Executive Profile: Steering The Transition

DigitalTV: There are a number of different forms of automation controls being marketed to TV stations today. Systems range from robotic camera automation to ad insertion to full station-wide control. Where does OmniBus fit in?

Ioannou: OmniBus really crosses the board in its offerings. Everywhere there is media to control, whether it is robotic camera control or studio lighting control, we are there. We have an interface to those control systems and they become part of a solution set, if you'd like. It's a bunch of metadata that we put into a schedule and it has a pre-roll 'clip' to get the camera into position in addition to any other event. So, to us, it is just another element that can be automated. OmniBus is a solutions company, but the focus is more on the media and media context, and we are a management and program player.

DigitalTV: The move to automation has been going on for some years now. What percentage of TV stations, globally, do you estimate has installed some form of automation control? Ioannou: Most stations use some form of automation, even if its of the very basic [Sony] FlexiCart sort. That has to be considered automation, though it is very rudimentary. In that sense, there is a de facto market saturation now, because the majority of stations already have some form of automation in place.

DigitalTV: And, what is the average station spending on automation? Ioannou: Now the operative word in that sentence is "average." The range can be from a couple of hundred thousand dollars to millions. I would have to say that at an average station it ranges between $600,000 and $750,000. DigitalTV: About how long would you say it would take them to recoup their investment?

Ioannou: Just a couple of years.

DigitalTV: That's all?

Ioannou: Yes, two to three years. Because the majority of the stations that are going into automation are doing it for more than one reason. Obviously, there is digital conversion, putting out the digital channels that are a requirement, at least in the States. And, to do that is an add-on to what it originally would have cost them. So, to move over to automation as well helps them recoup their investments quicker.

DigitalTV: Do you actually recommend to clients or prospects that they do their automating synchronous with other major changes that they are making?

Ioannou: That is one of the key questions I always ask when I am talking to customers. Why do you want to do this? There are generally more reasons to justify the recommendation.

DigitalTV: In the beginning, automation often represented a threat to jobs. At least a perceived threat to jobs. Does the OmniBus approach, in your view, save jobs, eliminate them, or change them?

Ioannou: I would say, in a majority of cases, that it would change them. We've never spoken to a customer about the possibility of OmniBus eliminating jobs. The best automation systems in the world will be technically superseded in a few years.

DigitalTV: The Internet brings with it a double-edged sword. On one hand it represents a challenge to the concept of localized distribution and audience share, while at the same time it also represents a new ad revenue source and an alternative pathway to local customers. This is particularly true for those stations or networks who champion it and who augment their broadcast services with web offerings and/or interactivity. How does OmniBus help them do this and what aspects of that Internet capability are interactive?

Ioannou: What is the Internet today and what is it going to be tomorrow? I think we all recognize the fact that technology changes at a fast pace and we don't know what is around the corner. The Internet does clearly offer increased distribution. That's beyond the traditional local distribution audience share and with increased audience share reaching beyond to a much wider audience. We also offer the opportunity to increase advertising revenue. We can also allow the same number of staff to be more efficient.

DigitalTV: By the way, since you are so focused on interactive TV, how do you know that it is going to succeed? Is there reliable data pointing to a successful business model for interactive services?

Ioannou: No business model has been identified yet. But, let me mention one thing that the BBC did with interactive that is extremely popular. They built tests on the satellite channels in the U.K., where they provided a switch for interactive so viewers could pick any one of six different cameras for six different views and actually watch the tennis match in the way that they wanted to, such as from either player's perspective. They provided you with the stats as well. Large sports events where the interactive option can be added for a few dollars more are the wave of the future. They will permit you to unlock the interactive button on demand. Interactivity should be there for the people who want it.

DigitalTV: Your Colossus product was designed as a multichannel/multidelivery control and delivery system. For whom is it intended? Ioannou: Our Colossus multichannel, multidelivery control automation system is not just for TV. It can be used for practically anything. We've used Colossus running radio channels as well as television channels. It was originally intended for digital TV or IP, or at-home uses and today it's good for all of those.

DigitalTV: We've been in a broadcast market recession since late 2000. There have been clear signs of this, such as slower growth, declining ad revenue, and canceled equipment orders. Additionally, NAB and IBC attendance were both significantly lower this year. And, finally, we had the devastating events of September 11. How will OmniBus face these challenges?

Ioannou: In terms of business, the picture has changed quite considerably. However, the downturn in the market soon turned from a negative to a positive for us because people started looking more at how they could be more efficient and where they could use more automation technology.

DigitalTV: Assuming there is nothing as negative and as monumental as September 11 in 2002, are you optimistic and do you think things will perk up in the second half of the year?

Ioannou: Yes, I think so.

Douglas I. Sheer is CEO of DIS Consulting Corporation, founded in 1982. He can be reached at www.omnibus.tv