NCTA & CableLabs Hosted The Near Future Conference & Delighted the Crowd
Today’s event brings together innovators who will share with you the near future. A future that will build upon networks that we as an industry are already building.
- CEO and President of CableLabs Phil McKinney, The Near Future 2017
What does the near future look like? Make no mistake - it's already (virtually) here. It unfolded before our eyes on April 27, 2017, at Union Market Dock 5 in Washington DC at the first Near Future forum. Co-sponsored by NCTA (The Internet and Television Association) and CableLabs, the immersive experience was created to showcase next generation technology enabled by the cable industry.
Attended by a mix of technology professionals, visionaries, policy experts, and media leaders, the event featured a wide range of speakers and live demos. These included virtual, mixed and augmented reality, an ‘intelligent agent’ (AI precursor), an autonomous vehicle, and next gen (non-VR) video exhibits exploring the four pillars of human technological interconnectivity - the way we live, work, learn, and play. All of which are powered by cable broadband.
The day opened with NCTA President and co-host Michael Powell declaring it the “un-conference”. Rather than scripted interviews and lengthy speeches, audience members were invited to interact with some of the awe-inspiring technologies that massive bandwidth and computational power make possible. Attendees could fly over city landscapes using their arms and legs with Birdly, explore a model of Local Motors’ 3D printed self-driving shuttle bus named Olli, fly through space with Positron's egg-shaped Voyager Platform, explore 3D buildings and cities with Taqtile’s 3D “HoloMaps”, or interact virtually with a holographic projection of a Holocaust Survivor in real time.
The highlights of the day included conversations with the visionary thinkers at the forefront of these emerging platforms. Beginning with PLAY, Google VR Senior Engineer Paul Debevec waxed poetic about cinematic virtual reality technology and light scanning to digitize humans. This technique was used in some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters and the first ever 3D presidential portrait. He went on to explain that the digital faces created for movies, television, and video games are now so sophisticated that photorealistic environments in virtual reality will soon be available.
Ted Schilowitz, a futurist for 20th Century Fox, emphasized that society is more ready for VR than ever due to our reliance on smartphones for everyday tasks like memory and directions. Senior Vice President of Technicolor/MPC Timothy Dodd highlighted the potential of mixing virtual reality and game engines, changing the color of a Camaro on screen and video in real time with no latency.
Taking us to WORK, Eric Yan, CEO of Zoom, explained how VR will transform video conferencing and the remote workplace by enhancing collaboration and engagement among team members. Ricardo Poupada, CEO of 5th Wall, a virtual and augmented reality marketing studio, talked about how immersive VR will revolutionize the human experience in everything from retail to real estate to medical services to entertainment.
Chief Technology Officer of IBM Watson, Rob High, invited the audience to go back to school in the LEARN segment. He demoed a future classroom, where, through the power of AI, instructors transformed into the greatest thinkers throughout history. In the same vein, David Traum, director of Natural Language Research at USC Institute for Creative Technology, spoke about students learning history in real time from real people, using the virtual reality Holocaust survivor as an example.
In the LIVE segment, Dr. Wyatt Decker, Emergency specialist and VP at the Mayo Clinic, emphasized the need for 3D printing, virtual reality, genomics, robotics, and data mining to revolutionize the medical industry - creating low-cost patient-friendly solutions in the process. He used the examples of biomimicry of robotic limbs for amputee patients, 3D printed organs, and functional MRI’s. Audience members watched in wonderment as a video was shown of a patient having brain surgery while playing the piano. This allowed surgeons to stay away from the structures involved with the piano playing while removing her brain tumor. To read more about the connection between cable and healthcare read our blog post: Cable Connects with Health Care by CableLabs CTO Ralph Brown.
The Near Future emphasized that broadband is the catalyst for innovation in services and apps. The demos and speakers all highlighted the amazing technology we have in the present and the future possibilities of the high-speed, low latency networks that connect our homes, businesses, and mobile devices. The spirit of the forum was reiterated by host Kym McNicholas at the closing of the event: “The key is to be proactive, not reactive. Don’t let what you don’t know get in the way of innovation. It’s this out of the box thinking that makes the impossible, possible."
This conference was based on our Near Future video.
For more information on cable broadband, policy, and network innovation outpacing application innovation check out this Insights paper we wrote on the gigabit evolution and read this interview with CEO & President of CableLabs Phil McKinney. If you’d like to know more about the Near Future event visit TheNearFutureNetwork and NCTA’s Twitter feed @NCTAitv. You can watch the conference in its entirety below.
Interactive TV Ads – Is There a Demand?
Recently, Coke aired an interactive advertisement during the NCAA Final Four basketball games. I thought I would try it out. When the ad starts, it declares “This is a drinkable commercial,” then prompts the user to “Shazam now to drink it.” I launched Shazam on my smartphone, it picked up the audio, and launched a Coke Zero ad on my phone.
The ad depicted a Coke glass full of ice with Coke Zero being poured into it.
Pressing that button took me to another page that prompted for my birthdate and phone number. About 20 minutes later, I received a text message with a URL to a barcode to redeem for one free 20-oz. Coke Zero. Pretty Cool! You can try it out using the ad on this Youtube link.
But it wasn’t quite as easy as I made it sound. By the time I had dug through the screens on my smartphone to launch Shazam, the commercial was over. Luckily, I was using my Xfinity X1G set-top box which includes a time-shift buffer feature, so I could just rewind 30 seconds and re-run the commercial. It would have been MUCH EASIER if I could have just picked up the remote and clicked the “OK” button to have Target send me the coupon!
The Quest for Interactive Ads
For years, advertisers, cable operators, and television manufacturers have sought the best way to engage viewing audiences with interactive ads. The cable industry went down the path of EBIF and tru2way, and for a while there was a flurry of second screen apps. Although there were over 25 million EBIF-enabled set-top boxes deployed in the US at one time, the promise of interactive ads never really materialized.
Another platform for interactivity is the smart TV. Since 2011, some smart TV manufacturers have been embedding Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) in various television models to enable HTML5-based applications to launch on the TV. LG has their “Live Plus” feature based on Cognitive Networks engine, several other manufacturers use Cognitive or Samba ACR engines. Showtime has “enhanced” their original content with interactive applications (SHO Sync) based on this platform on LG TVs. Ensequence has enhanced advertisements with the Samsung platform.
Smart TVs with embedded ACR can support synchronized interactive applications, but it can also cause some problems. What happens when the set-top box displays a graphical overlay, such as a menu or even an interactive application, and the Smart TV does the same? This is known as “app collision,” and is a problem recognized by the industry.
Interactivity in the Future?
The fact that advertisers are still seeking ways to engage audiences through interactivity makes me optimistic that the issues discussed can be resolved and consumers will have simple ways to interact with advertisements. With 4K and 8K televisions coming out with much higher resolution, the real-estate for interactive applications is even more compelling. I am looking forward to the ability to pick up my remote (or better yet, respond with voice control or other simple interface) to get my free Coke Zero.
Debbie Fitzgerald is the Director of Client Application Technologies at CableLabs.