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Meet the… IBC innovation lead and council chair

From working with the likes of Queen, David Bowie and U2, to leading IBC's innovation programme, Mark Smith tells TVBEurope about his varied career, and why he believes anyone looking to enter the media tech industry needs to "get their hands dirty" and learn as much as possible

Mark Smith, IBC innovation lead and council chair
Talk us through an average day in your role

I split my week between working from home and spending time in London, meeting with my IBC colleagues in the lead-up to a busy IBC 2023 in September. A fundamental part of my role as founder and head of the IBC Accelerator Media Innovation Programme is meeting project teams made up of ‘Champions’, major broadcasters, platforms and studios, and ‘Participants’, the leading-edge technology companies – which together are breaking new ground in media and entertainment, harnessing breakthrough technologies and industry collaboration to solve common challenges and pioneer new real-world use cases. Witnessing each project progress and evolve while proof-of-concept demonstrations come together for IBC 2023 is an incredibly exciting and rewarding part of my day-to-day.   

Events make up a big part of my routine too – in our industry, there isn’t a week that goes by without an exciting tech, business or content event happening in the UK or around the world. Progress and business in the media technology industry is still really fuelled by networking and face-to-face engagement, and it’s full of great people, too. There’s huge value in getting out there and building new connections at events, both from a business and a social perspective. 

I also have a handful of other non-exec and advisory roles across the media and entertainment sector that keep me busy with a variety of projects, including as a non-executive director for Ofcom on its Advisory Committee for England and the Henley Festival for music and arts. And now I’ve recently been appointed chair of the IBC Council and I’m looking forward to working closely with influencers, opinion formers, visitors, and exhibitors as part of this exciting new role, as the Council strives to help shape an IBC event that truly reflects the global challenges, opportunities and new segments that will shape our industry for the future.

How did you get started in the media industry?

My career started in publishing and marketing before I moved into music, back then working as a product manager in the music and sound recording industry. I was incredibly lucky to work with some amazing music brands and world-leading artists like Brian May and Queen, Bryan Adams, U2, George Michael, Seal and David Bowie, among many others.

I joined a PR company during the media and communications industry’s evolution to early digital in the mid-’90s and was recruited by a client that was to become absolutely instrumental in the development and growth of mobile technology, the GSMA, the association of the world’s global mobile network operators. As marketing and communications director it was a period of phenomenal global growth and change from 2G GSM and then 3G, 3.5G, 4G through to today’s 5G standards.

In 2006, I was part of the team that acquired the then GSM World Congress and relocated it from Cannes to Barcelona. We developed it with connectivity for every vertical industry in mind, and it became the Mobile World Congress (MWC), one of the world’s biggest and best technology events. It’s something I am incredibly proud of, among other achievements in the media and communications sectors. The GSMA and MWC certainly taught me about the importance and immense value of industry collaboration – which is at the core of the IBC Accelerator Media Innovation Programme. No one company can really fix everything themselves – competitors and peers coming together and learning from each other to push new boundaries and create new solutions on an industry scale is hugely impactful. 

What training did you have before entering the industry?

My product management background in music and sound provided me with a lot of hands-on training. Having the privilege of working with so many talented musicians and people meant I could learn from the best in the business. Writing about the media and entertainment industry and technology across several communications roles over the years also allowed me to build and enhance my knowledge and understanding of the issues and emerging trends shaping the future of our sector.

Why do you enjoy working in the industry?

It’s such an exciting time for the media and entertainment market right now, with new challenges and opportunities emerging as the transformation toward IP and software-defined workflows continues. New segments and applications like virtual and remote production are growing and evolving so rapidly, while disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, 5G, and extended reality (XR) are now front and centre on the global agenda. 

Working collaboratively with passionate, ambitious people to navigate market evolution and serve increasingly demanding audiences with more compelling content experiences is hugely enjoyable — and it’s at the heart of everything the IBC Accelerator Media Innovation Programme sets out to do. Seeing the Accelerator projects being presented at IBC Show in Amsterdam is the culmination of many months of hard work and dedication, but we couldn’t do it without a great team at IBC – and I can’t wait for attendees to learn about the amazing projects and what they have achieved up-close and in-person. Each project will be showcased on the Accelerator Zone and the Innovation Stage in Hall 3 at IBC 2023, make sure to stop by!

What piece of advice would you offer someone looking to explore a role similar to yours?

Our industry needs to attract a wider range of young talent by unlocking new avenues and bringing more visibility to just how cool working in media and entertainment technology is. The media industry is hugely multi-faceted, so for young people coming into the industry, I would say it’s all about getting your hands dirty and learning as much as possible about different areas within the sector to help identify what really makes you tick and what you’re most passionate about.

Be prepared to absorb knowledge from those around you and to learn and hone your skills by embracing the disruption and change. Ultimately, advances in connectivity – and transformative tech generally – are opening up a huge breadth of innovation areas and opportunities across M&E and various other sectors, so it’s a fantastic time to come into the industry.