Leaders for Interesting Times

After every NAB Show, those of us who cover this industry spend a lot of time taking stock of technology trends. But we also tend to forget that beneath all of those high-tech, whiz-bang exhibits and demos, the show is also really about reconnecting with industry colleagues and making new acquaintances.

We’ve always lived in interesting times; there’s never been a period where we haven’t been confronted with change. However it’s not a stretch to say that the pace is accelerating. And leading the companies that will help make the creation and distribution of new media formats has probably never been more of a challenge.

At the NAB Show this year, I had the opportunity to discuss these issues with the leaders of these companies and they represent an interesting mix of opinions and experiences. Louis Hernandez, Jr., the new president of Avid, believes that while the company has made great strides in recent years, there’s always room for improvement.

“The company has refreshed its technology better than I would have expected but the industry is changing pretty rapidly and Avid has a chance to reassert more strongly its vision of the industry,” he said. “I feel like Avid hasn’t been aggressive enough in articulating our strategic relevance in where we’re going.”

Hernandez said that the quality of customer service—a common complaint among Avid’s customers only a few years ago—has now gotten “respectable to good, but we would like to see raving fans, so we have more work to do.”

For Grant Petty, founder and president of Blackmagic Design, one of the fastest growing companies in our industry, the show serves as an annual “report card” for his business. “I get really nervous before the show, thinking, ‘are people really going to like this stuff,’” he said.

Blackmagic’s Monday morning press conferences have become must-attend events and Petty understands its importance. “It’s like judgment day when you arrive here on Monday morning. As a CEO, this is my review, on a Monday morning at NAB.”

When asked to look back on the evolution of his company, Petty says that “if I’d known how hard it would be to get to this point, I never would have pursued it. There could have been 10,000 chances to not go this way. It’s worth it now in hindsight, only because it’s done well and we have such a great group of people.”

Tim Thorsteinson, who returned to the helm of Grass Valley earlier this year, had the advantage of stepping away from our industry for several years after leaving Harris, and having that perspective has helped him gain renewed enthusiasm.

“I’m extremely bullish,” he said, adding that the company has a longer heritage than most in this industry. “This company’s 50-something years old,” he said. “How many other tech companies, other than IBM are hanging around 50 years later? A lot of people count on us.”

Thorsteinson’s immediate goal is to bring Grass Valley back to profi tability, which he believes will happen in the current quarter. But he also has to formulate a vision for the company’s future, a future that lies beyond just traditional broadcast. Commenting on how the NAB Show has changed since he left several years ago, “there’s a lot less traditional broadcast customers than I’m used to seeing,” he said, “so there’s tons of opportunity.”

For a man who describes himself as a “pessimist by nature,” those are pretty encouraging words, and not a bad assessment for an industry undergoing what many like to describe as massive “disruption.”

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched digitalbroadcasting.com for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (www.tvtech.com), the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.