SMPTE remains dedicated to its core technology areas but is pivoting in recognition that its membership includes creatives as well as those in a traditional technical role, writes Barbara Lange, SMPTE and HPA executive director. 

Barbara Lange 2

Barbara Lange: SMPTE executive director

Today, SMPTE launches a new logo and website designed to reflect changes we’re making to better serve all our members and the industry as a whole. 

This launch is a visible representation of work done over the past two years — and still ongoing — as part of a three-year strategic business plan. We used this process to re-examine our guiding principles, vision, mission, and value propositions to emphasize the Society’s role as a global organization and to stress its ongoing commitment to being both inclusive and objective. 

Rebranding the Society is not an undertaking we’ve taken lightly. I hope the industry will agree that our new look and the member-centric focus of the reconceived website speak to our history, heritage, and values over the past 104 years while also being modern and very much focused on moving forward. We’re still committed to core technology areas, while pivoting toward the next generation as we remain relevant and valuable for another 100+ years. 

In fact, you will hear us talk about SMPTE being the society of and for media professionals, technologists, and engineers, the first letters of which happen to spell the acronym “SMPTE.”  

No, we’re not officially changing our name, but we do recognize that our membership includes people coming from a creative side, as well as the traditional technical side. We’ve seen the convergence of motion picture, television, and streaming technologies, all built using state of the art software, and we’re committed to being a resource for all professionals working in this environment. 

Rethinking education 
To this end, we’re making the SMPTE website a place people can go to access relevant information. Ultimately, we plan to make the great content — webcasts, presentations, blog content, and more — created by SMPTE members and SMPTE Sections worldwide available on Our goal is to increase the value and utility of the website while improving the visibility of industry professionals and the work they’re doing. 

Given that we educated more people with online programming in the first half of 2020 than in all of 2019, we’ll also be carefully considering the number and variety of educational webcasts we offer moving forward. Though the original goal of our virtual courses and webcasts was to educate the industry on SMPTE standards, we are broadening the scope of these offerings. We’re reaching out not just to engineers, but also to creative technologists who need to understand the “why” behind technology so they can apply it in their work.  

Improving access  
Over time, you’ll see SMPTE doing more and more in the digital realm. While many of these initiatives were already in our plan, several were accelerated by the pandemic. One example is our annual technical conference, which we’re delivering virtually this year via a remote conference experience: SMPTE 2020: “Game On.” 

We’re excited about this event because we feel we have chosen a virtual conference platform that supports a more “natural” and immersive experience. It will be engaging and educational, and it will be more accessible than any previous SMPTE technical conference. Participants will have greater flexibility in attending technical presentations, and plenty of opportunity to socialize during virtual coffee breaks, cocktail hours, and other networking events, plus the annual Honors and Awards ceremony.  

Equally exciting is that Kylee Peña of Netflix and media tech innovator Chris Witmayer are heading up the program committee for SMPTE 2020. Their dedication to the Society is amazing, and their commitment to excellence is clear in the work they’ve done to build the conference program. In a larger sense, their willingness to ask questions, challenge the status quo, and serve as leaders within the organization is helping the Society think more broadly about its role, responsibilities, and representation.  

“We’re not officially changing our name, but we do recognize that our membership includes people coming from a creative side”

While the remote conference experience is a first for us, we expect that we’ll continue to take advantage of virtual platforms to deliver content, support interactions among our members, and make education and training opportunities more broadly available.  

In fact, shortly before SMPTE 2020, we will conduct our Annual General Membership Meeting in a virtual town hall format on 21 October that gives the whole SMPTE community around the world the opportunity to participate. We value contributions from all SMPTE members and expect to make this virtual format the norm. 

We have also adjusted our pricing model for conference-related events to ensure there are no financial barriers to participation for technologists and media professionals, no matter where they live and work. SMPTE members are showing up in impressive numbers to take part in our “Pay It Forward” package, through which they offset registration costs for colleagues in less favorable financial circumstances. 

Diversity, equality, inclusion 
Part of this process, the reimagination of SMPTE, has involved acknowledging out loud that our industry has a problem with representation — economic status, nationality, race, gender, geography, technology, or career stage — and that the Society is obligated to do better in promoting greater diversity, equity, and inclusion. 
We’ve taken a first step by being the first standards body to remove the use of offensive terminology within our standardization program. Our work to ensure there are no barriers of entry to SMPTE and that the Society continually communicates in an equitable fashion will, of course, continue. We’re also focusing on how best to help educate and support youth in technology engineering and other STEM areas. 

Agile standards 
Naturally, we’ve also been refining and augmenting our standards development processes to address our changing industry. We’ve implemented software-based tools to enable better collaboration and achieve greater efficiency. In a new spirit of openness, we’ve introduced a new document type, the public Committee Draft (public CD), that allows for public scrutiny and feedback in a way the traditional standardization process didn’t support. This model will help SMPTE adapt with greater agility to the industry’s needs, and we’ve already initiated a number of those projects. 

SMPTE has been engaged in developing more software-oriented standards, and we were approached this year to help with machine readable metadata for language tags. We’re also forming a study group in the area of artificial intelligence in media. 

Even as our industry evolves, it relies on a solid foundation of standards. We are committed to continuing that good work and to providing education, networking, and resources to support SMPTE members in doing their work. 

Join us online or at SMPTE 2020 to find out how the Society can support you in a successful career. 

Barbara Lange is SMPTE and HPA executive director