Though much of the world has been locked down in 2020 the media industry has continued to play a vital role in keeping clear and accurate information flowing. IBC chair Tim Richards reflects on what the industry has achieved in 2020.

D2 - Comment - Tim Richards

Tim Richards - IBC Chairman

There is no more demanding role for the media industry than maintaining the flow of clear and accurate information in a time of crisis. That is the challenge the world has faced in 2020. Although the crisis is far from over, IBC2020 gives us a chance to reflect on what we have done.

When lives are being transformed, you need a trusted method of disseminating information, reassurance and guidance in a rapidly changing environment. Broadcasting has long taken the role of both trusted source and inquisitor, testing and challenging the advice where necessary; calling governments to account when appropriate.

Our broadcasters have had to do that when their lives were turned upside down, too. Social distancing and restrictions on travel have meant that not just news but every form of production and transmission has had to find new ways of working, pulling technologies in directions no-one ever expected.

I chair the IBC Board, made up of representatives of the six bodies which own IBC: IABM, IEEE BTS, IET, RTS, SCTE and SMPTE. It is a vital part of the IBC structure, not just for corporate governance but because it gives us a close bond with the members of those six organisations: the active, driving force of our industry and IBC’s core constituency.

We took the difficult decision back in May that a physical meeting in Amsterdam was not practical. The decision was of course very disappointing at the time, but we needed to be decisive, to give all the stakeholders a chance to build new plans.

At the same time, we also tasked the IBC team to develop plans which would both deliver as good an experience for virtual delegates and visitors as we could, and which would reflect the pressures and challenges that the industry is under.

We are seeing news, sports and entertainment finding solutions to production while protecting performers and crew. There is no doubt that, for example, the US presidential election is subject to the same intense scrutiny as ever, even though there are no conventions and no on-the-road campaigning. The tragedy in Beirut and the political meltdown in Minsk are reported with the same clarity and zeal as ever.

In the world of sports, plans for remote production, AI and automation which were at the concept stage have been kick-started. I have loved seeing behind the scenes of this new way of covering sport, with production teams working from home rather than on site, collaborating at a distance but still making great television. We can now enjoy coverage of live sports, even if we cannot attend physically – and that coverage is often more attractive, more engaging because of the new solutions producers have had to find.

In drama and entertainment, production is ramping up, and even if it means new storylines, great content is being generated. All in all, the impossible is happening every day.

For all this and more, I think we as an industry deserve to give ourselves a pat on the back. We are carrying on what we have always done, by trying new technologies and workflows, to see what we can achieve. I think this is an impressive achievement.

Ordinarily, IBC would be where we all came together to share our experiences, to talk through how we made the latest ideas work in the real world, to learn how to make our content better. Next year I look forward to meeting many of you around the RAI Center. But this year, that knowledge exchange and networking will be online rather than in person.

We know that works: we have all become experts at debating and discussing online. I very much hope you will be able to join us for the IBC Showcase, a for-one-year-only virtual IBC, with all the best content but without the crush for the number 4 tram.

Tim Richards is chair of IBC