The leaders of Ross Video, Imagine Communications, Grass Valley, Mediakind and LTN Global share their views on a year like no other.
What have been the biggest developments for your organisation in 2020?
David Ross, CEO, Ross Video: Despite a heartbreaking and economically devastating 2020, Ross was fortunate to have another growth year in 2020. We acquired graphics company Coiron and tally company Image Video. Notable product launches included Ross Production Cloud through Ross Production Services, our gorgeous new TouchDrive switcher panel series for Carbonite, and dozens of new product announcements including sophisticated audio mixing for our Ultrix routers.
Steve Reynolds, president, Imagine Communications: The cloud remains at the centre of our future view. Media players — big and small — are adopting cloud services to manage the costs of storage, processing, ingest, origination, and distribution. This year we implemented real-world, primary playout in association with AWS, which will continue into 2021 and beyond.
Despite speculation that linear broadcasting is fading, we believe it will remain the best way to deliver content to large audiences, especially for live content like sport, news and events. Imagine’s view is that, by 2030, we will see a 60/40 digital/broadcast split for advertising revenue. To prosper in that new environment, broadcasters will have to change the way they monetise their output and improve the way they sell advertising. The key is adaptive audience fulfilment: the concept of selling an audience rather than specific spot times, while adjusting where spots are placed in real time – across all distribution platforms – to ensure the promised audience targets are met. Expect much more talk about integrating advertising and inventory management and adaptive audience fulfilment next year.
“The biggest challenge was shared across many parts of industry, and that was the lack of live sports. Without live sports a good portion of cashflow within the industry is constrained,” Tim Shoulders
2020 also saw Imagine continue to build on its globally deployed IP processing platform, optimising the award-winning, standards-based Selenio Network Processor (SNP) to deliver a production multiviewer, SNP-MV. The SNP-MV encapsulates our vision of standardised platforms onto which we can add functionality as customers need it. When you need a small multiviewer, you load up the software on a spare SNP channel; when you don’t need it, that SNP channel becomes an HDR colour space converter or an audio shuffler or whatever else you need it to be.
Tim Shoulders, CEO, Grass Valley: 2020 has been a transformative year for Grass Valley. We completed our sale to Black Dragon capital, a private equity firm that has a keen interest in the sports and media space, and because of that, we’ve got a very, very interested and engaged investor with a number of advisors throughout the media world who can help us on our evolution and journey.
We also launched our Grass Valley Media Universe. We were fortunate, amid Covid, that we have been developing a cloud-based production solution for the last few years and were able to bring it to market during the first quarter. That solution is GV AMPP and we’ve utilised it throughout this year to help customers move some of their workflows to the cloud, which is tremendously helpful in a Covid environment.
Matt McConnell, CEO, MediaKind: Being a global company, MediaKind has seen challenges unique to specific parts of the world, but with that, we’ve also been able to expand into exciting new markets. Our live event offering has been significantly advanced this year, with trade shows, festivals, and other live events all having to rely on technology to engage their communities and reach their audiences.
We have found new ways to deploy our products remotely, and as a result, we’ve enhanced and developed our technology solutions to address these segments. This includes substantial investments in cloud-based SaaS solutions to enable virtual live events to spin-up and scale to reach their audiences. We’ve also deployed our solutions in the direct-to-consumer (D2C) space to help rights-holders, and other content producers overcome the obstacles of today’s environment and reach their audiences directly.
Malik Khan, co-founder and executive chairman, LTN Global: Despite the challenges for the broadcasting industry, LTN Global has had a strong growth year, maintaining its momentum. Over the past two years, we completed a series of acquisitions that have enabled us to create industry-leading solutions, helping the industry to transition to the future.
In 2020, we acquired DTAGS, a pioneer in 4K remote production and broadcast transmission. This acquisition strengthened the LTN Ecosystem with a portfolio of scalable 4K remote production, post-production, and transmission workflows for major shows and events, including The French Open from Roland-Garros.
This acquisition and our LTN Create solutions have proved critical in enabling our sports and entertainment customers to continue operating during the pandemic when on-site event productions came to an abrupt halt.
- Read more: 2020 in review: Did OTTs come out on top
What have been the toughest challenges and how have you adapted to them?
David Ross: The uncertainty throughout 2020 was really challenging. We went into the year with a plan and enthusiasm and in March it felt like the end of the world. Productions stopped abruptly, customers were scrambling to adapt, supply chains were disrupted, everyone who could work from home suddenly had to adapt to that new daily routine, and almost none of the deals in the sales pipeline could be counted on to actually happen! Was March the bottom? Was it going to get worse? How long until things might improve? There were a lot of questions and to be honest, there are still a lot of questions. That said, we and the industry knuckled down and adapted our manufacturing, sales models, tech support process, and R&D surprisingly quickly. We finished our year in October with sales up almost 4% and a record number of new product releases.
Steve Reynolds: The need for social distancing and isolation due to the global pandemic has been a challenge on multiple levels. It has added complexity to our ability to develop new products and to roll out systems. For our customers, it has meant that they have had to shift priorities quickly to stay in production or stay on air in very difficult circumstances. And it has also meant that on long-term projects, they have been forced to change their implementation and go-live plans.
What has made Imagine reasonably resilient to these challenges is that, a decade ago, we recognised that software-defined architectures were the way to go. Today virtually all of our products and systems are implemented in software to run on standardised hardware. Even the largest systems can be set up, tested and handed over remotely. We have delivered more than 200 projects in 2020, using remote connectivity in the main.
Tim Shoulders: The biggest challenge was shared across many parts of industry, and that was the lack of live sports. Without live sports a good portion of cashflow within the industry is constrained. A significant part of our business is across the live sports side, so when this was off air, it was quite a stressful time.
We responded by helping our customers, by offering some grace period to pay us, which was a challenge for us, but helped our partners navigate that difficult period. A lot of companies and people have been impacted and they have my sympathies. But for most of the name brands within the industry, they survived and came out of the other end. So I’m happy that our customers have made it through to the other end. But that was one area that was probably the biggest challenge for us.
Matt McConnell: Deploying people on-site has been a challenge because our employees’ safety is paramount - as it is for our customers. Of course, working remotely has meant day-to-day operations are very different to 2019. However, we have adjusted exceptionally well, and our team has shown remarkable resilience in this environment. We’ve seen certain parts of the world slow down, just because of different COVID rates and challenges between different geographies. But overall, we have performed even better than I would have expected, and our third quarter was very solid. From a business sense, we’re doing well, and we’re also doing the right things for our staff.
Malik Khan: Covid-19 has had a detrimental effect on the broadcasting industry, which is also reflected by the number of layoffs that have been happening. Transformation is necessary for media organisations to survive in this highly uncertain media landscape. Covid-19 has made it clear that the speed of change and adaptation is key.
One of the biggest challenges has been to persuade the industry to change and adopt new methods of working before there is no other option. While transitioning from established ways of producing and distributing content is not easy, it is necessary. LTN Global is supporting the industry by providing innovative solutions and workflows for the production, ingestion, distribution, exchange, and monetisation of content. Broadcasters and production houses benefit from the economics of cloud and IP-based workflows and production models to minimise capex.
“We have gained great insights into the strengths and weaknesses of decentralised production and cloud based production,” David Ross
- Read more: 2020 in review: Virtual reality gets real
What lessons have you learned from Covid?
David Ross: This year, as a supplier, the importance of having a balanced portfolio of products and market verticals to serve was massively reinforced. When sports took a hit, it was an election year for broadcasters. When sports came back, robotics and cloud technologies were important solutions to offer. When the pandemic hopped from country to country and back again, having a global footprint softened the blow. Even more though, getting through this year required our team members to invent new methods for everything in real time on the fly and having a bright and self-motivated team was more important than ever.
Steve Reynolds: Agility in technology has been a focus at Imagine for a while, but this pandemic has brought home to us what that really means. When an unprecedented and unexpected event like a global pandemic forces dramatic change on the world, then the businesses that succeed are the ones who adapt in an agile, efficient and smart way.
Tim Shoulders: On a practical level, we got better at talking to our audience digitally and virtually. Some of our products, such as cameras, are much better demonstrated in customer hands, so we have had to get creative in how we set up demo opportunities. That was a learning moment for us that I think ultimately will allow us to be more efficient.
Matt McConnell: “If there’s one thing Covid has taught us, it’s that we no longer need to deal with certain things. For example, I don’t necessarily have to go into an office or go into a data center and play with a rack of blinking lights. I should be able to do that remotely, and the environment today means that I will need to be able to do that remotely. The main lesson will be to utilise and then capitalise on the opportunities offered by cloud environments to enable a distributed workforce and distributed flow. We need all of our tools to fit in there – it’s not a choice.
Malik Khan: Covid-19 has demonstrated that the global economic landscape can change very rapidly. Businesses across all sectors need to be agile and flexible to overcome adversity and benefit from innovation. Technological solutions, especially cloud and IP-based, that enabled businesses to adapt their operations on short notice have become mission-critical.
“Covid-19 also showed that strong leadership and a vision for the future are essential. Business leaders had to be insightful and make difficult decisions. Moving forward, future-proofing will be high on the business agenda.
- Read more: 2020 in review: January to June
What lessons has the industry learned from Covid?
David Ross: We have gained great insights into the strengths and weaknesses of decentralised production and cloud based production. We’ve learned about the pain of dealing with delayed audio, the relative infancy of cloud production relative to our on-prem tools, the near impossibility of live 4K production in the cloud, and also the allure and promise of where the cloud is going. We also saw more clearly that 2110 is a stepping stone, not a destination unto itself.
Steve Reynolds: Covid-19 has been the catalyst for organisations to implement change almost overnight. Streamlined workflows and organisational efficiencies were central to decision making for media companies to continue to innovate and reshape the way they make and monetise TV.
During the early months of the pandemic, there was huge turmoil in the advertising market, with late cancellations driven by business uncertainty. Broadcasters needed to be able to react quickly to remove cancelled spots and refill, with revenue-earning content, but ultimately with anything to avoid dead air. Automated and intelligent systems to support this made a huge difference.
On the content side of the business, we’ve seen a wholesale mind-shift from ‘remote production is an interesting concept for the future’ to ‘how do I keep my station on air, my show in production, while minimising the talent and crew and never letting them get close together?’. Again, ingenuity built on a great deal of solid systems capabilities has saved the day.
Moving forward, we don’t see this reverting to pre-Covid posture. The future for both production and playout is going to rely heavily on remote operations, cloud-enabled workflows, and the efficiency of centralised systems.
Tim Shoulders: We certainly learned a lot along the way. And I think overall, the community’s better because of going through that adversity, because we’ve learned how to adapt our workflows to unforeseen challenges.
You had this, this one global event that affected all of us, and there were sacred cows, that were preventing people from distributing their production and taking their workflows to the cloud or into IP. I think there were concerns about security or concerns about robustness of the workflows in those other areas compared to more traditional activity.
But there’s a realisation that you can still produce some really great compelling content remotely with workflows in the cloud using non-standard non-traditional methods. And I think that is a creative spark that was unforeseen, that will have ramifications into the future.
Matt McConnell: Not every company is ready to go virtual yet – and that’s ok. Many still have teams, hardware infrastructure, and investments that will last for anywhere between three years and another decade. So, we have to support the current world while the new world is being built. This is a challenge everyone has, but it’s a reality. At the pace technology moves, we’re not talking about a revolution. It’ll be an evolution.
Malik Khan: I believe the key lesson is the need to embrace and not be afraid of change. We have been advocates of the transition to flexible, cloud, and IP-based production and transmission models before Covid-19 accelerated these changes. The broadcasting industry can no longer operate on heavy hardware investment models. The transition to a variable-cost software and service-based business model will support media organisations’ return to profitability and will also provide the necessary flexibility for future optionality.
What is your proudest achievement in 2020?
David Ross: The introduction of Ross Video’s $20/hr minimum wage. The pandemic really highlighted the importance of the front-line workers in our society and how the lowest paid people were often the ones taking highest risks. Where I live, the minimum wage is $14/hr but the living wage is $18/hr, which is basically the poverty line for a single wage earner with a small family. While we’ve always prided ourselves on paying more than the minimum wage, I realised that we could make a profound difference to 100 of our lowest wage earners, mostly in our factory, for a relatively small increase to our overall payroll. Our entire staff was truly proud that day.
Steve Reynolds: Delivering long-term projects to plan and finding solutions for those broadcasters who needed to change rapidly was immensely satisfying to see. It was inspiring to see the extremely talented team at Imagine Communications respond rapidly, efficiently and in a professional manner to the developing challenges of the pandemic. We were able to meet the expectations of our customers around the world in an environment where protecting the health and safety of our employees was paramount.
We are extremely proud of the innovative customer projects we were able to support this year during the pandemic, including Discovery Sweden and Finland as they transitioned to our Landmark Sales operated by Imagine’s Managed Service. Giving that customer the ability to reduce infrastructure costs, increase performance and improve management of linear airtime sales across a diverse advertising ecosystem was certainly a highlight.
Another milestone project was done with 12th Man Productions, the sports broadcast and post facility for Texas A&M University, as they moved to IP connectivity to provide a common production platform for all their sports venues using our Selenio Network Processor (SNP) as the cornerstone of the installation. SNP was also featured at Euro Media Group S.A (EMG), who standardised on the SNP for their large-scale modular live production architecture.
Tim Shoulders: The thing I’ll be most proud of is being part of the team that launched the Grass Valley Media Universe and our cloud-based platform. That is the future of the business – most of our revenue will come off that platform, so it will sustain the business well into the future.
Matt McConnell: Joining MediaKind in July! Despite coming on-board in the middle of a global pandemic, I have been incredibly proud to join such a dynamic, diverse, and innovative team of media enthusiasts.
Malik Khan: I am proud that LTN Global supported the broadcasting industry in overcoming the enormous challenges of this year and transitioning to the future. Our work with Fremantle on enabling American Idol to crown its 2020 winner during the national lockdown, and making the remote production of the show a success has showcased the potential of the remote production model.
Similarly, the remote production of The NFL Draft with the activation of virtual fan feeds also demonstrated that technology creates and delivers compelling experiences that feel like in-person events even under the most challenging conditions.
I am also proud of our partnership with AWS to provide large-scale distribution of full-time channels and events from the cloud. Media organisations can benefit from broadcast-quality distribution straight from the cloud, which brings them a step closer to moving beyond satellite-dependency for broadcast distribution.
Finally, our work with Vizio and Fox on a wide-scale trial of addressable advertising on 3.5 million Vizio TV sets has brought advanced advertising close to reality. We are looking forward to a full commercial launch in the first half of 2021, enabling brands to market their products with greater precision to targeted households and creating higher advertising revenue for content providers and rights holders.