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Harris Broadcast Imagines a new way for broadcasters to evolve

Tue, 03/18/2014 - 1:43pm
Jim Barthold, special to CED

Harris Broadcast will use a divide and conquer approach to move broadcast technology out of the living room and into the media room—and drag the broadcast industry along for the ride.

Newly freed from being part of Harris Corp., the portfolio company of The Gores Group has refocused its efforts into Imagine Communications and GatesAir, standalone companies under the guidance of CEO Charlie Vogt. While individual in operation, both are expected to drive broadcasters into the 21st century by developing technologies that address a new breed of television viewers.

Based in Dallas, Imagine Communications will be the new age company developing technology that helps broadcasters join cable, telco and wireless operators serving the needs of connected consumers via IP, the cloud and TV Everywhere.

“Multiscreen to us is critical because it’s the way consumers are going to watch (content). It’s natural for us to be in that market,” said Vogt during a MediaDay presentation at New York’s Madison Square Garden. “Personalization is the future of how we’re going to watch TV. Telecom has been working on this for the past five years.”

Vogt would know, having come to the Imagine/GatesAir leadership position from a similar level of authority with telco-focused Genband.

Imagine’s focus is also evidenced by the leadership role of former Comcast exec Steve Reynolds, Imagine’s CTO.

“There are new operating models that we see coming into place—new revenue opportunities,” Reynolds said. “Multi-platform content delivery is going to change the landscape more than anything.”

Exposing his cable pedigree, Reynolds said he envisioned a “world where we’re delivering more content to more devices to more consumers” and doing it in a way that “doesn't require (broadcasters) to rip-and-replace” existing equipment.

The goal, Reynolds said, is to take a “step-wise approach and think in terms of generations (of viewers to) try to ensure there’s always compatibility between what’s in the field and what we’re working on.”

Not lost in the bi-focused company is GatesAir, which is headquartered in Cincinnati with manufacturing and other services based in Quincy, Ill. GatesAir will serve the more traditional broadcast over-the-air radio and television business but with a 21st Century twist, said Rich Redmond, GatesAir’s chief product officer.

While continuing to serve the “wireless broadcast market for radio and TV around the world” the company will also pursue new opportunities like UltraHD (aka 4K) and LTE broadcast, Redmond said.

There is “still significant growth happening in television households and digital television households around the world,” especially in countries with underdeveloped wireline resources said Redmond. In those markets, GatesAir will follow a model successfully pioneered by telcos: go wireless.

“Wireless broadcast is the most efficient way to deliver content from one to many,” he said. Part of the future, he added, will probably include broadcast LTE, in some instances using radio spectrum sold by television broadcasters to wireless providers.

LTE offers the “opportunity to further enhance broadcast transmission to deliver multimedia content. It’s all about how to efficiently use spectrum,” he said.

In the end, both companies will try to carve a new niche for broadcasters.

“Ultimately where we want to go is a path where there’s a lot more innovation,” Vogt said.

That path will include working together with each other as well as a bevy of partners that include IBM and Disney/ABC Television Group, both represented at the Garden party.

“Our industry needs collaboration and a supportive ecosystem,” Vogt said. “It needs a vendor industry committed to open standards.”

And it needs a customer base unafraid of technological change, said

Vince Roberts, CTO of the Disney/ABC Television Group and founding employee of the Disney Channel, who said Disney is using technology to advance its position as a storyteller.

Roberts pointed to five technology roadmap initiatives that the company is pursuing, including cloud utilization to give broadcasters scale and seamlessly move assets and content around the world; workflow reinvention to get smarter about what consumer data means and how it can be used; improved production tools that make the broadcast space more flexible; creating a “richer, brighter experience” with Ultra HD and “beef up the bandwidth to the home; and, in a futuristic sense, determine what unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) can bring to the broadcast experience.

“Technology is an opportunity and not a threat,” Roberts said.

Technology is also the only way broadcasters will move from a single TV platform in the living room to a multiscreen media room environment.

“Family room TV … is really the last place that this next generation is watching TV. Suppliers like Imagine and GatesAir need to make everything in concert with this next generation and how it’s watching TV.”

That means using IP—something he said telcos learned in the mid 1990s.

“First and foremost the industry has to move to a common protocol, which is IP … and IP has a lot of deficiencies of what it can or can’t do in this space,” Vogt said.

Nevertheless, he concluded, the broadcast industry must make IP work because it’s how the audience gets content.

“Consumers are way further ahead than we are as equipment suppliers and networks. We spoiled them with mobility. The biggest challenge we have to solve as an industry is that consumption,” he said.

 

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