EVS has dominated the sports market for decades. Having almost completed his first year as CEO, Serge Van Herck outlines the company’s plans for growth.
It’s been almost one year since Serge Van Herck took over as chief executive of EVS. The former CEO of Newtec was unveiled as the new leader of EVS last year, during IBC2019.
Van Herck says that when he took the reins at EVS he joined a business with “really strong foundations”.
He says: “There was really a very strong and competent team. My colleagues at EVS have many years of experience at EVS or in our industry; they’re focused on customer intimacy and making sure that our solutions really help our customers operate in a live environment.
”The reliability of our technology and of our team members is very well known in the industry. And when I talk with customers, I think that reputation is really one of the highest if not the highest in the industry. So that was a great foundation to start with.”
With 22 offices around the world, EVS’ global footprint demonstrated to Van Herck that EVS is also geographically close to its customers. And with half of the company’s 550 employees involved in R&D “that gives us a really tremendous firepower in product development”, says Van Herck.
In addition, the company’s “very robust financial balance sheet” also contributed to the company’s “strong position”. But what was missing, Van Herck says, was a clear direction and ambition for the future. To address this, from September to December last year, Van Herck gathered 35 EVS colleagues from around the world to work out the company’s objectives and how to achieve them. That plan was given the name ‘PLAYForward’.
The first, visible example of that strategy was EVS’ acquisition of Axon, which was announced in May this year. The deal was EVS’ largest-ever acquisition, and thanks to Axon’s focus on providing reliable and flexible broadcast and IP infrastructure solutions it has boosted EVS’ live production solution portfolio.
Van Herck says that it’s the company’s intention to continue making acquisitions as it looks to continue to grow its live production product portfolio. With a member of the leadership team “fully assigned” to M&A, that could happen at a rate of one or two per year, with areas such as IP and network security, artificial intelligence, virtualisation, macro services and the cloud potentially of interest to Van Herck.
“We know that we have good tools for live production, and we want to make sure that we further improve them in such a way that they are applicable effectively in various markets. And not only in the sport market, of course,” he says.
EVS has built its reputation and its position in the broadcast market through its domination of the sports sector, in particular through the success of the company’s LSM (live slow motion) controller and XT production server which are the de facto standard and are found in just about every outside broadcast truck and facility around the world, and are used not only to enhance coverage of sporting events but for live productions across multiple genres.
In May, a radically overhauled version of the iconic LSM controller was unveiled, branded LSM-VIA. Van Herck describes it as a “historical moment for EVS and for the industry”, because its predecessor has been such an embedded part of so many live operations for the past 20 years. “In that time, we have added new functionality and capabilities, but the design, look and feel stayed the same for many years. We have worked for more than four years on this new remote device, making sure that operators around the world immediately feel at ease with it.”
The new, IP-based replay and highlights solution gives production facilities and service providers greater functionality with even fewer keystrokes, while retaining the remote’s familiar layout. The remote’s programmable buttons, shortcuts and simple tactile control provide faster access to more functionalities, while the integrated touchscreen provides operators with fully contextual menus. Working with the XT-VIA server and relying on EVS’ VIA microservices ecosystem, LSM-VIA also interacts seamlessly with all of EVS’ VIA-based products.
“The reliability of our technology and of our team members is very well known in the industry… that reputation is one of the highest in the industry.”
Indeed, the latest version of the XT-VIA production server has been designed to meet the most demanding live broadcast production requirements, integrating all new formats and protocols from HD to 8K, SDR to HDR, and SDI to IP in a single solution that provides capacity for up to six channels of UHD and 16+ channels of HD.
Van Herck also points to a product launched last year by EVS, named Overcam, which is an AI-based system that automates key camera positions of sports productions, allowing extra coverage at lower operational costs.
In December last year, Overcam won the IABM’s Peter Wayne Golden Bam Award, with judges praising the “very innovative and much needed solution,” adding: “With the explosion of live sports coverage and the need to reduce costs with remote production techniques, Overcam is a very promising solution for budget conscious live sports producers.” For Van Herck, it is proof that EVS is innovating in the right areas.
While acknowledging the importance of the sport market to EVS, Van Herck says it is EVS’ ambition to increase its presence in news and entertainment, including esports. “Those are some of the important markets where we see ourselves further growing,” says Van Herck.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic around the world, and the mass cancellation of sporting events that followed has underlined the importance of this element of the PLAYForward strategy.
For those productions that have continued during the pandemic, remote working ‘from home’ has been key to staying on air. “Once Covid-19 started, we had conversations with many customers around the world and of course, all of them were facing the same issue of having personnel at home. And so, we decided to adapt our roadmap and accelerate certain ways of doing remote production.
Keeping everybody at EVS on the payroll allowed us to continue developing those new functions and capabilities, and that’s an important decision we took which is helping us to continue providing innovative and reliable live production solutions for our customers around the world,” he says.
One of the priorities outlined by Van Herck is for EVS to provide its customers with “broader solutions; not only parts of the solution, but the full workflow to our customers”. In addition, he acknowledges that there are an increasing number of smaller productions, not only in sport but in other markets as well, that require cost-effective live production solutions.
“We understand that we have to provide tools at a lower cost that can provide efficiency and quality; this is also part of our vision”. To make sure it is able to reach these markets, EVS is looking to bolster its indirect sales channels, strengthening partnerships with distributors, system integrators and online outlets that will help the company access local markets.
Says Van Herck: “In the next few years you will definitely see EVS moving more in that direction, both in terms of how we approach sales, and what our product portfolio looks like.”
Serge Van Herck: Career history
Van Herck’s career in the broadcast industry began the same year that EVS was founded: 1994. Since then, his career has taken in leadership positions with companies such as Proximus, Accenture and Eutelsat, in roles that have allowed him to put to use his electromechanical engineering degree from the University of Ghent as well as a MBA degree from the Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Belgium.
One of Van Herck’s roles prior to joining EVS was president of Newtec, which like EVS is headquartered in Belgium. Van Herck joined Newtec as vice president of business development, then taking on the role of CEO and chairman of the board, helping to grow the company from 125 employees with revenue of €23m to an organisation with 350 colleagues and revenue of €72m.
He has been a long-term board member for various national and international organizations, as well as industry and trade associations. In 2008 he joined the World Teleport Association and the European Satellite Operator Association as a board member.
He also served as board member at VOKA (Flanders’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry) and Agoria (Belgium’s largest employers’ organisation and trade association).