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The 2023 National Association of Broadcasters Show, which wrapped Wednesday in Las Vegas, attracted an estimated 65,000 delegates, according to show organizers, which many viewed as a healthy number for a post-pandemic show.
The attendance numbers marked a notable rise following NAB’s return to an in-person event in 2022, which counted 52,468 delegates, though it was still well below its last show before the lockdown, which drew 91,000 attendees in 2019.
Artificial intelligence was arguably the most widespread topic this year, as NAB marked its centennial. As the potential of AI rapidly evolves, it’s a topic that clearly will continue to cause significant anxiety, as well as staggering potential opportunities.
Generally, it was an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary year on the exhibition floor. From a tech standpoint, there was a large number of new and evolving tools for all sorts of cloud-based remote workflows. And while there’s still a lot to understand before the promise of virtual production can be fully realized, attendees would have been hard-pressed to go anywhere in the vast exhibition halls, where 1,200 companies featured their latest technologies, and not see at least one LED wall or related demonstration.
NAB promoted the rollout of Next-Gen TV and turned a spotlight on sustainability with the launch of its Excellence in Sustainability Awards program, while participation from Hollywood took this event beyond broadcasting. Here’s a look at some of the week’s highlights and biggest trends.
AI was rampant at NAB, from the conference sessions to the exhibition floor. “This is an area where NAB will absolutely be active,” said NAB president and CEO Curtis LeGeyt, who shared his views on the potential dangers, as well as benefits, of the tech during a state of the industry presentation. “It is just amazing how quickly the relevance of AI to our entire economy — but, specifically, since we’re in this room, the broadcast industry — has gone from amorphous concept to real.”
LeGeyt warned of several concerns that he has for local broadcasters where AI is concerned, among them, how “big tech [uses] their platforms to access broadcast television and radio content. … That, in our view, does not allow for fair compensation for our content despite the degree to which we drive tremendous traffic at their sites.” He asserted that legislation is needed to “put some guardrails” on it, especially at a time when “AI has the potential to put that on overdrive.”
He warned of the additional diligence that will be needed to determine what is real and what is AI, as well as the caution that will be required when it comes to protecting one’s likeness. He balanced these warnings with a discussion of potential opportunities, including the ability to speed up research at “resource-constrained local stations.”
Imax, which made its first appearance this year as an NAB exhibitor, was among many companies that showed AI-driven tech on the show floor. It demoed current and prototype technology from SSIMWAVE, the tech startup that it acquired for $21 million in 2022. This includes AI-driven tools aimed at bandwidth and image quality optimization, which may be used with the company’s Imax Enhanced streaming format.
Other such exhibitors included Adobe, which showed a new beta version of Premiere Pro that includes an AI-driven, text-based editing tool developed to analyze and transcribe clips.
Content Is King
Sessions on HBO series The Last of Us and a conversation with Ted Lasso‘s Brett Goldstein attracted standing-room-only crowds to the NAB Show’s main stage, while talent from the American Society of Cinematographers and American Cinema Editors presented master class sessions during the week.
Writer, producer and actor Goldstein — otherwise known as Ted Lasso footballer Roy Kent — was featured in a freewheeling conversation with fellow Ted Lasso writer Ashley Nicole Black.
“The life of just an actor, with all respect to actors, they’re insane. I dunno why they would live that way,” he admitted when asked about working as both a writer and actor. “It’s fucking mental. Your life is a lottery. Every day you wait for a magical phone to ring, and you have zero control over it. … I just didn’t want to be an actor who sits around going, ‘There aren’t any good scripts.’ You have to write yourself stuff, and then you can’t complain.”
He also talked about why collaboration makes the writers room work. Describing the teams on Shrinking and Ted Lasso as “some of the smartest people in the world, in this fucking room,” he said, “You’d be mad not to take these ideas. And when you sort of allow this process of everyone joining in and taking this and taking that, it’s 100 percent going to be a better show.”
ACE presented The Last of Us, during which showrunner and exec producer Craig Mazin teased that the series would extend beyond its announced season two, generating cheers from the crowd. The session went behind the scenes of the production with Mazin, DP Ksenia Sereda, editors Timothy Good and Emily Mendez, VFX supervisor Alex Wang and sound supervisor Michael J. Benavente.
Virtual Production for Tron: Ares
There was no shortage of exhibitors showing tech and workflows for the evolving area of virtual production, with potential applications from advertising and series work to features.
“Virtual production, to me, is an amazing tool in our arsenal of making stories come to life, but it’s a tool, like all tools, that needs to be properly applied to get the best out of it,” asserts two-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). He is currently an adviser to SISU, which develops robotic arms that were demoed as part of a virtual production pipeline at NAB.
Cronenweth reports that his next project is Disney’s Tron: Ares starring Jared Leto (which Joachim Ronning is set to direct for a 2025 release), and he’s eyeing virtual production. “As you can imagine for a sci-fi film like this, we will embellish all of the technology available to bring it to life, including some virtual production. I’m anticipating SISU’s robotic technology to play a key part in that emerging technology.”
NAB used its annual confab to promote the voluntary rollout of the next generation of digital television, known as ATSC 3.0, which is based on internet protocol and may include new capabilities such as free, live broadcasting to mobile devices. A change of this magnitude has a long way to go before its potential can be realized.
At NAB, Federal Communications Commission chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel launched the Future of Television Initiative, which she described as a public-private partnership among stakeholders to support a transition to ATSC 3.0.
“U.S. broadcasters delivered 26 new Next-Gen TV markets to reach 66 by year-end 2022,” reported ATSC president Madeleine Noland. “We are looking ahead to another year of continued deployments across the U.S. and sales of new consumer receivers.”
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