Talking Video Technology Disruption with RedShark’s Dave Shapton at IBC
David Shapton is the Editor-In-Chief of RedShark Publications, the only daily-updated website for the entire moving image industry. He’s been a professional columnist and author since 1998, when he started writing for the European Music Technology magazine Sound on Sound. Shapton has worked with professional digital audio and video since 1985, served as a CTO, and published over 1000 articles.
Shapton co-launched RedShark in 2012 and it has now found a large readership as one of the most influential online publications in video technology. They cover not only equipment and software, but how technology shifts impact the industry as a whole. “We try to think about how to respond to the exponential rate of change that is transforming the industry by the hour,” said Shapton on the phone from London.
Livestream chatted with Shapton to learn more about his point of view on technology, live video, and what he’s looking forward to at IBC. We edited this Q&A for clarity and length.
Livestream: Tell us about how you ended up at RedShark. Were you always interested in technology and video?
David Shapton: The reason I ended up where I am is the dedicated pursuit of avoiding a career. My dad was a scientist. When I was 11 I had the flu and he brought an oscilloscope home (a machine that allows you to see the soundwave of your voice when you speak) and I learned about every property that a signal could have. I was insufferably geeky and still am. So I’ve always been interested in how we communicate using analog and digital media.
If you haven’t been paying attention it’s easy to discount the weight of change: things get better, so what? But in absolute terms we’re seeing an exponential rise in the capability of tech that is so profound that if you have a linear model of progress in mind, which most people do, you’re going to miss the fact that the capability of tech is multiplying. So any decisions you make will be short-term, or quite simply wrong.
What’s happening with tech is a bit like how our brain’s cortex works. We have a hierarchical way of understanding things so we look at pieces of what comes and put those together: that’s the letter P, that’s a word, that’s a sentence, that’s the meaning. The exponential technology is going through these levels of hierarchies.
This kind of process means companies like Uber can come out of the blue overnight and disrupt a massive industry. You don’t need to build anything from scratch you just need to tie together existing efforts. These things will keep appearing and be like what Livestream is doing with streaming. It’s massively disruptive in the long run and has come about because these technologies are now being focused. One person can have an idea and that idea can traverse the world in seconds.
LS: Who is the Redshark audience? Who are you writing for?
DS: It can be anyone from a filmmaker, camera operator, to post production or distribution as well. We cover the whole spectrum. We want to smash through old traditional ideas – there’s always a new way of doing things. The people we’re writing for are people who want to understand the nature of change and the reasons behind it and the great things it will be leading to. It’s all about having perspective – unless you have the framework to measure things against, you will not understand the significance or insignificance of what happens. The rate of change in tech is driving everything. If you’re not on the pace of that then you don’t understand it.
“WE DON’T JUST PUBLISH THE NEWS, WE LOOK FOR THESE INFLECTION POINTS: THE WORLD CHANGED AT THIS POINT AND MOVING FORWARD IT’S GOING TO BE DIFFERENT AND THIS IS THE REASON.”
When the iPhone was first conceived they weren’t able to make one. But they kept designing it even though the tech wasn’t there. By redesigning it over and over again, once the tech was good enough and not a moment later they were able to bring out a fully working product that took people’s breath away. All everyone else could do was copy it at first because they were so far behind. It’s that level of thinking we need in a world where change isn’t linear; you have to be looking further ahead because you will know that eventually you can do that thing you couldn’t do before.
If you look at 4K TVs, four years ago they were about $25,000 and everyone said this is going to take decades to be adopted and now in my local TV store 80 percent of the TVs are 4K. In two years time you probably won’t be able to buy anything BUT 4K TVs. Same with video cameras. Not to say everyone is producing in 4K or distributing, but now it’s part of the vocabulary and 8K is on the horizon.
LS: How do you, and RedShark, stay current in the industry?
DS: We have an extended team of around 50 writers and we’re taking on new people all the time. We spend a lot of time looking in less obvious places: scientific journals, economics publications. We’re looking for these inflection points that something has changed for some reason that has an impact on our industry.
A few weeks ago RED Digital – who worked on the Hobbit and a significant portion of modern high-end movies – leaked their 8K camera sensor. It’s 16X the resolution of HD with a superb dynamic range. This is the moment when inarguably digital video is now better than film has ever been. So we said: 8K is the future of cinema. This would have been previously controversial, but we don’t just publish the news, we look for these inflection points: the world changed at this point and moving forward it’s going to be different and this is the reason. That’s how we get our important stories.
LS: What is the most exciting trend in live video?
DS: There’s a very trendy thing going around “living in the now,” and livestreaming is capturing reality now. There’s so many ways you can leverage that, whether it’s a convention or for sheer spontaneity. What Livestream is doing is the combination of everything going on in this wider production and broadcast and media based industry. When you’re livestreaming you’re becoming part of the global collective consciousness. That seems wildly abstract but it’s an incredible thing to do.
As the bandwidth is increasing, livestreaming is crossing the barrier of looking good enough to watch repeatedly and intensively. At the production end, it’s becoming very democratized as the cost of producing live television has fallen 10 or 100 fold over the last two decades. The barriers are disappearing. One of those barriers is to be able to host a stream that can be delivered to enough people and have easy interfaces and that’s what Livestream does. You don’t need to do it from scratch anymore. The good news is it’s rapidly becoming possible, cost-effective, and extremely effective as a medium. What’s exciting is that it’s only going to get better.
“I THINK STREAMING WILL BECOME AN ESSENTIAL PART OF DAILY LIFE FAR MORE QUICKLY THAN PEOPLE IMAGINE”
LS: What do you think the ultimate potential of live video is?
DS: Streaming will become more ubiquitous as bandwidth increases. Alongside that we’ll have better ways for people to discover the streams that interest them. The discovery side of things will make the difference because as the number of streams increase it will be harder to find what you’re interested in. The quality of the data and curation will make all the difference as to who will watch what.
Livestream is further down this path than anyone. They have the whole spectrum for streaming in the sense of a conventional broadcast but more specific at both ends. I might be interested in a very niche subject which is very important to me and you can make these 1:1 matches more easily with streaming because it’s a one-to-many process. If these can find their audience and vice-versa, everybody’s going to be happy and it will quickly become the norm. It’s almost going to become part of our cognition and awareness. I think streaming will become an essential part of daily life far more quickly than people imagine. You have the sense that you are taking part, sharing something – the immediacy and presence of it is more powerful than video on demand.
Soon, you’ll no longer have to think about how you get a high quality feed from any camera to a platform like Livestream for worldwide streaming. It will cease to be a technical issue; it will just become a decision. The tech will get smaller and more capable and will just become part of the fabric. There will still be an important role for streaming platforms who curate and add discovery services to the video. There always needs to be someone working at a higher level that can organize the streams, make them discoverable and with enough information for people to see and understand the context.
LS: What are you most looking forward to at IBC 2016?
DS: It’s becoming harder and harder to predict what you’ll see. Ten years ago you’d have a pretty good idea what’s coming up but now you can’t even predict in the six months between NAB and IBC. There will be more VR, loads more streaming, 360 video, lots of 8K. 4K will be the default, beyond that it’s genuinely hard to say.
We’ve gotten to a stage where the progress curve is so steep it’s actually vertical and we don’t know what’s going to jump out and surprise us. The surprise at NAB was the Lytro camera that used a completely different technique to capture video. It’s massive and expensive, but it captures depth as well as the image in cinema quality. That blew people away. It’s like alien technology. It was like a flying saucer landed and you could suddenly beam yourself across the world. That’s happening more and more. The more I know, the less I know.