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Conferences pivot to streaming channels: 'We look at this as having our own Netflix'

Live events may not return for a long time. Here's what could replace them.

Attendees at the 2019 NAB show opening

The NAB Show, which ordinarily attracts 100,000 people, will instead happen in an online form that strongly resembles a streaming service.

Photo: Courtesy of Adam Shane

This weekend, close to 100,000 people from around the world were expected to flock to Vegas to attend the NAB Show, the broadcast industry's biggest annual gathering. With Vegas shut down and live events on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the show is transforming into a streaming service instead.

Starting May 13, the National Association of Broadcasters will stream live and preprogrammed content on three channels 24/7 as part of a new pop-up service called NAB Show Express. "Obviously, we would prefer to be holding our event as planned in Las Vegas next week," said NAB senior VP of communications Ann Marie Cumming. Ultimately, it decided that a streaming service was the best way to keep its audience engaged.

The NAB is not alone in its decision: Since late February, dozens of trade shows, conferences and summits have been canceled. Some event organizers simply pulled the plug altogether, while others hastily tried to line up live streams for their registered audience. With no end in sight for social distancing, some are now looking to follow NAB's example and launch their own microtargeted streaming services for industry insiders — services that could remain up and running even after current restrictions are relaxed.

Everyone is always online, streaming

NAB Show Express will consist of a mixture of live-streamed appointment viewing, preproduced videos slotted into a TV-like schedule and on-demand content. There will be a programming grid like the one used by popular streaming service Pluto, and viewers will get to see on-air graphics and interactive elements. "This is not your average dull live stream," said Frequency CEO Blair Harrison, whose company is helping NAB with the presentation of the streaming content.

NAB is combining its pop-up streaming service with more traditional trade-show elements, like access to white papers and news from vendors that were scheduled to exhibit in Vegas next week. By adding 24/7 streaming, the company hopes to reach a remote workforce that's working irregular hours and has traded office life for a mix of Zoom calls and Netflix streams.

Another company subscribing to that maxim is Brightcove. The video platform provider isn't just powering streaming for NAB Show Express, but also turned its own annual Play conference into a streaming service. Play was scheduled to be held in Boston in May, but Brightcove's Asia-Pacific team members early on told the company that its plans might have to change, said Chief Marketing Officer Sara Larsen in a conversation with Protocol this week. "A lot of it we saw coming," she said.

Brightcove had long planned to launch an app for smart TVs and mobile devices to accompany Play, but it quickly shifted gears to make that app the centerpiece of its strategy. "It really took on a new life of its own," Larsen said. "It has been an evolution for the team."

Like a mini Netflix or Disney+

Play TV, as the new service is being called, will launch in earnest in May. It will include live-streamed appearances from celebrities like journalist Soledad O'Brien and "Free Solo" director Jimmy Chin, as well as on-demand content, and a TV-like grid with preprogrammed 24/7 channels. "We look at this as having our own Netflix or our own Disney+," Larsen said. "It will not feel like an online event."

To prepare for the launch of Play TV, the Brightcove events team also had to rethink its content strategy, such as more focus on shorter programming. After all, viewers at home may not have the same attention span as a captive audience in a hotel ballroom.

On the upside, turning Play into a streaming service potentially allows Brightcove to reach a much broader audience. Last year's Play conference had around 800 attendees. This time around, many more may tune in, including team members who usually don't get to travel, or international audiences for which the event had always been out of reach. And while Play TV has been publicly announced for May, Brightcove is already putting together plans for June and July programming and will launch a version for Japanese audiences later this year. "Our vision is that this is always on," Larsen said.

Everyone's looking for a plan B

A transition to streaming may not work for every event organizer. Sponsors may, for instance, be reluctant to pay premium dollars if they can't reach key decision-makers in person, and event ticket revenue may not be easily replaceable.

At the same time, it's becoming increasingly clear that conferences won't be returning to normal anytime soon. Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday that Facebook won't host any events with 50 people or more until June 2021; Microsoft announced that it won't be having in-person conferences until at least July 2021. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said this week that large gatherings in the state are "unlikely" until the availability of a coronavirus vaccine, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti suggested that his city won't see large-scale events until 2021. Some in the tech industry are already predicting that CES in January will be canceled, as well.

Brightcove's Larsen acknowledged that she wouldn't send her own team members to in-person events right now, adding: "Until there is a vaccine that works, it is going to be really hard to get 10,000 people together in a space."


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With that in mind, many conference organizers are currently looking for a plan B, even while officially keeping their own fall events on the schedule. Streaming services like NAB Show Express and Play Live could be part of such a plan B, and possibly even complement live events if and when they return at some point in the future. "In just the last few weeks we've had over two dozen conferences come to us to take their experiences online," Harrison said. "We've never been as busy as we are now."

"Logistically, this is a vastly different approach to trade shows, but it's a direction the industry has been moving — more as a supplement to live shows than a replacement for them," Cumming added. "Launching the digital event required an investment of resources on our part, but we feel it represents a long-term gain for our community and revenue-generating opportunities for the organization."

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Google’s trying to build a more inclusive, less chaotic future of work

Javier Soltero, the VP of Workspace at Google, said time management is everything.

With everyone working in new places, Google believes time management is everything.

Image: Google

Javier Soltero was still pretty new to the G Suite team when the pandemic hit. Pretty quickly, everything about Google's hugely popular suite of work tools seemed to change. (It's not even called G Suite anymore, but rather Workspace.) And Soltero had to both guide his team through a new way of working and help them build the tools to guide billions of Workspace users.

This week, Soltero and his team announced a number of new Workspace features designed to help people manage their time, collaborate and get stuff done more effectively. It offered new tools for frontline workers to communicate better, more hardware for hybrid meetings, lots of Assistant and Calendar features to make planning easier and a picture-in-picture mode so people could be on Meet calls without really having to pay attention.

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David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
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Viewers like you: How PBS is adapting to the streaming age

The public broadcaster has had considerable success on YouTube and other digital platforms. Now, it is looking to revamp pledging.

PBS has begun to talk to ad-supported video services, including some that distribute programming via free 24/7 channels, to help it compete in the streaming age.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

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Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

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One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

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There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Citizen CEO Andrew Frame talks privacy, safety, coronavirus and the future of the neighborhood watch.

Citizen added COVID-19 tracking to its app over the summer — but its bigger plans got derailed.

Photo: Citizen

Citizen is an app built on the idea that transparency is a good thing. It's the place users — more than 7 million of them, in 28 cities with many more to come soon — can find out when there's a crime, a protest or an incident of any kind nearby. (Just yesterday, it alerted me, along with 17,900 residents of Washington, D.C., that it was about to get very windy. It did indeed get windy.) Users can stream or upload video of what's going on, locals can chat about the latest incidents and everyone's a little safer at the end of the day knowing what's happening in their city.

At least, that's how CEO Andrew Frame sees it. Critics of Citizen say the app is creating hordes of voyeurs, incentivizing people to run into dangerous situations just to grab a video, and encouraging racial profiling and other problematic behaviors all under the guise of whatever "safety" means. They say the app promotes paranoia, alerting users to things that they don't actually need to know about. (That the app was originally called "Vigilante" doesn't help its case.)

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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