24 Nov

The times they are a-changin’

The times they are a-changin’

In light of NAB Show 2021’s cancellation and the ongoing uncertainty around IBC 2021, Emotion Systems’ CEO, MC Patel, reflects on the changes he’s seen over four decades in the industry and questions whether a shake-up of our tradeshows is long overdue.

Over half a century ago, and a decade before even I started my career in media and entertainment, Bob Dylan released what would arguably become one of the most famous songs of all time. “The times they are a-changin” was originally based on the civil rights movement in the US and much of its early popularity was because it spoke to the frustrated youth of the sixties, but the lyrics have stood the test of time and generation after generation have fallen in love with the song and it’s ageless sentiment of change. It’s as relevant today as it was fifty years ago, and it’s as applicable to the media and entertainment industry as it was to the civil rights movement.

I was reminded of this timeless tune recently while walking through Soho on the way to celebrate the life of Michael Wrightson with industry colleagues at The Crown and Two Chairmen. En route I passed by The Ship – a pub that’s infamous for its association with British music in the seventies – but which is better known in the broadcast industry for being the gathering place for TV execs celebrating their latest deals and the chosen hangout of broadcast engineers on standby in the nineties. But on this day, it was eerily deserted. It may have been because of COVID, or because the industry isn’t as centred around Soho as it used to be, or maybe we just don’t have time for boozy lunches like we used to – whatever the reason, it made me contemplate just how much change I’ve seen since I started my first job with Quantel in 1975.

It was during my first year at Quantel that they made TV history. In 1976 they released the first all-digital framestore which was used to create picture-in-picture effects for the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Just over ten years later when they released their first non-linear editor the industry was already moving from analogue to digital workflows and I started my first company, Alpha Image, building the infrastructure to manage that change. Another decade on and the focus had shifted again – this time from hardware to software solutions and, after selling Alpha Image, I joined Discreet Logic. Then came super computers and cloud technology and file-based workflows and streaming platforms…the list goes on. Through all these changes I’ve been fortunate enough to keep ahead of the curve, to work for companies and develop products that help the industry adapt to the next thing and keep creating better content.

But one thing that hasn’t changed since 1923 is the NAB Show. While the show has moved around its fair share – with stints in Washington, Dallas, Chicago, LA, Houston, and a host of other American cities before it settled in Las Vegas in 1991 – since then it’s remained pretty unchanged. It’s the biggest conference and exhibition for our sector and it was considered the most important event in the industry calendar – until COVID came along and cancelled it…twice. And after two years of no NAB show, the question now is whether this is will just be a blip in the show’s history or whether it’s a sign of another big change in the industry – the reinvention of our trade shows. In the same way that the industry has moved on from analogue workflows and long lunches at The Ship, are we ready to say goodbye to the Las Vegas Strip?

In our opinion, a shake-up is long overdue for our industry’s tradeshows. Most of us can no longer afford to fly halfway across the world to spend a week having long lunches and elaborate dinners under the guise of ‘doing business.’ And, with so many companies competing for visitors’ limited attention and time, it’s becoming almost impossible for exhibitors to achieve a return on investment. While change can be unsettling and even scary, it’s precisely what these shows have built their success on – the constant reinvention of our industry and underlying technology is what has attracted so many visitors to these shows every year for nearly a century. As Dylan says, “you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin.’”

Whether it’s at a trade show, a pub in Soho or over Zoom, we’re always keen to connect with our clients and industry colleagues, get in touch and we’ll make it happen.

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