SVG Europe Sit-Down: Blackmagic Design’s Stuart Ashton on 12G integration, growth through acquisition, and Team GB triumph

Blackmagic Design director EMEA Stuart Ashton

Blackmagic Design director EMEA Stuart Ashton

The introduction of the Teranex AV standards converter, a major update for Blackmagic Video Assist, and the acquisitions of Ultimatte and Fairlight were among the headline announcements by Blackmagic Design at IBC 2016. But in truth every IBC in recent memory has been a milestone one for the Australia-headquartered company, such has been its remarkable growth over the past decade.

This impressive trajectory was reflected during a far-reaching conversation with Blackmagic Design director EMEA Stuart Ashton, which took place towards the end of November and focused upon the aforementioned acquisitions, the changing requirements of sports broadcasters, the outlook for HDR, and more…

How would you describe overall activity levels for Blackmagic Design in 2016?

There has been a lot of interest in vertical markets for us – we have really got into a lot more detail over the last few years [in terms of addressing these markets]. In particular we have focused more on the AV space and have recently hired Luke Marler-Hausen from Barco who is further investigating that space for us.

Product range-wise, what would say has been the most significant launch of the last 12 months for Blackmagic Design?

I would pinpoint the process we have gone through over the last 12 months of integrating [multi-rate 12G-SDI] across the entire range. There has been a very significant move in that area, which helps to minimise the cost base but also delivers very high quality across the network.

It is also worth highlighting the fact that over the last three or four years we have got a lot closer to broadcast organisations. Whereas in the past we maybe only dealt with them on small-level projects we are now much closer to [observing their] future needs and what they are looking to do. For example, this means we have been assessing developments like video over IP; we presented a video-based product at IBC that we basically deployed as a static platform in order to gauge information about how people might want to use it.

It does seem as if the pace of change is accelerating…

Absolutely. The industry is going through various transitions every 12-18 months or so. If you think back a few years everyone was talking about 3D. The reality is that some of these developments take off and some of them don’t, but you do have to commit resources to them [in order to find out].

What about VR – is that on your radar?

Yes, it is, and I think that the recent acquisition of [real-time blue and green screen removal hardware] specialist Ultimatte will help us with addressing VR markets. Certainly there is a great deal of interest being shown in VR by lots of media companies, and those in the telecoms space are also taking a keen interest. 3D was a very singular experience, for want of a better word, but putting something over your face or eyes does take away from that kind of sociable experience. So we will have to see how it pans out. But it is important to remember that you can’t do it all, and that whatever products we develop need to address a wide cross-section of the market.

Your other recent acquisition, of Australian pro audio company Fairlight, was one of the major stories of IBC 2016. Are the long-term implications of this purchase starting to become clearer now?

I think that it is opening up a kind of never-ending box of opportunity, really, although we did know that we had a great brand in Fairlight when we acquired it. [Despite the challenges affecting Fairlight over the last decade] it was evident that there was always a very strong core group of individuals coming up with very good products. That remains the case, so we are currently talking with the R&D team about where the brand is going.

I am not in a position to announce anything specific at the moment, but what I can say is that the conversations we are having with the development teams have been very interesting indeed. One pointer would be to look at the ways we have brought features from DaVinci Resolve into various products. I would hope that we can do something similar with Fairlight.

And on a practical point, it has been a very convenient acquisition! The main Fairlight team is based in Sydney, an hour’s flight from [Blackmagic Design HQ in] Melbourne.

It’s a big topic, but in what primary ways do you think that sports broadcast customers’ expectations have changed over the last few years?

I think that the sports world is really starting to understand that it has a commodity it can sell, not only throughout broadcast, but also through other media channels. So for example we have been working with some major clubs who are investing significant amounts in media delivery and infrastructure. For example, we did a major project with Manchester City FC some years ago and are still working with them today, supplying ideas and kit. At the other end of the spectrum a lot of smaller sports companies and teams are looking for tools that they can use to create content quickly and efficiently. And then there is the fact that [due to the new platforms] audiences are developing for different sports. So it’s an exciting time.

And what of the structure of Blackmagic Design – have you been adding new people as your reach has broadened?

Yes, we have, and in particular we have been very fortunate to add some great new people [as a result of acquisitions]. When you bring in new talent like that you can utilise them not just across the current product areas, but also apply them to other areas as well.

As a company we are going from strength to strength, and feel that we are engaging with the right sort of customers and releasing the right sort of products. We have a set of objectives and we are on course to achieving those. Ultimately it comes down to having a very strong user base, a great sales network, and a team that is developing products that people want.

What is your view on the adoption of HDR, and how long do you think it will take to become a production default?

I think HDR will take some time to roll out due to the costs associated with it. But I think the quality [resulting from HDR] is clear to see, the platforms are falling into place, and people are getting excited about its potential. But we do have to remember that people are still switching to HD in some parts of the world…!

Finally, 2016 has been a phenomenal year for sport, but what would be your personal highlight?

I am a great football fan and obviously there were massive failings in terms of the [English national team], but that was counteracted by the sheer brilliance of Team GB at the Olympics. To finish second in the medal table… well, you have to applaud that. A fantastic achievement!

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