Imagine Says Bye to the ‘Black Box’

LAS VEGAS—Anyone walking into the Imagine Communications booth at this year’s NAB Show looking for a dedicated hardware device will have to look pretty hard.

Imagine CEO Charlie Vogt “The days of selling a black box to do a function really are beginning to go behind us,” said Charlie Vogt, Imagine’s chief executive officer. Rather than inventing a device for this and a device for that, “we really have to bring an end-to-end solution in order for us to be successful going forward.”

Listening to Vogt, viewing Imagine’s website and reading the signage at the company’s exhibit hall display, there’s three themes: “software-defined,” “IP-enabled” and “cloud-virtualized.”

Using standard IT hardware and network infrastructure, Imagine’s engineers have written software that enables the functions of the previously used black box hardware to be aped by IT hardware. To the end-using operators, the difference is transparent.

Vogt has been evangelizing this path since Imagine, along with GatesAir, were calved off from the former Harris Broadcast. “Two and a half years ago, I stood in front of people at IBC and then NAB, not because I was trying to be controversial, but to articulate where this industry was going ahead, for all the reasons that we watched it migrate,” he said. “In order for our traditional broadcasters and TV networks, and even the traditional service providers to be able to participate and keep up with the Googles, Yahoos, Netflixes and other companies that are leveraging the IP broadband infrastructure to further their business, they’ve got to make these type of changes. We’re certainly seeing all the things that we laid out two and a half years ago coming into a much clearer picture now.”

Executing this migration from standard broadcast infrastructure to IP infrastructures isn’t easy, said Vogt, “especially when it comes to playing out traditional linear-based programming from a virtualized environment. But we have demonstrated publicly that we have the ability to take traditional linear programming, virtualize it into the cloud environment and distribute it over the air. That’s tough stuff.”

In the past year, Imagine has been working with a number of companies on next-generation proof-of-concepts and over 100 field trials. One well-known client is Disney, which unveiled its plans to migrate traditional master control operations to IP and into a software-defined cloud-virtualized state at the 2015 NAB Show.

“A year later, we’ve got several of their traditional linear programs that are up and running on IP, that are virtualized and that are using all of our next-generation IP playout technology,” Vogt said. “We’re pretty excited about what’s occurred.” Disney is slated to give a progress report on its work with Imagine at this year’s show.

When Imagine reorganized itself two years ago, it formed an Innovation Advisory Board with about 35 CEOs from the industry’s premier companies around the Americas. “We’re establishing the same innovation advisory board in Asia,” Vogt said. “This has been a very insightful steering committee, because not only do they help validate our roadmap, they’re also helping refine their own roadmap as it relates to the challenges they’re beginning to face, the competitive threats they’re starting to face, and how are they going to address it.”

Beyond being on the technological leading edge, Vogt pointed out “there are all kinds of benefits that the industry gains once they move to an IP architecture, including the agility, flexibility and ability to turn up channels in days and hours, versus months and years. And there’s the longterm cost structure, the ability to add new content, incorporate lots of other technologies and applications in the total workflow. There are just a lot of benefits.” This also includes the ability to simplify the deployment of TV Everywhere and other multichannel services, and monetize them with advanced advertising solutions that deliver current, relevant and personalized ads to consumers.

That said, he noted that not all customers will be ready to cut over to Imagine’s solutions right away. “There’s no ‘flash cut,’ everybody’s going to migrate at a little different pace. Everybody’s got a little different Capex budget, there’s a different go-to-market strategy, the way they monetize the business is a little different.

“But when you think about the very large broadcast networks, and the very large television stations, we see them moving quicker and quicker to these architectures that we’ve been investing in for two and a half years.”

Imagine Communications is in Booth N2502.