Kylee Peña's NAB 2016 Review: It's The Little Things
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This was not an exciting year for the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas.
But that’s okay, because the “exciting” stuff isn’t what affects post production workflow the most. At least not immediately. Some “really cool” products that make a big splash on NAB Monday might slowly assimilate into the mainstream of post production over many years.
Some new cameras will start to gain traction a year or so after they’re actually released. Hot topics like virtual reality are new and exciting, but still relegated to an odd mix of specialists and dabblers trying to figure out what it all means. We won’t know what those things really mean for years.
The South Hall at NAB is crowded on Monday morning, but the most interesting products aren't new and exciting.
The “little things” are what affect the acquisition-to-delivery workflow right now — if not practically and immediately, then conceptually. My job deals with facilitating and supervising the workflow from camera to finishing for TV shows, as painlessly as possible. So my NAB was spent focused on acquisition formats, on set color tools, displays, and software support for all of these things in post. These are things that are no less important than anything else to the right people, but don’t attract the crowds and blogs of Big Deal announcements. They’re quicker to hit the market or “updates” tab of your software. Or they fundamentally change an aspect of your working life in a mundane but important way. Or they’re just not as much fun to demo or talk about.
THE MOST IMPORTANT NAB 2016 STORY MAY NOT BE IMPORTANT TO YOU UNTIL 2019
It’s fun and interesting to look at the broad concepts that may be a predictor of NABs to come to see how some big ideas become small pain points that need solving. Walking around SAM’s booth (the re-branded Quantel and Snell) has become a post production crystal ball for me each year. A relative few utilize Quantel Rio and its 8K capabilities on a day to day basis compared to the sea of people on the exhibit hall floor of the South Hall. Many of those people still dismiss 8K or beyond as “ridiculous” or “unnecessary” — same as they did with 4K, same with HD. It’s the same story, year after year.
Three years ago, I was writing about real time 4K editing and broadcast from companies like Quantel and Grass Valley and even then, it was old news — most of these products were originally released in 2007. Dealing with 4K and UHD has moved from a narrow speciality to a mainstream NAB hot topic to a practical problem that needs to be solved in small but important ways, especially for 4K delivery.
I spoke briefly with SAM’s Director of Creative Services Danny Peters about the dismissal of 8K by some. To paraphrase and over-simplify one aspect, this dismissal is a lack of understanding of what 8K is giving you: not just more pixels, but better quality pixels that yield an emotional response, even if you can’t tell why.
The story shifts from “what’s that” to “I don’t need that” to “how do I make that work” and suddenly we’re at an NAB where the people are searching for software and hardware capable of dealing with these changes in their specific workflow.
And for the most part, the solutions aren’t making their debut at the show. Companies are sticking to a release cycle built around NAB less and less. I spoke with Blackmagic Design’s President of North America, Dan May, about their slew of products, and about this shift in product cycles. His perspective: why hold onto valuable products and updates for an April release when they’re ready sooner?
Models in booths like at Blackmagic Design were equally male and female this year, and wearing sensible clothing.
Among Blackmagic’s offerings this year were a studio viewfinder for the URSA, Resolve 12.5, and interestingly, the Duplicator 4K which can record video simultaneously to 25 SD cards. I asked him for a use case for the product. He asked if I had attended their press conference helmed by CEO Grant Petty in the morning. No, I missed it. Unfortunate, because it’s always a good time.
Ah ha, not to worry — he pulls an SD card from his pocket which contains the entirety of the press conference.
Yeah, I walked right into that.
For a likely narrow market of people, this small product will make a big difference to their workflow. It wasn’t a huge demand on Blackmagic, but it’s a neat little device that solves a little issue and somehow fits into the company’s library of neat stuff. Debuting something interesting and specific at NAB while continuing to update and release new mainstream stuff all year long is a pretty good habit for anyone.
PERFORMANCE AND CAPACITY
Walking the South Hall to see what else post production had to offer this year, the theme that emerged was even more about performance and capacity to try and keep up with the demands of acquisition. Bigger, faster storage — 10 gigabit ethernet is ubiquitous in its support like with Avid’s new NEXIS, a software-defined storage platform.
Some are choosing to eliminate the need for I/O performance altogether with solutions like Adobe’s new proxy workflow, utilizing tried and true offline/online workflows inside Premiere Pro. HP’s Remote Graphics Software (RGS) allows you to work with high end software while utilizing the power of a hefty workstation like the HP Z840 remotely — now available on Mac.
If my software and hardware mentions seem light, it’s intentional and a result of the vibe of this year’s show: the little things you need in your real world workflow are small, specific, and very important to you. My feature requests for Resolve would be small and uninteresting to the crowd trying to use it as their full time NLE, but the requests are hugely important to the pipeline I’m working in.
That’s where NAB as a physical thing becomes important and useful. By bringing together a few thousand nerds with their own needs, dozens and dozens of conversations can be had face to face that give you leads on solutions you can act on immediately. Which LUT box is for you? Which LTO solution best fits your current environment? What do you need in a 4K monitor? Making and renewing relationships with peers and vendors makes the rest of the year a little easier — a roadmap and a rolodex in hand.
Back again for another year, this time with a press ribbon on my badge
The people in the crowds that make up the over 100,000 attendees of the show become a valuable resource to one another, and a representative of a slice of the industry to those playing from home — so it’s unfortunate that this crowd remains so completely dominated by men.
In walking from one hall to another through a large open common area (a ten minute walk through a thick crowd at peak hours), I counted only 22 women that passed by me. A woman who attended the show with me for the first time confessed, “I always knew it was going to be male-dominated but I never really fathomed what that meant until I came here and experienced it for myself.”
While I would strongly encourage companies to send female employees to the show (after you find female applicants and promote them within your company, of course) I would expect that major vendors work toward gender parity the biggest way they can at a major trade show: by putting people on their stages that reflect how they want the crowd — and more importantly, the industry — to look.
Disappointingly, that was not the case this year. The big “A” companies appeared to have only one woman each doing tech demos and discussions. Around the South Hall it was mostly business as usual for women on stages. There are a number of woman-oriented events and meet-ups, and those are great — but those don’t make an impact on what a majority of attendees see when they enter an exhibit hall.
The one place where there was an obvious and needed change was with the models in booths, sitting in scenes or against green screen to demonstrate cameras or compositing technologies. There were no bikini shows or oddly gendered displays, and the scenes were no less effective. I would go so far as to say that the show achieved gender parity and equality when it comes to people sitting in front of a camera all day.
Why is it so hard to achieve this on stages when there is no shortage of qualified women?
Walking between the North and South halls, I only saw 22 women pass by during the busiest point of the show.
Before the show began this year, I wrote about a Women in Post PR List I developed with UK-based editor Siân Fever. I wrote about this in a previous Creative COW article, here. That article includes a regularly-updated, downloadable list of women experts in the field of postproduction, which I'll also provide here.
Our hope is that this list of women experts in post — editors, engineers, and everything in between — will grow and become a resource for vendors to use when they’re staffing booths and scheduling demonstrations for the coming year.
It has already made an impact in the discussion of avoiding the #allmalepanel in post — a concept and hashtag made mainstream by the UN Global Compact Committee, though I wish I could claim authorship. Sure, it’s not simple to program a conference and achieve gender parity. But it’s also not so difficult, especially now that there's an actual, growing list of highly qualified women experts available to you.
It’s also worth looking at why women decide to turn down such opportunities and compensate for these issues — unable to take time away, child-care difficulties, financial hardship — issues for women that are not unique to post production.
Gender parity at a trade show might seem like a truly little unimportant thing, especially if you’re in the majority demographic. But like the little things at NAB, the mundane becomes important when it affects your workflow. And in this case, closing the gender gap is vital to everyone’s success.
If the true benefit of NAB for a majority of attendees has become one-on-one problem-solving and development of relationships, you’re missing out on the perspective of half the population, who have had different experiences and create different solutions to problems.
Mary Poplin demonstrates Mocha for Imagineer and BorisFX, one of the few visible women on the show floor.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN IMPORTANT AND EXCITING
It wasn’t an exciting year, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t important.
Don’t take this as a “sky is falling, NAB is over” piece. A trade show like NAB is always going to have significance in media and entertainment. With social media, it has more visibility than ever. But it takes time for innovation to be assimilated. So no Lytro or VR in this overview, but maybe in a few years, when they become practical, with issues that need to be implemented in mainstream production, with day-to-day workflow problems to be solved.
Maybe the most exciting thing about NAB is occasionally having a moment to gain an appreciation for what impacts the industry the most during the other 51 weeks of the year: the little things, and the people who use them.