As IBC prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary, TSL Chairman David MacGregor – the only person believed to have attended every single IBC - shares his memories of the industry.
Fifty years ago, at midnight on a Friday evening in September 1967, I was standing outside the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London waiting to go in to start building the stand for EMI Electronics Ltd for the first IBC.
I had been working on the design of an encoder, and the week before IBC in 1967 I had to get a prototype board working so we could get PAL out of the camera. That meant I was volunteered to go and help with the build-up.
Today, fifty years later, as I look back on what has happened to broadcast technology over the life of IBC, it is difficult to comprehend how busy and inventive we have all been
“IBC continues to be a showcase for new technology, what is coming in the near future and what is on the horizon.”
The early days
In the UK, the BBC started a black and white TV service in 1936. During the war this service was suspended and many of the engineers who had worked in television development moved over to developing radar systems which would play a large part in the allies winning the war. After the war the BBC restarted transmissions in 1946.
Some 18 years later, BBC2 was launched and this platform was used for the BBC’s first colour transmission just before first ever IBC in 1967.
The first IBC
IBC was started by John Drew Tucker (EMI), John Etheridge (Rank Cintel) and Tom Mayer (Marconi).
It was formed as there was, at that time, no serious European platform for the broadcast industry and from such a small beginning spawned one of the world’s leading conferences and conventions for broadcast and media.
There were 32 companies, many of which no longer exist. EMI, Marconi and Pye TVT all showed colour cameras.
EMI launched the 2001 Broadcast studio camera which was an early, very successful British made Plumbicon studio camera that included the lens within the body of the camera. Four 30mm tubes allowed one tube to be dedicated solely to producing a relatively high resolution monochrome signal, with the other three tubes each providing red, green or blue signals. Even though semiconductors were used in most of the camera, the high gain head amplifiers still used thermionic valves in the first generation of the design.
Integrating the lens within the body of the camera was revolutionary but had both positive and negative effects.
On the positive side, it meant the optical nodal point of the camera was close to the centre of gravity, which could make operation easier and more instinctive when used on movable camera mounts such as pedestals.
The downside was that lens manufacturers were limited to which lenses they could adapt to fit to the camera. This made the 2001 less attractive for outside broadcasts.
The 2001 was both heavy and large. The pull-out handles at each corner needed four people to safely move the camera with the lens in place. It also required a separate remote 12 rack unit camera control unit and the cable connecting the two was over 2 inches thick.
The pictures from the EMI 2001 were excellent but not nearly as good as the HD pictures obtained today from a mobile phone!
It would be fair to say that EMI’s stand at IBC 1967 set the standard for the future, as it consisted of a full studio set and production control room manned by operational staff from ABC Television from Teddington (ABC merged with Rediffusion Television in 1968 to form Thames Television).
The other notable exhibit was an ABC Television outside broadcast unit which set a trend for all subsequent OB units.
It was the first unit where the staff sat longitudinally down the vehicle, all in visual contact with one another, rather than sitting laterally across the vehicle effectively one behind another. This design was based on the highly successful semi-circular control rooms of sound, production and vision control/ lighting that had been pioneered by ABC in their Teddingtion studios.
Before colour television, black and white equipment was full of valves which needed regular maintenance. For example, dozens of valves in the studio vision mixer were changed every week. Colour television saw the introduction of transistors, however, the use of integrated circuits, came much later.
”IBC 1967 had proved to be so successful and what the broadcast industry wanted.”
The following years found the BBC, ITV and other companies converting their studios to colour, with the first colour transmission of Coronation Street taking place in 1969.
One should remember that at this time UK had three TV channels: BBC1, BBC2 and ITV.
Channel 4 didn’t go on air till 1982, when television broadcast hours increased; gone were the test cards and school transmissions during the mornings. And in 1983 breakfast TV launched on the BBC and ITV.
IBC on the move
As IBC1967 had proved to be so successful and what the broadcast industry wanted, a second show was immediately planned for the following year.
It was then decided that IBC would be held every two years and in 1970, IBC established a biennial pattern alternating with the International Television Symposium in Montreux, Switzerland.
There followed four shows at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London, followed by one show at Wembley Conference Centre in 1978.
The ‘Brighton Years’ started in 1980 in the Metropole Hotel conference centre and later expanded into the Brighton Centre. There were two years when marquees were built on the shingle beach in front of the Metropole hotel. The first by Sony to house their exhibits and another in 1988 when the European HDTV EU95 project showed 1250 line pictures on 16 x 9 displays.
In 1986 Television Systems Ltd (TSL) was formed and, of course, IBC that year was the perfect place to showcase the new company to an international audience. Over the years, like many other companies, TSL has launched their new products at IBC.
Meanwhile, IBC had moved to Amsterdam in 1992 and following its restructure as a partnership owned by the industry, IET (formerly IEE), RTS, IABM, SCTE, IEEE, the show then became an annual event in 1994.
In 1992 the show occupied four halls at the RAI exhibition centre. In 2017 the show will occupy all 13 hall plus two additional temporary halls.
Transmission of 35mm and 16mm films were carried out using telecine machines. The early ones consisted of a television camera looking into a film projector. Later flying spot telecines were used where a flying spot produced by a CRT scanned the film. The result was received by a photomultiplier tube which created the TV picture. The first flying spot telecine was installed at the BBC in 1950.
One of the challenges of movie playout was the length of the films. A feature length movie consists of 3 reels. These had to be loaded on separate telecine machines which were run in sequence. Getting the changeover so that the viewers did not notice them offered a considerable challenge.
With the advent of 1” VTRs, movies were transferred to tape prior to transmission and the changeovers were edited. Today this process is performed using digital servers.
The production of news material has evolved out of all expectation over the years.
Early news inserts were shot on 35mm, then later, 16mm black & white, negative film. This took time to get from the news location to the studios. On the way it had to be processed and edited before being ready for transmission.
Knowledgeable politicians would hold their press conferences at 4pm as they knew it would take two hours to get the story ready for the 6pm news bulletin.
About the time of the first IBC news colour reversal film was introduced which was much easier to use.
The late 1970s saw the introduction of smaller television cameras which could be carried on the shoulder. Thus ENG (Electronic News Gathering) was born. Video could now be sent via microwave transmission back to the studio centre enabling the transmission of live news.
At IBC in 1978 the use of satellites for electronic news gathering was first demonstrated.
The development of electronic newsroom systems since the 1980s has greatly eased the production of news bulletins. These systems enabled journalists to edit stories from their desk top and later to edit the video inserts and graphics thus producing a complete programme.
The delivery of written news and information, like weather maps, was brought to viewers in the late 1970’s by the first digital transmission system in television, Teletext.
Before colour, titles and credits were produced by overlaying black and white graphics on the picture. Devices such as the CoxBox were introduced to colourise black and white graphics.
This was quickly followed by early colour character generators such as CapGen and Aston. Today, of course, there are many computer graphics systems.
Originally all television was live. In the 1950s the BBC had a tele recording machine which transferred television pictures onto film. The first major event to be covered was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
The first Video Tape Recorder, which used 2” “Quadruplex” technology, was released by Ampex in 1955. This brilliant invention was quickly taken up by most broadcasters. Later 1” helical scan VTRs were introduced and these were the main workhorse of the industry. until The next advance was the arrival of analogue cassette formats such as BetaSP and M2. These allowed special cartridge machines to run commercial and promotion breaks and were the link between tape and server playouts as used today. Ampex, Sony, Panasonic and Odetics all made cartridge machines to use with the various half inch tape cassette formats.
Then came the introduction of computerised video servers, which are now are used in all areas of TV today, providing recording, storage and playout facilities.
In 1967 most programme editing was done on film and Steenbeck flat-bed editing tables were common in all TV stations.
With the introduction of VTRs in 1955 there was a requirement for editing video tapes.
Initially this was done by cutting the 2” tape and joining it to the next required clip. The edit point was identified by sprinkling iron filings on the tape and looking at their pattern using a microscope.
However, with Quad VTR machines it was not possible to look at pictures when spooling the tape. This made editing a slow and difficult task. This method of editing was used until the introduction of 1” VTRs in the late 1970s. The availability of 1” VTRs and the evolvement of computers completely changed editing technology. Today, servers have taken over from VTRs as the picture source.
Over the years the main changes on the studio floors apart from the cameras getting smaller, is the introduction of “cool” lights thus reducing the working temperature for the Artists and crews.
The other important change was the introduction of “radio” microphones. These reduced the number of cables littering the studio floor and the use of microphone booms. In the 1980s production of Light Entertainment programmes was enhanced by the use of digital special effects equipment. This equipment allowed pictures to be manipulated in amazing ways!
Although a number of companies had been experimenting with analogue satellite TV since 1980, it was not until 5th Feb 1989 that a five channel analogue service was launched by Sky TV.
In 1991 STAR TV was launched in Hong Kong with five analogue channels and a massive footprint covering most of Asia. STAR TV was purchased by News Corporation who used this platform for the development of multi-channel digital satellite television. The project was called Digistar.
This project set the standards for today’s digital TV services. The first digital set top boxes were designed. Conditional access and subscriber management software was developed. The project was slightly delayed by an earthquake which destroyed the factory in Japan which made the memory chips for the set top box! BSkyB’s digital service was officially launched on 1 October 1998.
ONdigital, a digital terrestrial TV service was launched in 1998. This was later rebranded as ITV Digital in 2001.
The basic digital compression and modulation system subsequently used by all terrestrial broadcasters had been forecast in a paper by IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority) presented to the IBC Conference in 1990.
”Broadcast technology has changed a lot since 1967 and it continues to change.”
In 1991, it was with great pleasure that I accepted an invitation to become a member of the Exhibition Committee and help guide the future of the IBC exhibition.
I also had the pleasure of being a member of the IBC management committee from 1991 till the formation of the current partnership.
One industry dignitary quoted: “The rate of change within the broadcast industry continues to increase year on year”.
This year, the range of kit and subjects covered at IBC looks set to continue to grow; we will see further advancements in the shift towards IP-based workflows, more 8K demonstrations from NHK, the latest advances in virtual reality, while artificial intelligence and cyber security are sure to be hot topics of discussion.
I was excited to attend my first IBC in 1967 and having attended every show since, I am looking forward to the 50th Anniversary IBC2017.
Why? Because IBC continues to be a showcase for new technology, what is coming in the near future and what is on the horizon.
David MacGregor’s first involvement in television was working on a small cable TV system in his home town of Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides in the Christmas school holidays in 1958.
A student apprenticeship at EMI Electronics led to a period in television engineering developing early colour TV equipment.
David moved into operational engineering initially at Thames Television and later at Grampian Television, Oman Television and Yorkshire Television.
In 1982, he was appointed as Chief Engineer of Seltech International.
In 1986 Television Systems Ltd (TSL) was founded by David and Brian Cuff.
TSL has provided systems integration facilities for many major projects worldwide.
In 1991 TSL set up a products division specialising in audio monitoring and tally control systems.
David has spent time as a member of the IBC management committee and is still a member of the IBC Exhibition Committee which he joined in 1991.
David is a former chairman and honorary member of the IABM. He is currently Chairman of TSL.