—It’s clear one
year into his tenure that Charlie Vogt is an IP media evangelist. He
took over Harris Broadcast, now Imagine Communications, last July, just as
software-defined networks and cloud playout started getting serious attention
among television distributors. Vogt, having been through an IP transition in
the telecom space, was brought in with the blessing of Carl Vogel, board
chairman and partner in the Gores Group, the Los Angeles private equity group
that bought Harris Broadcast for $225 million in December of 2012.
Vogt recently sent out a one-year update in which he described how the company
is being positioned to support the migration of media distributors from proprietary
hardware to IP-based software technologies. TV
caught up with Vogt as he prepares for IBC in Amsterdam Sept. 11-16,
where he and Imagine Chief Technology Officer Steve Reynolds will host “Imagine
Live,” a live-streamed press event during which they’ll outline a roadmap for
the media IP migration.
In your one-year update, you write, “The technical
complexities of broadcasting have resulted in a slower rollout of media-over-IP
compared to industry peers.” Does
this mean slower than projections for Imagine and GatesAir?
My comments were about
where the industry is, today, versus where it needs to go, and how fast it can
get there. The really large networks—cable operators and broadcasters—they know
they need to move away from a proprietary hardware world. We’re moving into a
world where advertisers want to target me and you. I do think there’s going to
be a very transformative business model about how advertising gets mapped out.
Technology: You’ve talked about a
five-year window for the IP migration. Won’t this be a hybrid infrastructure
for many years to come?
It will. Baseband isn’t going
away. Inside the broadcast environment, baseband is still going to be there for
a long time.
But when you look at enterprise business management tools—sales, advertising,
automation—that’s already moved to a cloud-based IP model, so I think that fits
with in the five-year trajectory. The traditional way in which playout and
automation is done is the next to go. Then signaling and compression, which is
also moving to the cloud.
Compression will be a hybrid model for a while. There are benefits for, say,
ABC or NBC to have encoders on site, but for smaller operators, it makes more
sense to go to the cloud.
If there’s one area that will have a longer tail to the transformation, it’s
It kind of reminds me of move from TDM to voice-over-IP. There were early
adopters who didn’t have all the legacy infrastructure. The Hulus and Netflix of
the world don’t have that legacy infrastructure.
The baseband technology will be longest to migrate.
In early January, we’re rolling out a baseband-IP gateway to push compressed
video files around the Internet.
Technology: What’s up with
GatesAir? Some folks expect a sale, given the tough state of the transmitter
business as illustrated most recently by the sudden shutdown of Larcan.
We think Imagine is a good
IPO candidate. We’re 100 percent convinced that this industry will move to an
all-IP infrastructure. That was the Imagine portfolio. Then there was this
broadcast division with some customer synergy, but an entirely different
GatesAir is either going to go on its own… if you look at that whole space,
there is a lot of technology you could roll into it. I’m looking to put a
quasi-CEO [or chief operating officer] in there. As of July 1, Gates and
Imagine were two separate businesses. Gates still reports to me because they
have the same owner for the time being.
TV Technology: When is the IPO
We think 2015 is the time,
unless the market doesn’t cooperate or we don’t perform.
Technology: What can you tell us
Imagine will have a pretty
significant growth year from 2013 to 2014. [Business is about 45 percent North
America-based and the rest overseas.]
: What do you see
happening to the transmitter business?
The repack in the U.S.
will probably be a three- to five-year installment cycle, then you have a
larger install base you have to maintain. The analog-to-digital transition has
taken place but the business is still pretty lively. You have digital
transmitters that are now 10, 15 year old in some cases. So there’s a
significant business case to replace older transmitters with newer, more
Technology: What other
opportunities do you anticipate for the transmitter business?
ATSC 3.0 is becoming a big
driver right now. Certainly if you look at 4K and mobility, there are
interesting dynamics going on in the background. And how the mobile network can
offload and take advantage of TV transmitters, if the AT&Ts, Verizons and
Sprints of the world can see the value of transmitters for a mobile offload
Even ATSC 1.0, can support an EAS system today. The FCC put a lot of pressure
on traditional telcos… and they’re not managing communications in times of
disasters when their networks go down. There are certainly a lot of
applications they’re not taking advantage of.
Technology: So there’s a place
for broadcasters in the future of media distribution, just not as they exist
One thing not changing is demand
placed on mobile network by video, which is going to be 75 percent of all
traffic by 2018.
When you have 5
billion mobile devices and 7 billion people, worldwide, mobile operators will
play a huge role in delivery of video.
People are still watching TV in the family room. The difference is, more
and more people are watching what they want on demand. That said, the highest
quality video you see today is uncompressed off our transmitters.
My kids are in college. I gave them one of these little dongles, and they
discovered over-the-air TV that we grew up on. It’s like a newly discovered way
of watching TV. And it’s got a great picture.
Technology: So your kids watch
broadcast TV. Is this part of the cord-cutting/broadcast renaissance phenomenon?
We haven’t cut any cord in
our house. We still watch Internet-based TV, and have three kids watching other
programs on their laptops. The tech delivery mechanisms, and how you monetize
that content, is changing, and you can’t get there with today’s architecture.
Broadcasters won’t be able to compete
if they don’t move to a cloud-, IP-based model.
There’ not a large broadcaster I haven’t met with in the last six months
who isn’t aligned with what I’m saying.
Technology: Did the telecom IP
transition create a lot of consolidation among vendors in that sector as we’re
seeing now in the media sector?
As the industry
migrates to a standards-based, software-defined world, smaller vendors will
struggle. In the telecom world, there were a lot of smaller vendors who
couldn’t compete in the technology transition.
What happened was, in 1996, there were thousands of service providers, thousands,
in the U.S. alone. The 1996
Telecom Act created an opening, and overnight, billions of dollars were
invested in competitive local exchange carriers. Then, overnight, there were
In TV, we’re seeing that consolidation now. I think there will be more
consolidation between the telecom world and networks and cable operators. When I came to the space, it was only growing
at 3 percent. That’s changing with much tighter synergistic partnerships
between distributors and content creators. Cable operators and wireless
providers are in a pretty good spot right now.
TV Technology: And broadcasters?
They’re still involved with
their distribution partners. I don’t think the broadcasters are disadvantaged
at all. We believe traditional OTA broadcast—that traditional way GatesAir is
delivering video content—will have a bigger and bigger role to resolve the
TV Technology’s Deborah D. McAdams
speaks with Imagine Communications Charlie Vogt at NAB 2014.
July 9, 2013,
Vogt Named CEO of Harris Broadcast
comes to Harris from Genband, a privately held company involved in
voice-over-IP based in Frisco, Texas with global operations and 1,700