NAB Perspectives: Imagine Communications’ Mathias Eckhart explains the Digital Rapids acquisition

Perhaps the most surprising and certainly the most discussed company acquisition at NAB 2014 was that by Imagine Communications of Digital Rapids, in a move the former hopes will create the most comprehensive portfolio of processing and compression solutions for TV Everywhere in the marketplace. At the show, Sports Video Group’s Fergal Ringrose caught up with Imagine Communications’ Vice President EMEA Mathias Eckert to talk about this acquisition.

Take us through Imagine Communications’ strategic thinking in deciding to acquire the Digital Rapids business.

Digital Rapids provides us with three things. One is that it’s an existing organisation with existing revenues. Second, they provide us with a pretty large team of very experienced engineers, who are very close to our engineering office in Toronto making it easy to integrate. The other thing – and this is the key — is that they provide technology that would have taken us two years to develop in order to put into our portfolio in terms of transcoding engine and file transfer. So we found it very attractive to have this additional feature-set because it was a missing piece in our portfolio.

Explain why that piece is so important to Imagine Communications – what makes it so essential?

The point is there is always different and more file-based material coming into TV stations. You need to put it into context with what you have as an infrastructure, you need to have that engine based on IP and standard interfaces so that it can be more or less all-in – so you can treat all material on a level where you can put it into your station. Digital Rapids can provide us with that engine, and we can then integrate our products to provide all the interfaces to enable our customers to put everything into their infrastructure.

It’s part of a rather radical and speedy repositioning from the legacy hardware-based Harris Broadcast to this new-look Imagine Communications.

Yes. What we have recognised from a lot of customers is that how we are perceived is changing tremendously. We have a new branding and a new style of presenting our products. We’re listening a lot and we’re also recognising, pretty honestly, that the world is changing from a proprietary legacy SDI/HDI hardware-based broadcast infrastructure into a standard IP, standard database IT-driven infrastructure and we are willing to put ourselves in the driving seat to transform that industry even quicker because we believe that if we don’t do it, others will do it on our behalf.

We want to learn and we want to help our customers and that’s the context of what you see here on the booth in terms of application in the cloud. The Imagine acquisition puts us into the position to provide adaptive bit rate profiling for devices like iPad and mobile: to provide content everywhere you want to go.

These were the crucial two missing bits; on the one hand the ingest and internal transcoding system from Digital Rapids, and on the other the distribution engine to serve new revenue streams and business models – the Imagine Selenio Media Convervence Platform (MCP). With regard to cloud-based developments we see that our customers are looking for new business models and more flexibility. We’re trying to move away from proprietary hardware to software that can be put in a standard data warehouse, be it private or public. Then you can decide, based on your business model, whether you scale it up or just pay for the service or pay for the data rate, whatever. You are choosing the return on investment to provide flexibility for the business model, to do whatever is needed to serve your customers.

It’s not so long ago that the idea of broadcasters running on virtualised infrastructure and an opex rather than capex model was maybe desirable but still some way down the line. Are you surprised at the pace of change in this area?

There is an overall impression that this industry has come to a situation that was missing for the last five years. The technology is available, the services are available and customers are willing to pay for additional services — the demand is there. There are now end-customer devices like iPad and iPhone that have changed perceptions of consumer services. In addition there are telecommunication providers looking for business models —- data and voice is nice but video is king and they are also trying to get content to the end consumer.

The time is now to accelerate what we have been talking about for the last number of years. Existing infrastructure won’t go away overnight; we’re talking about a transition over probably a decade. We’ll be looking at a hybrid infrastructure and we need to work very closely with the IP switch companies, in order to migrate in time to full control over IP.

We feel this is the right approach: the customer can choose what speed they want to move at and what technologies they want to deploy and the intensity of the journey – they will have freedom of choice and better return on investment. The cycle is accelerating: as a vendor if you miss this, it’s going to hurt you very badly. With our new management, guys coming from the IT industry, they believe in and support these ideas. We’re not sleeping; we feel now is the time, the window is there, and the echo from customers is very positive.

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