SVG Europe Sit-Down: Arqiva’s David Crawford addresses ‘exciting’ managed services future for sports and more
One of the clearest indications that Arqiva was looking to evolve its media services interests came in early 2014 with the appointment of David Crawford to serve as managing director of the Satellite and Media business. With far-reaching experience including stints at Cable & Wireless and Energis, Crawford was well-placed to offer a broad perspective on a sector whose expectations are evolving rapidly in terms of both content creation and distribution.
Speaking to SVG Europe in August 2015, Crawford makes it clear that Arqiva is continuing to evolve its portfolio of managed services – but that great progress has already been made, with particular growth being recorded in non-EMEA markets. He also discussed the company’s substantial interests in sports and the outlook for widespread adoption of 4K…
How would you characterise the recent development of the Satellite operation?
With both the Satellite business and Arqiva’s media business overall, we have been coming to the end of a 3-4 year process of looking at our portfolio. A number of significant changes have taken place – for example, we sold our outdoor broadcasting assets and then, more recently, our satellite newsgathering trucks.
This has meant that our focus is firmly on offering high-end managed services in both the full-time and occasional use arenas. There is an increasing focus around broader media management; certainly OTT is becoming a bigger conversation. The need to offer solutions to support both linear and non-linear delivery remains a key focus for Arqiva. There has to be an emphasis on ensuring that we remain leading-edge and that our managed services have the right technologies and processes beneath them. If you don’t have those in place your service is weakened.
In terms of overall activity levels, I would say that EMEA is fairly flat, but that we are generally seeing good growth outside of EMEA.
How important is sports to the occasional use part of the business?
Very important – it effectively makes up 90% of our occasional use business. We can be talking about a stadium-based tournament, or hair-pin bends on the Tour de France, or the season long distribution of a football league. Whatever the event, we can offer a managed service that is relevant and can be delivered to whatever screen is required; and increasingly that involves multi-screen delivery. We also have a role in distributing the resulting sports content internationally too.
This year has been a really exciting one for us in terms of sports, with a few examples of recent projects including the Ashes – which we delivered services on behalf of Channel 9 Australia – as well as various high profile tennis events, such as the ATP world tour tournaments, WTA tour, as well as the Davis and Fed Cup ties. We are also heavily involved in the global distribution of a number of high profile football leagues, and so August has been a busy month.
Some customers have a policy of multi-vendor operation, but in general we find that people come to us with a view to us providing premium managed services across the whole chain.
What is the make-up of the occasional use managed service offering?
We offer suites of services from traditional global satellite and fibre delivery to IP based solutions such as Live Streaming, File Delivery, Internet Contribution and so on. This is underpinned by our service excellence; we have experts in our global bookings and occasional use operations teams, who are focused on delivering the high level of service that helps to differentiate us. In line with our values as a company, and our mantra to be straightforward, the product names tend to be very much a case of ‘it does what it says on the tin’! So there are these various offerings that can be part of the suite of overall managed services that the customer buys into.
Clearly the large-scale arrival of IP-based operation and streaming present significant challenges to any business with major interests in satellite. How do you as a company respond to these changes?
We accept and embrace them. If you try to resist the tide, you go out of business pretty quickly. So at all times it is important to really understand where customers are going with their businesses, and in [sports broadcast] it’s clear there are two major changes in motion. One is [greater complexity] of ownership in terms of original content and rights. The second is the fact that the monetisation model is evolving and that online-based distribution is resulting in new methods of monetising content.
In terms of Arqiva’s response, I think it’s clear that we have to continue to take the approach of getting the right technology, for the right service, at the right cost. For example, it might be that streaming is right for one market whilst satellite distribution is appropriate for another.
What can we expect from your appearance at IBC?
At IBC we will be showcasing the entirety of the Arqiva media services portfolio, but also specifically showcasing how we can link together different forms of distribution – whether it be satellite, fibre or Internet – and then manage media in multiple ways, for example traditional linear, VOD or social media. There will be more demos and interactivity than we have done at IBC over the last few years.
It’s worth pointing out that we have been doing much work on metadata management and analytics, and have also benefited on the IP and connected TV side since our acquisition of Capablue in 2014.
On the subject of connected TV, Arqiva is currently working on the new Freeview-branded service, Freeview Play…
Yes, we were awarded the contract to provide the metadata system at the heart of Freeview. The service was built by our Connected Solutions business, which was the result of the merger of Capablue with our existing hybrid TV operation. In a nutshell, it will enable viewers to move seamlessly between live programmes and on-demand shows using Freeview’s new ‘backwards EPG’.
We expect the service to launch in the next few months and think that people will be very impressed when they see it. Post-launch, we will be involved in the continued development of the product too.
Finally, 4K is set to have a dramatic impact on content distribution infrastructures. How do you see the next few years panning out?
Our view on 4K is that a market for it will emerge over time. As BT Sport is already showing, it’s clear that 4K over streamed services will be the first way in which it will really happen as the overall product chain is somewhat simpler. However, you do need to have sufficient bandwidth all the way through and it’s reliant on the end-consumer having access to superfast broadband.
It’s evident the technologies needed to film 4K are being put in place – and that there is great potential reward for manufacturers there – whilst the incentive for satellite operators is obvious as 4K will require a great deal of bandwidth. I think the big questions now are more about the business case for the broadcasters and content providers, and the extent of the improvement for consumers. Whilst we are going to continue to see a lot of 4K production for aggressive content, such as, sports and wildlife documentaries, I believe it could be a few years yet before we see widespread adoption of the format.
We recently conducted a 4k proof of concept test, which was focused on 4K delivery in the occasional use sports environment. Our focus will remain on ensuring that we are able to support 4K broadcast, as the market emerges.