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An Interview With John Scarcella

Earlier this year, 19-year Sony veteran John Scarcella took the reins as president of Sony Electronics’ Broadcast and Production Systems Division (BPSD), succeeding Patrick Whittingham, who elected to take advantage of the company’s early retirement program.
While it’s only been a few short months for Scarcella as the head of the world’s largest broadcast equipment manufacturer (a few short months that coincidentally happened to be the NAB ramp-up period), we decided last month to have a Q&A with the man charged with Sony Broadcast’s future.

DigitalTV-Television Broadcast: At NAB last year, some Sony employees referred to Panasonic’s solid-state (P2) technology as “Balsacam” and promised to have an XDCAM product on the market by late fall of 2003. What happened? Was the technology too complex?
John Scarcella: Our first XDCAM products were delivered to U.S. customers March 1. It’s not the technology that’s complex, but rather the design of a system of products that perform features and functions never before available in tape-based products. The transition to a tapeless environment involves workflow decisions that were never previously considered.
Broadcast news operations are highly evolved. Our approach to the development of optical technology is based on how we integrate into existing station operations as well as various production environments. We have been planning a transition to optical technology for several years and our plans extend to the next three to five years, addressing all SD and HD production applications.
At the last NAB we demonstrated working prototypes of cameras and decks that recorded and played back pictures on optical media. Panasonic had a non-working mock-up. We were surprised that members of the press would declare a format war based on a camera mock-up and compare it favorably to our XDCAM system, which has been in development for years.
We do not view this as a format war at all. We have been working closely with many broadcast organizations that have long requested an optical disc solution for next-generation ENG/EFP applications, and we are quite confident that several major broadcasters will announce investments and commitment to our optical solutions in 2004. By the end of March, Sony will have delivered its first 1,000 units worldwide.
DTV: In terms of high-end studio and live production cameras, Sony today faces its most severe competition ever from Panasonic and Thomson. Is Sony slipping in this category?
Scarcella: We are currently, by far, the market leader in this categoryand have greater market share than the two companies mentioned combined. Most recently, more than 50 Sony HD cameras were deployed by CBS for the Super Bowl. Two weeks later, Sony HD cameras captured the Daytona 500 for NBC. Sony HD cameras have captured major awards shows like the Grammys and the MTV Music Awards.
When you visit our NAB exhibit, it will be very clear that Sony offers the most comprehensive acquisition line in the industry for SD and HD production. Also among the 20-plus cameras on display will be our new wireless camera system.
DTV: What about the lower end? How are you addressing DVCAM versus Canon DV and JVC HDV products?
Scarcella: Canon has two DV models and JVC has one HDV model. We have gained market share consistently with DVCAM over the past three years and have a comprehensive product lineup that’s made DVCAM the most successful format Sony has ever produced for professional applications. We have delivered 450,000 units of DVCAM worldwide.
[Editor’s note: Since this interview took place, JVC has announced a second HDV camcorder and Sony has shown a prototype HDV camcorder.]
DTV: Many see 1080p/60 production as the holy grail of production, from which any format can be derived. Do you agree?
Scarcella: 1080p/60 certainly offers the best solution for all worlds and we are aggressively developing such a camera.
DTV: How has HDCAM SR been received? What kind of feedback is Sony getting from the Lucasfilm folks (and/or other filmmakers) regarding the performance of HDCAM SR? What do you estimate is the market potential for such a high-end product?
Scarcella: The industry is truly excited by HDCAM SR. We believe it will become the master production format for the broadcast and production industry.
[Editor’s note: Since this interview, CBS has adopted HDCAM SR in addition to HD D5 for program delivery.]
DTV: What is the business advantage for Sony in having sold its integration business to A.F. Associates?
Scarcella: The advantage is clear. We can now partner with all systems integrators instead of being viewed as their competitor. We believe this will help us grow our SI business and increase market share for our cameras, switchers, displays, and storage products.
DTV: Sony and Thomson slug it out on nearly every production switcher deal. How has Sony fared?
Scarcella: Most recently, we became the number-one supplier of production switchers. It’s been a tough battle, but our switcher business is very good and we have revived a loyal following for Sony production switchers among TDs.
DTV: What is Sony’s philosophy on CRT monitors?
Scarcella: Clearly they are going to be replaced by LCD monitors like our new Luma series. For HD, there’s still nothing like our BVM CRTs.
DTV: Can you comment on Sony’s plans for SXRD [Silicon Crystal Reflective Display], which is Sony’s implementation of LCOS [Liquid Crystal On Silicon] technology for 4K digital cinema projection in theatres?
Scarcella: SXRD is currently utilized in our Qualia projector; a projector that we believe is the ultimate in home theater viewing. Our future plans for digital theater applications will be unveiled in the coming months.
DTV: On the lower end, is Sony making plans to enter the $999 projector market?
Scarcella: At this time, our strategy is to offer more ‘feature-rich’ projectors at the low end of the market and we have no plans to enter this end of the market on price alone.
DTV: Word on the street is that layoffs and early retirement offers have created a sort of vacuum at Sony. Besides Whittingham and Thorpe’s departures, a large number of your sales force has left. How are you dealing with that?
Scarcella: The great thing about Sony is the depth of our talent. While it is not possible to replace the likes of a Pat Whittingham and a Larry Thorpe, the greatest gift of those that left was the wisdom that they transferred over the years to their management teams. We will be replacing all the sales positions that were vacated due to the early retirement, and even if we didn’t, we would still have more feet on the street than any of our competitors. Our customers will always be our number-one priority and we will continue to have the best trained, best-informed sales force in the industry to service them.
We should also add that there is no other service organization in the broadcast industry that comes close to the depth and breadth of Sony’s.
DTV: What do you see as the impact on Sony from the additional ad revenue that stations and networks will generate due to the Olympics and the November elections?
Scarcella: Obviously, greater revenue may allow for increased spending for equipment. We think stations and networks will more aggressively upgrade their operations to digital and HD.
DTV: What do you estimate is the percentage of broadcast stations having already converted to a digital infrastructure in production, post, and routing?
Scarcella: About 30-35%.
DTV: Lastly, you’re succeeding Steinberg, Grebow, and Whittingham; what are you going to do that is different? What are you doing on the days leading up to NAB?
Scarcella: Each of the gentlemen you named contributed mightily to the organization we have in place today. An organization that, when coupled with the exciting products we will be introducing to the market, will enjoy much success. I am really looking forward to a great year; and we have Charlie, Ed, and Pat to thank for it. To the second part of your question, the events leading up to NAB are very similar to the past: pre-NAB press conference, sales and product training for our sales folks, and something new this year...sales and product training for our reps and system integrators.