A busy NAB showed above all that innovation in media and entertainment hasn’t slowed with exhibits on the show floor incorporating AI, prioritising net-zero and integrating with the cloud.

We are talking about sustainability

This year’s NAB revealed an industry treating sustainability as something essential and a problem to be solved, not brushed under the carpet.

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“We saw companies leaving huge amounts of money on the table because they just didn’t think sustainability had anything to do with them, and others who were trying to hold sustainability in mind at every stage of business,” reports Neal Romanek, editorial director, The Flint.

A focus on sustainability actually seemed to be generating money for some. “We’ve yet to see a company say ‘We’re really serious about sustainability and it’s losing us money’,” Romanek added.

This is particularly true for European vendors or companies doing business in Europe. The EU’s mandate (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) requires enterprise-level companies to report sustainability metrics starting this financial year (with SMEs following). They must assess the impact of their business on people and the environment along with possible financial risks.

While these rules will likely also apply to a US company wanting to transact in Europe, the US’ own sustainability legislation is still a work in progress.

Watch more NAB 2024: Barbara Lange on bringing sustainable practices to the media industry

Romanek also points to Europe’s tradition of public service broadcasters pushing sustainability forward. “In the U.S. decisions are driven primarily by profit. Luckily there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit where more sustainable decisions can mean big cost savings. The enthusiastic response to the NAB Sustainability Awards makes me think that we’ll only see more sustainability on the floor next year.”

That said, there were also reports of complaints about cloud provider evasiveness regarding carbon footprints.

Would you like AI with that?

You couldn’t avoid it. AI was everywhere. “It was almost comical and it will be interesting to see how vendors start to differentiate themselves through the actual application of AI in their solutions,” observed Ben Davenport, a marketing exec previously at Arvato and Pixotope and now Director at Beyond the Grapevine.

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An air of healthy scepticism and pragmatism pervaded discussion of AI in Vegas as visitors probed vendor claims whilst cooling the early days’ hyperbole around GenAI’s upside-downing effect.

“When something hits any industry like a whirlwind, it’s a sign to pay attention because it may mean more than it seems,” said Michael Cioni, CEO and Co-Founder of Strada. “The generative AI space may seem disruptive right now but I believe that automating mundane tasks will likely prove most valuable in the long run. Generating content grabs headlines but won’t necessarily revolutionise industries.”

Strada (in beta) offers a platform for postproduction users to tailor their workflows with AI engines. These are ‘backroom’ tasks like automatic sound syncing not creative ones like editing.

While Cioni and AI tools developers like Pinar Seyhan Demirdag, Co-Founder and CEO of Cuebric, shudder at the thought that AI will replace the human collaboration that makes film art, Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer (Quantum of Solace) wasn’t so sure.

In his NAB masterclass, he warned: “AI is definitely something that we have to be really wary of. With AI moving so fast I’m not going to predict how many years it will be before we lose control but it’s looking like it’s going to happen eventually.”

Adobe for instance is adding a raft of GenAI tools, including text-to-video, scene extension, and add/remove objects, to Premiere Pro all trained on its own authenticated data.

Read more NAB 2024: Evertz rolls out AI-driven co-pilots for virtual production control suite

GenAI gets personal

One area where AI is already making inroads is in making video content more discoverable and personalised. This is thought to help service providers tackle churn, one of the biggest problems facing today’s streamers and pay-TV companies.

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Consumers will respond to enhanced content discovery with half of respondents to Deloitte’s Digital Media Trends study saying they would spend more time on streaming video services if it was easier to find content.

Marketers can use ThinkAnalytics’ Think360 product to auto-generate personalised email and social media messaging to reach users at risk of churn. The same product also uses generative AI for viewers to create personalised recommendations. It adjusts the tone based on who the end user is,” explains Peter Docherty, founder and CTO. “To appeal to younger viewers, for example, the service converses in an animated, enthused tone.”

Quickplay has a similar suite of technologies powered by Google Cloud and uses GenAI for streaming video discovery. Its new Curator Assistant is for content programmers to serve up more relevant content while a previously announced app uses GenAI to help viewers discover content they want to see via voice interaction with the TV.

The essence of any such application is metadata, the richer the better. ThinkAnalytics for example can draw on an ontology of over 38,000 keywords/tags, moods, themes and subjects.

Paul Pastor, Quickplay Co-Founder said, “Programmers will no longer be limited by their own or licensed metadata - they can literally leverage the entire internet, with conversational search, to program their service and drive more discovery opportunities that are personalised to the user or cohort.”

Personalised services like this are turning video streaming into Me TV. A clue as to how this might look is at Spotify which introduced an AI tool (in beta) for subscribers to build their own playlists by typing in prompts. Prompts “can reference places, animals, activities, movie characters, colours, even emojis. The most successful playlists are generated with prompts that contain a combination of genres, moods, artists, or decades.”

Watch more NAB 2024: HAND CEO talks AI and automation

Cloud becomes the media backbone

Leading cloud providers (Microsoft, Google, Amazon) have also lucked into the position of offering AI tools to supercharge media workflows. At NAB, the use of the cloud was shown to be becoming more of a fixture for live remote, set to post and bread and butter postproduction workflows. New breakthroughs in transporting, processing and manipulating data in data centres are being unlocked.

Mid-March saw the National Hockey League (NHL) produce its first live-to-air cloud broadcast in a demo replicated at NAB. It involved camera feeds sent over Verizon’s 5G network to be processed by AWS at the cloud Edge “with the speed from content capture on ice to broadcast going from seconds to milliseconds.” Production was done centrally not at the venue.

AWS also flexed its cloud muscle for powering live news broadcasts “from production all the way through distribution and consumption,” said Tracy Geist, Head of M&E Marketing for AWS. Vision and audio mixing in the demo at NAB was done on-site with graphics overlay, editing, and other tasks performed remotely. Participating vendors included AP ENPS, Ross Video, Telos Alliance, LiveU and Haivision.

One of the few areas of the post-production workflow yet to be convincingly replicated in the cloud is the grade. In part, that’s over concern that what one person sees on a calibrated suite might not be the same as that viewed by a client reviewing the images from another place. Even this is being cracked. Panavision-owned post facility Light Iron demonstrated the end-to-end grade of an actual feature film, the indie project Penelope lensed by Nathan Miller, and graded in Baselight from proxy files.

It was another multi-vendor workflow also involving Colorfront’s Express Dailies and AWS Cloud storage. LightIron and Hollywood think tank MovieLabs claimed the case study showed that cloud “significantly” cut the time taken to turnaround dailies and make VFX pulls but they weren’t shy about current limitations calling out the cost of cloud as “a major concern” necessitating “careful management to make sure the cloud resources were used efficiently and effectively.”

Other developments include Backblaze enabling its cloud storage platform to be branded as part of a third-party solution and a tie-up between cloud storage Storj and storage and file management platform Amove to offer customers a route from on-premise into hybrid and full cloud environments. The EVO Suite asset management software from Studio Networks Solutions enables users to sync, replicate, and back up media to cloud storage platforms that now include Box.com, Wasabi, Backblaze, Google, AWS and Azure.

Read more NAB 2024: Backblaze launches agnostic event notification service to automate cloud workflows

Meanwhile, EditShare has teamed with Atomos to bring camera-to-cloud workflows from the latter’s camera-mounted mounted monitor-recorders into its collaboration platform MediaSilo via the cloud.

Camera innovation

Showing not only the continuing relevance of trade shows for announcing new products, but also that technology innovation is far from dead in one of the last hardware-centric areas of media creation, NAB saw several new camera releases.

Blackmagic URSA Cine 12K

Blackmagic URSA Cine 12K

Blackmagic Design jumped into cameras a decade ago with its first Pocket Cinema Camera and has been upping the ante ever since. Its $14,995 URSA Cine 12K is the flagship designed for high-end production. CEO Grant Petty signed off on a quote that claimed this is the firm’s “dream high-end camera” that had “no expense spared” and delivers “everything we had ever wanted.”

Meaning he had to tune down his promotion of the Pyxis 6K, a $2,995 rugged imager targeting the high-end crash-cam market currently occupied by the likes of RED’s Komodo. “We wanted it to be so much more than just a Pocket Cinema Camera in a different body,” Petty said.

Depth of field digital cine capture will feature on all Olympic coverage from Paris, redolent of demand that is seeing high-end camera makers focus attention on broadcast. Red, for instance, was touting a module that integrates its 8K V-RAPTOR camera into live scenarios such as sports as well as firmware for ‘live painting’ of cameras.

Arri debuted a version of its Alexa for multicamera shoots in studios or arenas. The Alexa 35 – Multicam System offers cinematic imaging and 17 stops of dynamic range in a package that includes all the accessories required for a traditional broadcast systems camera. It also comes with 87 pre-made looks or textures to modify grain and contrast.

Alexa 35 Live camera

Alexa 35 Live camera

China’s DJI, perhaps better known as a maker of prosumer drones, fielded new versions of its camera stabilizer platform DJI RS 4 which incorporates a LiDAR Autofocus system.

Prosumer gear like DJI’s combined camera and stabliser Ronin 4D, or the Sony FX3, are now being used extensively (not just for b-roll) on big-budget IMAX releases like Civil War and The Creator prompting speculation that the days of the expensive digital cinema cameras like Alexa 65, Sony Venice or a Panavised Red are numbered.

That’s extreme when the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan continue to insist on large format negative film but it does mean there are a lot more camera choices with little in the way of image quality between them.

Steven Soderbergh even shot the upcoming psychological thriller Presence with a Sony DSLR to achieve a fluid point of view perspective in keeping with his creepy story.

Read more NAB 2024: Top picks from the showfloor