MONTREAL—With the New Year came a change in leadership at Grass Valley as Tim Shoulders, a seven-year veteran at parent Belden, took over as president.
Shoulders, who most recently was vice president and GM of Belden’s global industrial cable business, joins Grass Valley as the broadcast industry is undergoing a historic transition from dedicated hardware and baseband video routing to IP and virtualized workflows running in private and public clouds. At the same time, broadcast station ownership as well as broadcast tech companies are in the midst of rapid consolidation.
In this interview, the new president of Grass Valley discusses where the company stands, where he sees future growth opportunities, what M&A prospects are on the horizon and the IP transition, which Grass Valley has fostered and helped to lead.
An edited transcript:
TVTechnology:How would you assess where Grass Valley stands today in terms of how its product portfolio matches up with the markets it serves? What areas do you regard as strengths and where would you like to see improvement?
Tim Shoulders: At Grass Valley, we think of our markets in terms of value streams. We look at three different value streams: live production, news and content delivery. Of course, all of those are supported by our networking products.
We really have a deep and wide product portfolio within those value streams and frankly, a large installed base. We’re in a fairly unique position, being able to sustain this leadership.
That being said, of course, there is plenty of work to do. Our customers are going through an industry change. They are looking for more industry agility in their operations. In response, Grass Valley has been increasing our investment in the technologies that will help us lead the industry and be with them during these changes.
TVT:Does that specifically focus in on the transition from SDI to IP routing and virtualization, or is it broader than that?
TS: Certainly, IP is a big part of it. I thought we made a pretty bold move a few years ago when we started movement toward interoperability with the industry around IP by establishing AIMS [the Alliance for IP Media Solutions].
We continue that effort and I think it is important to our customers as well. That’s why we find value in AIMS and a unified standard the industry can work from.
TVT:What does the M&A landscape look like for Grass Valley—whether that means acquiring or merging with companies or being acquired from Belden?
TS: First of all, Belden is committed to the broadcast space. It has been a key part of the industry for over 70 years, providing cable and consistently leading the market through technology changes.
The market is a very comfortable place for Belden and Grass Valley has a good home here at Belden. So, there should be no concern about Belden’s commitment to the broadcast industry.
Secondly, it’s obvious to me having been at NAB 2016 and IBC 2016 that the industry has gone through some changes, but the landscape then is similar to what it is now. There are a large number of small companies in this space and the industry is pretty fragmented from a manufacturer’s standpoint.
I think of the complexity this creates for our customers. Some of these smaller companies don’t have the balance sheet to weather the type of change that the market is going through because it calls for increased investment to move through the technology transition. It is also a time when there are fewer capital purchases, and customers are looking for the right solutions.
That is hard on companies that aren’t capitalized as well as Grass Valley through Belden. So, I think Grass Valley having Belden as a parent is a great advantage. Having that financial stability is really important and our customers can count on us to be around for the long haul.
On top of that, Belden can fund investment in our growth, both organically and inorganically through mergers and acquisitions.
We are at a constant state of alert at Grass Valley looking for businesses to tuck into the family. We look for things like product fit, cultural fit and industry relevance, as an example.
TVT:Are there any areas of interest in particular?
TS: One of our criteria is we want to establish ourselves as the No. 1 or No. 2 [technology] provider in the segments we are in. So, that is one of our key criteria when we are looking for targets for acquisition.
I think there are a couple of areas in the space where there would be nice fits, but these M&A transactions are certainly fragile things and of course require a happy seller and happy buyer. So, while there is a lot of looking, getting them to close can be challenging sometimes.
TVT:Where do you expect to see your strongest growth and why?
TS: I think our biggest opportunity is in North America where we’ve seen investment flow in recent years while our customers are waiting for this IP story to be complete. And I think we are reaching the final chapters in that book. I would expect the market in North America to accelerate and result in more sales out of our networking portfolio.
TVT:How do you see that shaping up with customers who have large investments in traditional baseband routing? Some sort of baseband-IP hybrid?
TS: I think it makes sense that there is room for hybrid solutions as part of the transition. But that’s probably a temporary space because I would expect to see the broadcast market go the way of other markets, and over time they will adjust their business models, which I think means more software solutions. But certainly in this time of transition, I believe there will be plenty of space for hybrid solutions.
TVT: You’ve had about a month now to get to know the company from the inside rather than as an outside observer. What has been your biggest surprise?
TS: I’ll tell you, I’ve really been overwhelmed with the kindness from the Grass Valley associates at the locations I’ve been to.
I hold town halls and Q&A sessions at each location I visit. And it is clear that our Grass Valley team has a passion for the market. It shows in the feedback that they give me and a lot of it is brutally honest.
Frankly, I find that is helpful because I can take those questions and turn them into a greater understanding about our business and our market. I’ve got a really good base of talent within the organization to work with.
Of course, Grass Valley is a great brand and we have some great products so I feel confident that we are going to be really successful together and feel excited about the future.