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IBC2015: A Chat with Charlie

AMSTERDAM--Since taking over the helm at Imagine Communications (formerly Harris) two years ago, Charlie Vogt has been on a mission to focus on moving broadcasters away from SDI and into the IP domain. Some of those results will be on display and demonstrated at the company's stand at the 2015 IBC Show. TV Technology recently had a chance to talk with Charlie and preview the show.

TVT: How are you doing?

CHARLIE: It’s been a tough year. All the things that we started talking about two years ago at IBC are coming to fruition. While we saw it coming and we called it, we did not anticipate that we would see as much of it in the first six months of 2015; as much proof of concepts and trials. When I got here in 2013, it was a pretty steady SDI-baseband world. Last year we started to see some activity around IP and cloud and software based solutions. And we went from no trials to 10 trials last year to in the first six months of this year, we have 90. It’s great in that we certainly have a lot of interest in the new technology, but it’s taxing the company and putting a lot of pressure on traditional existing sales; there’s a little pause on some of the traditional buying, while everybody’s assessing the technologies. 

What are the big trends you expect to see at IBC this year?

CHARLIE: For us, there are four macro themes- they’re the same whether you’re on the studio side or the distribution side. The themes are about the realities and benefits of transitioning to IP. We’re also seeing a huge movement to software defined orchestration or workflows, and more of our customers are looking at how they can virtualize some part or all of their network in the cloud. I think Disney and all the others have set the path for that. But I also think the fourth one is about OTT delivery. I remember two years ago being very controversial when I was on a panel and I mentioned that the day was going to come that the TV networks and creators of content would start providing a la carte content and people looked at me like I was an alien and here we are less than two years later and one after another, they’re making their content available in lots of different forms, taking advantage of the internet and going direct to the consumer. 

So I think it’s IP, software defined networking, cloud based solutions and OTT delivery, at least from our company’s vantage point. 

Can you give us a preview of Imagine’s big news at the show?

CHARLIE: The biggest thing for us at the show, one of the things we’re really big on at these shows is actually demonstrating at the show as to what is available. There are a lot of Powerpoint slides that get presented at the shows, but for us, we’re demonstrating IP cloud playout, we’re demonstrating cloud DVR, we’re demonstrating a hybrid IP network, we’re demonstrating next generation dynamic ad insertion. So, one of the things for us is that everything we’re going to demonstrate at the show is available. 

What’s cool for us this year is we’re in our own building (Amtrium). So we were able to design our booth a bit different. We’ve created our demos so they’re like the flow of a network from ingest to distribution of content. You can walk from one part of the entrance to the other and you can get a demonstration of the entire workflow, from how ads are managed, from how they’re inserted, traffic and billing, next generation playout and automation. How we manage a hybrid IP baseband network infrastructure and ultimately how do we deliver that content in a variety of ways. We’re making a big investment in cloud DVR functionality, things like just in time transcoding and event ad insertion.

So we’re real excited about how we’re able to demonstrate a lot of the technologies we’ve been talking about. We have a lot of announcements that we’re making, but it’s really around the realities of a lot of the technologies that we’ve been talking about for the last year. We’re actually in trial with a lot of customers and we’re hoping to be able to show customers what they can actually purchase.

Does moving to your own building go with the philosophy that people see trade shows in a different light?

CHARLIE: I think you’re a hundred percent right. The evolution in the last two years of NAB and IBC has changed as well. When I got here two and a half years ago, I was trying to understand what IBC was versus what NAB was. There was this notion that everybody goes to both shows. People go to NAB to see announcements and they see realities at IBC. The reality is that NAB has become a North America and CALA show and IBC has become an AMEA and Asia show and it’s become very geographically structured. There’s not a lot of systematic differences—there may be some timing of what certain technologies are available from one vendor to another—but this notion that we’re going to announce certain things at NAB and then do something else at IBC is not the case anymore.

It’s expensive to go to these shows, it’s time consuming to go to these shows. Customers are a lot more focused on who and what they want to see and the time they want to allocate to the set of suppliers when they are there.

We had a unique opportunity when IBC was converting, I think it was a restaurant, in the front of the building. We really got lucky thanks to the historical nature of Harris Broadcast and how long they’ve been exhibiting at the show, that we got first dibs on this. They converted the restaurant at the beginning of the entrance into a mini hall and they offered it do us first. The cool thing is we can set up our booth a little bit differently and we can do more with our booth. We have our own hours, per say. We started Imagine Live at NAB where we’re having breakfast, lunch and learn, and evening socials that are based around keynote presentations and panels with subject matter expertise and third-party likes Cisco and Microsoft and HP and IBM that are all participating. 

So we are trying to make IBC and NAB much more than coming to see a few Powerpoint slides. We are hopefully going to do more around demonstrating the products and solutions that are available. And we are hoping to do more teaching, especially in a time when people are trying to learn what are the benefits of moving to IP, moving to a software-defined world, moving to common off-the-shelf computing platforms? What are the benefits? What are the challenges? What you are going to see of what we are doing is focused around education and learning. Our booth gives us that structure.

Is there that much of a difference in terms of what attendees are looking for at IBC than at NAB?

CHARLIE: I don’t think so. I think it’s in transition, only because a lot of the North American customers, a lot of the senior leaders, are not coming. That’s the first indication when you have a lot of the larger TV networks and broadcast stations not coming because they don’t anticipate what they are going to see at IBC is much different than at NAB.

In the past you had most everyone attend NAB and IBC and the expectations they had at NAB were we’re going to get in on the front end of announcements and then at IBC we’re going to see the evolution of those announcements into real products. That’s changed; it’s becoming very geographic in nature.

The whole industry is experiencing a lot of change, financial changes, and going to IBC is expensive. Going to NAB if you’re a European or Asian TV network or broadcast station is expensive too. It’s evolving to that, which is frankly, a lot better for us. We can focus our time and energy on the Americas at NAB and we can focus our time and energy on the Europe and Asia regions there. Instead of having a duplication of meetings, you tend to be able to focus your energy differently.

Do you see much difference in how Europe is handling the transition to IP than the U.S.?

CHARLIE: Yes and no. On the pre-production, studio side and the distribution side, IP is more prevalent today and it’s going to continue to accelerate worldwide. I can cherry-pick and say every company has a little different philosophy, but we have lots of customers down in Australia and in parts of Northern Asia and Western Europe that are accelerating their pre-production and distribution IP.

When you look at the broadcast infrastructure, there’s probably some pacing that will happen depending on the operator and where there at in their phase of managing their operations. If somebody is moving a facility, it prompts them to do something. There is certainly a lot of momentum around these key trends that we highlighted a couple of years ago. People are waiting to see how the Disney deployment goes for us. 

We’re deploying it in two ways, the first IP playout that we’re virtualizing in our cloud happens with Disney in the next month and then ABC happens towards the beginning of the year. The neat thing is you have one aspect of IP playout that is file-based and then you’ve got true linear and live television that will be residing on the ABC network. There’s a lot of eyeballs on that. 

We do have a couple of customers in Australia who are pretty far along as well on IP playout. The whole SDI/IP hybrid environment will exist for a while. The two bookends on both sides are accelerating to IP and the middle is going to live in a hybrid for a while.

Do you see concerns about adoption of cloud-based technologies changing in the near future?

CHARLIE: I do. We started this innovation advisory board about 15 months ago and it’s given us an opportunity to collaborate in a different way with the top CTOs around the globe. Cloud and the move to cloud has certainly been a debatable topic, especially with what Vince is doing with Disney and ABC and the fact they are moving some part of all of their master control operations into a cloud-based infrastructure and security and performance has been a big topic. What I can tell you is that everyone’s private cloud is subject to their own security implementations. The work that we are doing with Microsoft, Amazon and others with public clouds, that can also be stood up as private clouds, have done an amazing job addressing security and performance and latency.

What we’re doing with live-streaming in the cloud with Disney and ABC as it relates to latency is amazing. It’s more education. It’s certainly a concern; the proofs in the pudding. We have to continue to demonstrate that the concerns and issues around standards, security, performance and latency end up getting proved out. We certainly have been in that grind and that test mode for quite a long time. It’s really getting to a point where we can point to a bunch of networks that are doing it and give other customers an opportunity to share those experiences with those who are doing it.