IBC2019: As the technologies, workflows and business models of our industry evolve so too must SMPTE, writes Barbara Lange.

Barbara Lange SMPTE 3x2

Barbara Lange

About three years ago, shortly after SMPTE’s 2016 centennial celebration, the Society’s board met to discuss the future of the organisation. We all had seen the rapid pace of change — across technologies, workflows, business models — carrying the industry forward, and we knew that SMPTE would need to pivot to address this change. The leadership understood that we would need to adapt across multiple dimensions.

To guide us into and through the complexities of this process, we developed a three-year strategic business plan. The resulting document, approved in late 2018, spoke to who we are, where we want to go, and how we’re going to get there. In doing so, the plan addressed the first dimension of change: the continuity and sustainability of SMPTE as an organisation, and how our vision and mission support them.

In addition to redefining our vision and mission statements, we identified — for the first time since the founding of the Society — the guiding principles behind the organisation. It was a significant and meaningful step for SMPTE, and we invested a great deal of time and effort in getting it right. In short, we’re committed to operating and serving as a global organisation that is both inclusive and objective. We remain dedicated to our three pillars of activity — standards, membership and education — and also to understanding the common needs of all our stakeholders and to identifying and building synergies with partners across the industry.

Now, seven months or so into the plan, we’re working hard to make sure that we’re bringing these values to the table for every decision we make. They will inform the way SMPTE evolves and enable it to remain a viable and relevant organisation for another 100 years.

A second dimension of change that SMPTE is addressing has to do with technologies and how quickly they are evolving. The industry has seen the emergence of mobile as a significant driver, the displacement of hardware by software-based solutions, and a revolution in content creation and distribution models. The changes are occurring rapidly, and they’re taking place worldwide.

The industry is feeling the effects of these shifts every day. Their impact is evident in trends such as downward attendance of both guests and exhibitors at major industry shows and conferences. As all of these things come together, we’re looking to understand the impact on SMPTE and how we view the Society and its current and future membership.

A third dimension in which SMPTE must adapt to change is in recognising, understanding and connecting with people who aren’t part of the Society but who are playing a role in shaping the motion-imaging industry. Most notable among these today are the ‘Demuxers’ a large community of video engineers — often younger folks — who are busy working entirely outside the SMPTE framework. In this sense, they are disruptors of the conventional standards-based model of moving media. While few of them likely know much about SMPTE, the group as a whole co-ordinates unstructured opportunities to network and learn from one another. This is, in a way, exactly what SMPTE does. But the challenge for the Society is to better understand this community and connect with its members to find common interests and goals.

Standards and structure
Many of us at SMPTE do believe that, at some point, even today’s ‘disruptors’ will need some form of structure, and that’s the role SMPTE is expert in playing. It’s what makes SMPTE and other standards organisations a necessity. Going forward, the question to answer is how the Society can provide programmes and services that keep SMPTE front of mind in this world. What programmes will SMPTE need to develop? What kind of education? And what kind of standards so that they remain viable in another five or 10 years.

These questions lead into another dimension of change, and possibly the greatest challenge for SMPTE: the world of standards and what its future will be. Standards bring order to chaos, and that’s a benefit for everyone who works with media. But it’s very likely that the nature of standards themselves will need to change. Maybe they adapt to become less structured and more flexible, so that they are more amenable to rapid change while maintaining the core values of being unbiased, objective, peer-reviewed, industry-supported and characterised by technical excellence.

All of these questions and considerations have taken on new urgency in the months since SMPTE began implementing its strategic business plan. Fortunately, the Society has been preparing for fundamental changes to the industry. This isn’t the first major transformation the Society has witnessed, and it isn’t the first time SMPTE has needed to step up to enable a brighter future for the industry. Today, the Society must again take its stakeholders’ input into account and make sure that everyone can pivot together.

Change is difficult, and the team at SMPTE has stepped up to make the vision outlined in the strategic business plan a reality. Technology changes much faster than do habits and ways of thinking, but progress across the Society and its programmes has been steady.

Anyone interested in the work SMPTE is doing is welcome to learn more. The Society is present on social media, at smpte.org and at major trade shows, including here at IBC. Whether in technical standards, education, or local leadership, there is a place for participation in the SMPTE community. As always, we invite everyone to join in and join us.

Barbara Lange is executive director of SMPTE and HPA.

SMPTE is one of IBC’s owners. Visit SMPTE at the Partnership Pavilion: 8.F51