At the end of the year, SMPTE executive director Barbara Lange will conclude her 12-year stewardship of the industry’s premier standards body to follow the two new career strands of helping young women find careers in STEM and exploring sustainability in the sector.
We first track back to January 2010, when Barbara Lange joined SMPTE as executive director. “Regarding business discipline, SMPTE was a little wayward, and one of the reasons I was hired was to help drive new revenue streams and to be disciplined about budgeting,” she recalls.
“The digital library was one of the first things we achieved and it continues to generate revenue,” she adds. “At the time SMPTE was very US centric, but it has now transitioned into an organisation that is well known as being a global standards and membership association.”
Lange had the pleasure of heading SMPTE during major milestones such as the centenary in 2016, but over the years who were the key people who helped her effect the huge transition?
“When I joined, I did not know a single person. The industry was overwhelmingly helpful and friendly and I learnt from the leaders of the society – Ken Fuller, Charlie Jablonski and Wendy Aylsworth. All of the presidents I have partnered with shared their insights and knowledge, and helped me to do my job better,” she says.
“Then there was Peter Symes, formerly staff director of standards: he was fundamental in my education. So too were the local leaders around the world – Peter Weitzel in the UK, John Maizels and Paul Broderick in Australia, and the Hollywood and New York section people,” she adds.
Lange had said previously that “there is a lot of confusion between standards and specs, and how they stitch together,” so how did IMF and working with the DPP move SMPTE onwards?
“It certainly created that push that we needed. There is always a proponent of some form, and for this project it was the DPP who put us on that pathway. We do not refer to technical specs anymore (now Public CDs) and we bring the relevant information out to the industry earlier than the due process of the standard,” Lange says.
“The partnership with the DPP continues to be vital because they are a user community. It is crucial those users have a voice and help to shape things, whether it is a spec or a full-on standard. Without the users it becomes a collaboration among manufacturers,” she adds.
When the JT-NM came along SMPTE teamed up with the EBU, VSF, AMWA and the AES. “JT-NM was the driver behind all of the work on ST-2110 and relevant bits like NMOS. It is all about collaboration to create a solution with IP that works for the industry. SMPTE and VSF have been recognised by the TV Academy with a Technical Emmy, and that is evidence that collaboration is critical,” says Lange.
“The ST-2110 suite came about pretty quickly when you think about the normal speed of a due process standard. It is the pivot into the IP network for a broadcast facility, but you have to deal with media in the cloud and how does 2110 do that. We are also looking at virtual production and what role 2110 can play in that.”
Connect with SMPTE on IBC Digital
Can the SMPTE+ platform take the full weight of eradicating the concern over imbalances in knowledge?
“That is a role SMPTE continues to play, whether it is educating students coming into this space, or professionals who are changing in their career. One project that is moving us more towards the student end is work we are doing with a virtual production group – the Rapid Industries Solutions Initiative, which we call RIS. This is still nascent and we are forming fundamental ideas for bringing industry and students together in the world of virtual production,” she says. “SMPTE+ is really an events concept.”
The flip side of this discussion is the acknowledged skills shortages in so many new technology areas.
“It is a true statement that many skillsets need to be delivered, but I see that as a great opportunity for those within the industry to pivot and increase their knowledge, to learn the new concepts and new fields. The biggest problem is around the pipeline of talent coming into the industry: that is where this industry struggles and it could dry up,” Lange says.
“It is incumbent on organisations like SMPTE to work more closely with students and promote the career opportunities in media technology,” she adds.
“It is incumbent on organisations like SMPTE to work more closely with students and promote the career opportunities in media technology”
It is at this juncture that Lange gets to the next part of her career. “I am certainly committed to helping SMPTE in its transition, but more importantly I am leaving soon because I have reached a point where I do want to do different things. This is to work on projects that are oriented in two specific domains – girls and STEM, and the issues around sustainability in the media technology sector,” Lange says. “There is expertise I can lend to help girls find careers in science and technology. But I definitely need to educate myself on the issues around sustainability.”
SMPTE is doing a ton of things that could not have been foreseen 12 years back, like the key operational elements fast metadata exchange and PTP monitoring capabilities. And its report on PTP security will be a hot ticket.
“That good work is all about Bruce Devlin and his merry band of supremely talented technologists. If there is any contribution I have made, it is to help them do their best work. We have an amazingly dedicated staff team who support their work,” Lange says.
As she exits stage left, her successor will inherit a mountain of expectations.
“That’s the nature of pretty much every industry – the work is never finished. I am certain that the next person in this role will bring a skill set that matches this organisation’s needs to advance. Hans Hoffmann is president now, and it is his job to find the next leader,” Lange says.
She leaves with the pandemic rampant, but responsible for many new technologies happening overnight to enable IP-based remote production.
“Any time a human being is backed into a corner they have the ability to solve problems. Accelerating remote production happened almost instantaneously, and news broadcasts were delivered from the talent’s home overnight. And then virtual production really accelerated,” says Lange. “The silver lining of the pandemic was that it created this super-innovative environment.”
Looking back, what have been the great collaborations?
“SMPTE covers broadcast, motion picture and streaming work as well. There are different groups we collaborate with like Movie Labs and ETC at USC. The HPA remains a good partner, and then too are AMWA, VSF, AES, EBU, DPP and the IABM. Think any three-letter acronym. Some of our newest partners are things like W3C and IETF, which are internet-based groups. Collaboration is crucial to SMPTE’s future” she adds.
Lange came in with fiscal expectations, so how do the finances look as she goes?
“The digital library is a reliable and solid revenue resource. We did a fundraising exercise for the centenary where we generated almost $2 million, and we have been able to diversify our revenue so that we are not so reliant on IBC funding. Yes, membership and IBC are still the big drivers of our revenue,” she says. “The organisation is as relevant today as it was in its heyday and it is known globally. If I had a contribution in making it that way, that is what I am most proud of.”