Imagine Communications CEO Charlie Vogt on TV’s IP Migration

DALLAS—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 Technology 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.

TV Technology: 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?

Vogt: 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.

TV 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?

Vogt: 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 baseband.
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.

TV 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.
Vogt: 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 portfolio.

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 anticipated?
Vogt: We think 2015 is the time, unless the market doesn’t cooperate or we don’t perform.

TV Technology:What can you tell us about revenues?
Vogt: Imagine will have a pretty significant growth year from 2013 to 2014. [Business is about 45 percent North America-based and the rest overseas.]

TV Technology: What do you see happening to the transmitter business?
Vogt: 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 efficient ones.

TV Technology:What other opportunities do you anticipate for the transmitter business?
Vogt: 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 technology.
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.

TV Technology:So there’s a place for broadcasters in the future of media distribution, just not as they exist today?
Vogt: 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.

TV Technology:So your kids watch broadcast TV. Is this part of the cord-cutting/broadcast renaissance phenomenon?
Vogt: 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.

TV 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?
Vogt: 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 two.
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?
Vogt: 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 traffic issue.


TV Technology’s Deborah D. McAdams speaks with Imagine Communications Charlie Vogt at NAB 2014.

July 9, 2013,
Charlie Vogt Named CEO of Harris Broadcast
Vogt comes to Harris from Genband, a privately held company involved in voice-over-IP based in Frisco, Texas with global operations and 1,700 employees.