It was standing room only at the Digital Production Partnership launch party – and not just because there weren’t any seats! We were delighted to welcome over 150 of our supporters, contributors and founder members to celebrate our new not-for-profit membership organisation status.
The event was an opportunity to reflect how we got here: five years ago, UK broadcasting was facing a fully digital future that looked set to be plagued by a multiplicity of standards, and a paucity of compatibility. Complexity in the service of creativity is good; but complexity in doing the basics just makes life frustrating and expensive.
In May 2010 three UK broadcasters – ITV, BBC and Channel 4 – formed the DPP to make the transition to digital smoother and less painful. With support from the whole broadcast sector, we agreed a common standard for file-based programme delivery, which was implemented for all major UK broadcasting in October 2014.
“We could easily have concluded our work here was done,” said DPP Managing Director Mark Harrison as he opened the evening at Sway, in Covent Garden. “Trouble was, the job wasn’t done. Ours is not a static industry. Collectively, we have started something to which we can see no finish.”
Last month, the DPP became a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee: Digital Production Partnership Ltd. This independent membership-based structure will enable the DPP “to control, drive and manage change – internationally and not just in the UK,” Mark said. It has been a lot of work to get here, and after so much hard graft, we allowed ourselves to bask in a warm glow for a few moments.
Keith Underwood, DPP Board Member and Director of Strategy & Technology at Channel 4, welcomed the move towards a membership structure as “a new and exciting phase in what has been a short but illustrious history.” Bal Samra, also a DPP Board Member and BBC Commercial Director & Managing Director, Television, said: “It’s absolutely extraordinary what the DPP has achieved.”
DPP Board Chair and Director of Broadcast Operations at ITV, Helen Stevens, echoed the sentiment: “It’s really exciting and I can’t wait to work with all of you.”
While it’s nice to celebrate with wine (of which there was plenty) and good cheer, the DPP is not an organisation to rest on its laurels – and we immediately launched into an open and honest discussion about the next steps, with the help of a prestigious panel. Chaired by Danny Meaney – the MD of New Media Partners who has been helping the DPP transition to a Limited status – the panellists were Morgan David, Divisional Director, R&D at Sony; Steve Fish, Regional Vice President Turner Broadcasting Systems Europe; David Klafkowski (Klaf), Technical Director of The Farm Group; and Graham Pitman, Vice-Chair of the International Association of Broadcasting Manufacturers (IABM) and Executive Chairman of Vidcheck Ltd.
Steve began by focusing on the challenge of the exchange of file based content. “Let’s find the next problem which resolves our issues, which is about getting content from A to B,” he said. “The more we can simplify this mess of standards that file has created, the better.”
The DPP is not a standards body of course, and Klaf felt the DPP should remain an advisory organisation rather than being overly prescriptive. “To start dictating how you must acquire or how you must work is dangerous for creativity. Our agreement for delivery standards is a really good idea. It’s essential. Everything else should be taken as steering, or agreement.”
Morgan warned against trying to reinvent the wheel. “One of the things I really like about the DPP is it’s very focused, and it aims to deliver quickly. That is not common with all industry groups. It does that by not trying to create technical standards from scratch. It’s about using what’s out there.”
The panellists approved of the DPP’s efforts to reach out to international broadcasters, saying ambitions should not be restricted to the UK. For companies and organisations working internationally, too many standards and even variations within standards cause a number of headaches. It costs content producers time and money to keep track of the destination formats and means broadcasters have to invest in additional capabilities or software to take in externally produced content.
The DPP is progressing partnership agreements with the North American Broadcasters Association and other international organisations. After talks at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, Director General of NABA Michael McEwen sent a message to the audience, saying how much he looks forward to working with the DPP on finding a common solution to File Formats in North America:
“As you celebrate your launch today, you do so in the knowledge that you have the industry’s admiration for what you’ve achieved- and as such are a beacon for us.”
Graham highlighted why such agreements are important. “For the content creator and content user there is an issue from a variety of standards, but from a vendor’s perspective, it’s also important. You’ve got to develop a product for multiple geographies. It’s very difficult to manage; it wastes R&D effort. If you’ve got a smaller range of standards to work to you get more bang for your buck. “
Media interoperability is a huge subject that is impossible for any single organisation to address alone. Graham suggested looking to other industries for inspiration. “They’ve created very good interoperability test labs, they’ve created plug fests where people come together and check their equipment. It is achievable.”
The panel had provided plenty of evidence for the claim that Mark had made earlier in the evening that “the DPP is all about creating an extraordinary community of subject matter experts from across the whole industry.”
And if you need one good reason for joining the DPP, let it be this: individually the expertise of each of us is one in a range of opinions; but collectively it becomes a force which brings shape to the future – to the benefit of us all.
This blog post was written by Emma