2020 Vision: What’s Ahead in Tech, Media

By Arthur Greenwald

“This is a great moment for broadcasting. I can’t wait for the future to get here,” concluded noted technology guru Gary Arlen in his keynote address, which opened the NAB’s Broadcast Engineering Conference at this year’s NAB Show.

Known for his incisive and accurate analysis of interactive and new media technology, the president of Bethesda, Md.-based Arlen Communications titled his remarks “Why I Can’t Wait for 2020.”

Looking ahead to a hypothetical NAB convention 11 years hence, Arlen confidently predicted that broadcasters and related advertising will still play a dominant role despite the continued rapid development of new technologies and viewer media choices.

“While many technology issues remain to be resolved,” said Arlen, “social media, digital memory and wireless will drive our agenda.”

Key among Arlen’s specific insights and predictions:

• Mobile TV will indeed prove to be a vital new revenue source once broadcasters can accurately measure and monetize out-of-home viewing.

• Flexible OLED video displays will plummet in price and offer a wider range of excellent portable viewing options.

• Stations will completely blend their present IP and broadcast engineering functions.

• It will become standard practice to integrate user-generated content and social networking into the marketing, even the content, of broadcast programs.

Indeed, Arlen boldly asserts that “social networking will be integrated into all other forms of what broadcasters do,” pointedly including the need for engineers to develop the hardware and software needed to manage and distribute all these formats.

Arlen’s hardware forecasts seemed to especially excite the appreciative audience of broadcast engineers. Among these:

• Broadcast engineers will be leading developers of “green” technology — more for economy and efficiency than for political reasons. (Arlen believes that the Obama administration will make green engineering as big a goal as the Apollo missions were in the Kennedy years.)

• By 2020 both 3-D and even holographic video displays will have matured sufficiently to appeal to consumers.

• Broadcasters and consumers will benefit from huge advances in “memsistors” — non-volatile solid state memory with greater data density than today’s hardware. (One Japanese lab, Arlen says, has already demonstrated 100 GB of storage on a chip measuring only one square centimeter.)

To describe the feelings evoked by these future innovations, Arlen coined the term “prestalgia,” which he defines as “a longing for days that haven’t happened yet.”

While Arlen cautions that too often forecasters tend to overstate short-term advances and underestimate the long-term innovations, he is confident that technological forecasts can prove useful. Set in a fictional 2019, Arlen points to the 1983 film Blade Runner, set in a fictional 2019, as having accurately predicted large video billboards, highly integrated searchable data networks and hybrid cars.

But unlike the cars in Blade Runner, Arlen wistfully concedes that current real-life hybrids cannot fly — at least not yet.