show NY 2019 (Featured speaker: Ginger Zee) - October 17, 2019 id="543337086">

NAB Show NY 2019

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Is all innovation good for us?

With this year’s theme, “Now Casting New Perspectives” setting the tone of the 2019 NAB Show, New York was ready to show the broadcasting industry (radio and television) that there is still lots of life left in traditional methods even in the face of increasing competition from IP platforms and players. As a sidebar, it is also interesting to note how print media—having earlier learned to get their content on line, many charging a modest subscription fee—are angry with the likes of Google and Amazon for not sharing more of their piece of the search engine pie with those who actually produced the content. And in the realm of streaming movies, Netflix’s world domination is facing some mighty stiff competition—also from Amazon—even as Google tinkers with YouTube.

With his opening remarks, NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith, reinforced the theme right off the bat: “Investing in innovation is vital.” He cheered the beginnings of the next broadcast era, NextGen TV (essentially, the ATSC 3.0 protocol combines over-the-air with over-the-Internet content in a way that means most people can have all the TV they want on any device, anytime, anywhere).

But, of course, as is well known on Shark Tank and Dragons’ Den, investors want a return. And in this instance, the big payoff will come from advertisers, bombarding their customers one profile at a time with real-time ads specifically designed to excite viewers’ known habits and likes.

Are we not spending enough of our lives staring at screens already? Big Brother is in billions of pockets worldwide.

As the Opening Keynote speaker, Ginger Zee (Chief Meteorologist, ABC News) proved to be an excellent choice. Fresh from the nearby set of Good Morning America, the passionate national forecaster provided many interesting moments ranging from interest in “the puzzle of the atmosphere” to her current thoughts on climate change (“There’s no debate.”). Turns out it was the 1996 movie Twister and Helen Hunt’s role that changed her life: “That is what I want to be.”

Armed with a BSc in meteorology from Indiana’s Valparaiso University (a great location for storm chasing, which is an important part of the learning), Zee gradually made her way up to her current position. Along the journey—knowing that she was not just a scientist but also a performer and entertainer) she took a variety of acting classes and even did on a turn on Dancing With the Stars. It has been quite a shift from small studios with robotic cameras to a 50+ team behind GMA. Definitely not just “the weather girl” as she exclaimed with a smile.

Her innovative push was for “augmented reality” where animated “highlights of the day’s weather story popped right out of the map”. With NextGen TV and the prospect of Geo Targets, it is her continuing goal to speak directly to viewers in various parts of the country before a major system arrives rather than reporting on the aftermath of death and destruction. Sadly, even some of those who were warned had no option (“no car, no cash”) but to ride out the event—mainly to deadly effect. More than deriding climate change, we need to embrace compassionate change.

Zee also mentioned the “plastic” issue, pointing out that she uses the same water bottle day in and day out and also reuses freezer bags as much as her husband will stand! Ironically, many of those seated near me were holding NAB Show water bottles that would likely never be reused…

The following session, “Maximize Value for Every Video Using [IBM] Watson AI,” most certainly reinforced the idea that monetization of every frame seen on websites is what content should all be about. Solutions Engineer Ethan Dreilinger from IBM, regaled the sparse crowd (“Opening keynotes are always hard to follow”) while assuring those present that Watson AI (no doubt named for the famous detective) would deliver “compelling monetizable experiences.”

Essentially, Watson scours the various videos (sports, news, movies, etc.) and constructs readily searchable highlights based on genre, sound (e.g., crowd noise), announcer excitement and reaction shots. Properly tagged and spell checked (his disparaging comment about local stations’ staff delivering pizza as “pizzza"—and hence never findable fell flat) being the digital icing on this eyeballs-‘r’-us cake.

In terms of captioning (regular AI: 60% reduction; last-minute “not what your staff should be doing” calamities), the IBM defender missed the point of his earlier comment: “AI does the menial tasks; it does not replace jobs.”

Maybe not for the broadcaster, but many fully qualified captioners have been “let go” in the face of AI whose results—I have witnessed first-hand on many occasions—may save a bit of cash, but leaves the end user with an experience not nearly as robust as those with full hearing.

In the Q&A, Dreilinger had to admit that IBM’s solution is not a straight-out-of-the-box solution, but requires “some training” and understanding of content.

Caveat emptor! JWR

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Featured speaker - Ginger Zee
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