Report From NAB 2017: Dramatic Light Show For Changing Times

Just over a hundred years ago, if somebody asked you what you did for a living and you answered, "I'm a broadcaster." It could only mean one thing.

You scattered seeds for a living.

Maybe you were using some kind of horse-drawn farm machine to spread them out evenly. But it did not mean that you owned TV station.

How times have changed.

For the past 75 years being a broadcaster has meant that you've been granted a license to use a certain frequency on the electromagnetic spectrum. And that's been a pretty big deal, even if it was just for a local radio station.

If it was for a TV station, most of those years you were the exclusive local source for one of the big three networks. People had to watch your shows when you put them on and there was no skipping over commercials. This gave you incredible profitability.

Fast-forward (or skip) to April 2017 and the National Association of Broadcasters annual show in Las Vegas, NV, where vendors unveil the latest and greatest in production technology.

Brynden was there. And while he did not see any seed-scattering equipment, he reports that things are changing rapidly for broadcasters.

At Cine Rent West, one of our jobs is to stay up on the latest in video production technology. We sit up late at night reading Studio Monthly so you don't have to. So we Bryden to Las Vegas to scout out the new lighting technology--but then do something even more useful to our clients. He spent two days at the show gathering measurable data on the new LED models, and has prepared a companion guide we will be making available to members of our email list.

Hey, I Know That Guy

One of the familiar faces at the NAB Show was the association's president, Gordon Smith, who we know as one of Oregon's former senators. It's been a challenging time for traditional media channels, so in his speech to the members he talked about the central role that broadcasters still play in the lives of Americans.

He didn't cite the following stat, but it's a strong argument for Mr. Smith's point.

The latest research shows that Americans 65 and older are watching an average of more than 51 hours a week of traditional TV (over-the-air, cable, satellite). That's more than 46,000,000 people spending more than full-time in front of the tube.

However, as you measure the viewing habits of younger demographics, the weekly viewing number drops rapidly with age. Millennials (18-24) only watch traditional TV about 15 1/2 hours a week, and that's decreased significantly in the past three years.

So what are these young people doing with their former TV time? They're certainly not reading Alexander Dumas. (No, it's pronounced doo-MAH.)

Of course not.

They're watching huge amounts of professionally produced video. They're just getting it by means other than traditional TV. They're watching it on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO Now, and YouTube Red. For Pete's sake, you can stream live NFL games on Twitter. Where the field is the same size it was on the old Coleco pocket quarterback game.

The point is, broadcast may be declining, but video is growing. And based on what Brynden saw, capabilities are up and prices are down.

The Man With The Meter

So as we said before, rather than just go to NAB to collect logoed fidget spinners, Brynden went there to do a serious lighting test.

He came up with the brilliant idea of getting a Sekonic C-700-U SpectroMaster and using at the show it to see how accurately the new LEDs met their published specifications.

Before leaving, he ran a test on our studio SkyPanels. First, he took a reading with all other lights off. The he did a measurement of the SkyPanels with the work lights on to see how much they affected the light temperature on the soundstage floor. Finally, in Las Vegas, he took a third reading of identical SkyPanels in the convention hall with all the ambient light. Now he had a baseline by which to measure other brands of lights in the same hall.

A number of lighting vendors were not happy to see Brynden show up in their booth with a meter. But he assures us that the security footage of him running through the exhibition area was simply him hustling to test the lights at 30 different vendor displays.

What he found was pretty surprising.

A few of the expensive, popular models were not terribly accurate. And a few inexpensive Chinese models had performance that rivaled the very best. He's happy to report that the SkyPanels are still the lights to beat and have gained some impressive new functionality with the latest firmware update.

To help you take advantage of his findings, Brynden has compiled a big spec sheet with the actual performance of 45 different models of LED. We will make this available to everybody on our email list.

The Hot Take

It's an LED world. Basically, nobody is still selling incandescent lights. If you like seeing your talent sweat or you need to warm your burrito on a barn door, you're soon going to be out of luck.

On the other hand, with the programmability of the new lights, you'll save so much time setting them, you'll have a few minutes to walk out for a hot burrito. Adjustable color temperature is now old hat. The new lights allow you to program your gel colors and moving effects like flickering candles or firelight.

We liked No Film School's quote after demoing many of the new LEDs at the show: "Soon, you're only going to need one light to film an entire production."

What's Changing And What Stays The Same

Broadcasters will always be extremely important to our way of life. And we don't mean the people who own TV and radio stations. We mean the old school broadcasters who sew seeds. We would starve without them. All our grains and vegetables come from seed. A lot of our meat does too, if you think about livestock feed.

This farming kind of broadcasting had its technological disruption in the early 20th century and over the years has seen a dramatic drop-off in the number of people employed in it commercially. With modern implements, you can run a huge farm with just a few guys.

But seed sewing has not gone away Home gardening and small-scale farming are booming. Have you priced organic cabbage lately?

The same thing will happen to NAB broadcasters. Technology now makes it possible to for independent producers to light, shoot, and edit programming that used to take a large crew and a couple of hundred thousand in gear. But there will be no replacement for creative people who are skilled at their craft.

There will be fewer and fewer big players like the old TV networks. But just as the demand for food isn't going away, the demand for good video production is also increasing. It's just less mass-market than the old glory days of the big three.

The takeaways from NAB are that it's smart to embrace good technology, letting it do what it does best, so you can concentrate on doing on what technology alone can never accomplish--great content.

And we can all call ourselves broadcasters, if we're Sewing the Seeds of Love