Tim Thorsteinson has a notable track record across his 20 years in the industry, having spent time working with Leitch, Miranda and Grass Valley, among others. Now hes at the helm of the recently launched SAM Snell Advanced Media. How was the launch of SAM at IBC 2015 received by customers, both existing and […]
Tim Thorsteinson has a notable track record across his 20 years in the industry, having spent time working with Leitch, Miranda and Grass Valley, among others. Now hes at the helm of the recently launched SAM Snell Advanced Media.
How was the launch of SAM at IBC 2015 received by customers, both existing and potential?
The launch of SAM bringing together Quantel and Snell, creating a unified company both technologically and financially was greeted with excitement. Now, of course I would say that, but it genuinely was. I have been in this industry for approximately 20 years and I have never seen the level of turmoil that weve all experienced during the last two years. Our customers need our help and fresh ideas more than ever. Theres the fractured nature of the consumer marketplace, with changing monetisation patterns and then huge technological shifts occurring on the infrastructure side. Combined with the significant pressures on revenues that we have seen, with some manufacturers looking at recent falls in revenue of 20/25 per cent, there are real challenges for everybody.
Weve taken great care in defining our product strategy, putting the right people in the right places on a global basis and creating a company architecture that allows us to both push forward into new worlds, like IP, while also supporting more traditional methodologies.
You mention IP there. What is SAMs position?
Theres a lot of uncertainty in the marketplace around IP on the production/playout side. The supplier base needs to educate and inform its customers. I have been through the move from analogue to digital, SD to HD (ongoing in many regions) and now the move to IP is beginning. This is massive and is a fundamental architecture shift.
The recently launched AIMS initiative is important in this regard. AIMS is beginning the process of de-risking some key issues for customers because what we are seeing is that while theres uncertainty around IP technology, theres deferral of capital expenditure.
Secondly, some vendors say they are offering IP-based solutions but the customer doesnt know which vendor to choose because at the moment they may well end up investing in dead-end technology thats not going to interoperate. With vendors working together in AIMS, theres a level of buy-in to interoperate over and above that provided by following a SMPTE standard. It will provide customers with confidence. It also indicates that multiple major suppliers truly believe that the time is right to push forwards with IP.
Fundamentally, the buying principals for customers dont change with IP. Is it interoperable? Is it upgradeable? Is the company behind it strong? These are not new questions. I think we will know a lot more about IP in the next 12-18 months, including how far our customers want to go.
As I mentioned earlier, the thing thats different is that the end customer today has more uncertainty. Look at content delivery to customers and the fractured marketplace: their business plans are uncertain. They want a lot more flexibility indeed they need a lot more technological flexibility than the industry has frankly been able to provide in the past.
Extending that answer, what roles do software solutions (using off-the-shelf hardware) and beyond into virtualisation play as we move forwards?
The business model is changing: more licensing, less physical product, more aftersales support. We are going to be much more of a software provider than weve been and that will become even clearer over the next few years. We are very strong on the engineering side but it would be fair to say that sales and marketing are still evolving.
If you look at the playout business, it was very proprietary hardware-based a few years ago; now its fairly sophisticated software-driven platforms and going forward its going to transition to a datacenter model for many.
Most of our engineers are now software engineers and thats a different business than what Snell and Quantel were involved in. Thats not to say that weve thrown out all our hardware capabilities, but times are changing and we are leading the way. We will still be selling distribution amplifiers and converters and hardware production switchers and so on, so its not all software. But if we look at customer enquiries there arent that many for baseband-only routing!
If you look at our CiAB range as a prime example, we started years ago with ICE, and now we are pushing forwards with ICE-IP, ICE SDC (software-defined channel for virtualized IP playout) while still offering the entry-level ICE LE.
You can also look at our unique Media Biometrics monitoring technology on our website, announced at IBC 2015, as a prime example of our pioneering thinking.
What steps have you taken in terms of ensuring high-quality, responsive regional support?
We have expanded and reorganized geographically to really support our international reach far better and thats no mean challenge. But that has been a core task. We have expanded in North America, we have put a strong structure in both Latin America and the Middle East and reorganised across Asia so that we have the right people in the right places.
Technologically, what are the advantages of uniting Quantel and Snell as SAM?
We now have a truly joined-up technology strategy. Weve already carried out a lot of IP work on our connectivity products and thats being rolled out across our editing products. HDR is working the other way.
In the sports market in particular 4K is becoming important, as is HDR. We already have success in this regard, with more to be announced soon. The fact that we offer high-end post products with Quantel Rio means that we have market-leading experience with 4K, 8K and HDR. So to then filter those technologies across the portfolio becomes a much easier and more cost-effective proposition. HDR will be across our product offering in the next year. For the size of company that we are, we have a very diverse portfolio.
What are your key challenges as SAM?
I think that we have a very strong product portfolio but some of that hasnt yet been monetized via product creation. As Snell we were so engineering-focused that some key technologies never truly saw the light of day. Now we are much more market-focused and have looked at how we can productize our technology in-depth. Thats a change in thinking and now a change in result. We are focusing on what the market needs and then how that intersects with our technology. The more we can put into R&D, the more valuable we become.
The most important part of what remains for us to do, in the medium-term at least, is complete this leveraging of technology across our product portfolio. We have some more work to do. Media Biometrics a technology unique to SAM is one key area where we are working to extend that technology across our product range. We are doing the same with our Momentum workflow/MAM technology.