NAB Perspectives: Rich Zabel, Michael Arthur on the New Look of Harris Broadcast

Attendees on the NAB floor may have noticed a new look and strategy at the Harris Broadcast booth this year. Aside from a new logo, Harris is internally changing how it works with its customers in preparation for the changes that are coming in the industry — specifically with the advent of 4K quickly forthcoming.

Rich Zabel, VP, sales, sports (left); Michael Arthur, GM, sports and live events

Rich Zabel, VP, sales, sports (left); Michael Arthur, GM, sports and live events

Rich Zabel, VP, sales, sports, and Michael Arthur, GM, sports and live events, sat down with SVG this week to discuss how these changes will impact that sports market and what they see in the industry’s future.

So how has the company restructuring affected how you do business?
One of the things that’s really changed for us this year is, we’ve always had a very flat organization based on geography. Our sales people were geography-based. We’ve actually changed that up this year. We’re reorganizing our sales team. So we have a government team. We have a sports team. There will be a cable-network team. We’ll actually be doing some hiring to fill in those verticals.

The thing that’s key is that it gives us better insight as to what the customers are doing and gets the true voice of customer back into our organization in a much more meaningful way. So, since Mike and I are going to be working with the same type of customer consistently, when we hear some of the same tone or the same needs, we’ll be able to take that right back into the engineering and product management. The consistency of message going in and out was really hard to control.

So you believe that this restructuring can make a big difference in sports specifically?
Take (SVG’s) Chairman’s Forum as an example. In any one of those discussions, like in the Venue Committee discussion, it wasn’t necessary “venue” per se. It was actually two perspectives coming into the middle of this thing. This is probably a good way to illustrate our point.

On the one hand, you had people on that committee that were looking at it strictly from the broadcaster perspective as they hook up to a venue to broadcast an event. You have the other side, which is the folks that have to function in that environment on a day-to-day basis.

Now, a lot of times, those solutions look very similar, but there are two perspectives of need, and so, as a result, you have the dual perspective, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are opposite perspectives. In many cases, they are complementary.

So, as it relates to Harris, opening up that aperture, you have leagues — who also have an interest in that discussion that was going on at Chairman’s Forum — regional sports networks, college conferences and the networks that they are creating, down to what I have spent the last 3½ years in, which is the venue side of the business. By taking all of that and opening it up, there are some common themes and common relationships and common vernacular. That’s why we really think this makes sense from a segment standpoint.

You mentioned that this gives you a better chance to pick up on some trends and needs. Have you noticed anything here on the show floor so far?
Well, 4K, obviously. After this weekend, we realize it is something of great interest. But, but, but. We’re starting to hear and figure out what some of the missing pieces are in that 4K chain. Where the concerns are. So it’s already got us thinking about what the next products are that we’re going to create. What’s the next thing that the marker is really going to need to fill this out? If it gets filled out, which still seems to be a bit of a question mark in terms of doing a true 4K production. As much as we’d love to think that we can do it today, [it’s] not quite there. 4K experiments maybe, but not a full-on production.

So, in what ways can Harris help in what 4K hopes to become, say, five, 10 years down the line?
In many of the same ways that we took our products from analog to digital to HD. In each one of those steps, we wanted to make sure the product line covered multiple layers at the same time. You don’t build just a standard-definition product. Then just an HD product. Then a standard 3D product. What you do is ensure that your technology gives the customer the flexibility to overlap those. So, when we started building HD products in the current generation, they are already 3Gig ready.

What does that mean? Well, 1080p can run through any of our products that are HD-ready. How many people are actually using them that way? Very, very few. But, when looking and purchasing and acquiring for the future, we’re making sure that our customers are covered.

As we go into the next generation of products, that same trend will happen in the 4K world. We’re already sure that our router is ready for 4K. We have a beta version of an upconverter [at NAB 2013], which looks spectacular. We have a server in a proof of concept that is actually taking 4K files and playing them back. It’s feeding into our booth.

So we’re already marching down this path very, very quickly. We have a multiviewer that is also doing 4K. We think that’s one of those areas that’s going to be very interesting, actually. Getting the higher-resolution 4K monitor but with lots of little pictures inside of them, so that what is the 1080 picture inside of the multiviewer is the 1080 picture. So it’s going to give a much better representation of what’s going out to air.

Arthur: That’s the other thing with the segmentations. Sports typically tends to lead the charge in that. From a live-production environment, sports tends to lead the way. So, with a lot of the stuff we’re talking about, Rich is going to be in a great position to bring this discussion back home. Those are discussions that aren’t necessarily going to be on the bleeding edge but the front edge of everybody’s mind in this space, and then that will obviously trickle down. But we’ve got a great place to start.

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