Tarek Saadi, vice president and head of sales, Ericsson Region Middle East
Hadi Nazari, CEO, North Telecom
Bala Menon, sales manager, MediaCast
Rob Sherman, managing director, Sony professional Solutions MEA
Christian Bockskopf, head of marketing and communications at Riedel Communications
Paul Wallis, director of sales Middle East & Africa, Imagine Communications
DS: How was 2015 for your company?
Wallis: This year has been particular gratifying in terms of the progress we’ve made in advancing our roadmap, evolving our portfolio and validating our technology and innovation leadership in the media and entertainment industry. The prevailing trends in 2015, such as a shift in video consumption habits toward anytime, any-device viewing and the continued pressure for media companies to produce more content, at a faster pace and less expensively, are making it clear that broadcasters must gradually and gracefully transition operations to more agile production and playout environments.
Nazari: 2015 was deemed a great success, we exceeded all our goals. In addition we had some chance to study some new initiative in the satellite market which will bring great value to our company as well as the market in the near future.
NorthTelecom achieved its goal of introducing a game-changing concept in media broadcasting in the Middle East and central Asia through its platform over Yahlive: the concept of community hotspot along with cost and quality factors brought great value in all aspects to other legacy platforms and models all across the region. Now both community and broadcaster are enjoying better quality as well as more flexibility while the platforms have considered their cost factor which is one of the essential factors to enter such a low income territory.
Saadi: 2015 was a truly transformational year for Ericsson in the Middle East in this industry and saw us focusing heavily on creating and delivering key video solutions to operators and broadcasters alike. Simultaneously we have added some major capabilities to our product portfolio that made us unique to address the challenges of the industry and provide very novel solutions. We have established a highly dedicated and established subject matter expert team for media management to assist in the transformation to digital video and media delivery where we see many of our customers are at an inflection point for such transformation.
Sherman: Our regional coverage is very large (Middle East, Africa, Russia and CIS) and with such a variety of external factors covering the various countries during the year it has been challenging. We continue to see some great opportunities and develop strong customer relationships, this has ensured our continued business success.
Menon: 2015 was a positive year for us, and we have seen geographical expansion of the business across the region. This has significantly helped us in having our products reach every possible part of the region.
Bockskopf: We’ve had another great year highlighted by several big events. We have expanded our presence in Spain and Japan. We have also seen all of our new products come to market and they are already making a huge difference for our customers.
DS: What successes did your company have in 2015? (this can include details such as deals won, restructuring, product launches etc)?
Wallis: At the start of this year, Imagine Communications was involved in just a handful of proof-of-concept trials of our technology solutions. By the end of the year, we will be approaching 100 separate proofs of concept engagements. Several of these deployments involve moving playout operations to virtualised environments using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computing resources, including a couple of public announcements in the Middle East. Both Al Rayyan and Alrai TV have unveiled disaster recovery operations based on our Versio integrated channel playout solution, which is 100% software based. Disney/ABC Television Group in April publically announced that it was moving channel origination and master control to our virtualised environment.
On the product front, the year was highlighted by innovations in both the SDI and next-gen realms. We introduced several new additions to our market-leading Platinum router family, including a new mid-sized model and a more compact version of the Platinum IP3. The new 15RU version of our flagship platform offers significant reductions in space and power without sacrificing capabilities. It’s been a big hit in the outside broadcast truck space, where space and power consumption are crucial factors. On the next-gen side, a new version of Versio integrated playout was introduced in the fall.
We also moved forward on the standards front and in deepening relationships with strategic partners in the IT industry. Both accomplishments, exemplified by our collaboration and interoperability agreement with EVS around SMPTE 2022-6 and the participation of partners, such as Cisco, HP, IBM and Microsoft in thought-leadership sessions, are solidifying our position as a forward-looking technology innovator.
On the messaging front, the industry in general and our customers are whole-heartedly embracing our Your Path, Your Pace approach to transitioning to a more agile production, playout and distribution environment. We’ve been a strong advocate of modernising operations for the past couple of years, and we’ve done well in attracting attention with that approach. But it hasn’t been as easy to communicate that we are providing media companies with the ability to transition to next-gen environments at a pace that they are comfortable with and one that makes sense in terms of current investments in baseband technologies. We have a deep legacy in SDI and we know better than most companies that technology transitions do not happen overnight. We are providing a hybrid approach to technology transitions that allows companies to move to a more agile environment while still investing in baseband technology, if that makes the most sense for them.
Sherman: We are currently working on several infrastructure projects across the region. This year we continued to see a great expansion in our product range, in particular the game changing HDC-4300 camera for broadcasters, the new FS5 Super 35 camera that will enable an even greater range of customers enjoy the benefits of a high quality production at an affordable price. We also launched additions to the home cinema and business projector range and a 4K security camera that enables greater analysis for added security benefits.
Saadi: Earlier in the year we signed a strategic deal with TwoFour54 out of our newly established media hub in Abu Dhabi, UAE for a multi-channel playout & media management service and a few months thereafter this allowed for launching a new pan-regional Arabic Language TV channel, Quest Arabiya, to launch as part of an exclusive multi-year deal.
In the third quarter, we can humbly claim staking new grounds for our TV & Media solutions in Turkey where we signed a deal with Turk Telekom that is truly transformational and addresses taking that operator to new capabilities for IPTV and OTT seamless services for its future content offers.
In June 2015, we launched our flagship MediaFirst multiscreen middleware with state of the art features, cloud-run enabling immersive video experiences to the end customers.
Bockskopf: It is always exciting to launch new products and even moreso to watch them go into service and start benefitting the customers. We’ve had great successes across the board including projects at NBC Universal, SEA games, Anthem of the Seas, Singapore National Day, Qatar Wedding Hall, Pan Am games, and F1 and Red Bull events. Our STX-200 has been embraced by several broadcasters, including “India’s Got Talent”, to bring the audience into the show via Skype.
This year’s tradeshows have again showed how fast our broadcast market is moving, with many new and innovative ideas being highlighted. The wide variety of new technologies, standards, and product offerings give broadcasters plenty to think about. We are also seeing increased interest in audio networking with AES67 and AVB and now are shipping products that support these protocols. As in the past, we will continue to be focused on standards.
Menon: We had made structural changes to our sales model. This was done keeping in mind the significant time and effort to be put on different territories in the region. Our territory account managers have done a brilliant job in developing the market and making successful in-roads for our products in these territories.
This year we have also successfully set up and manage the authorised service centre for two of our major manufacturers that we represent. We also established a full-fledged demo centre for all the products that we represent. This has made a definite impact on partners and customers who always wanted a hands-on experience of our products. But the most important success for us has been our expansion outside of the UAE. MediaCast has opened its new office in Turkey. We have been appointed the Blackmagic Design distributor in Turkey, and we have already started working with the resellers in a similar model that we have built in the Middle East. With an office open in the Sisli area of Istanbul, we have a team of eight talented staff in marketing, sales, technical and support departments.
DS: Why were these developments significant for you as a company?
Saadi: On the playout and media management services we identified that regional presence out of the UAE as a media hub is important and necessary to service many channels present in country or potentially likely to host out of UAE. We saw an opportunity that we take building the critical mass of hosted channels to optmise the cost of such services and allow this hub to grow organically, as we globally saw that many broadcasters would want to relieve themselves of such specialised services to focus more on pressing marketing demands of their content and offers and realisation of revenue. And for many others we thought bringing media services like the ones we’re currently undertaking, servicing such large customers globally such as the BBC, could benefit the region and accelerate the adoption of such services for differentiation.
On the technology part, you’d notice we are constantly fulfilling the value chain of our portfolio to enhance and enrich the features, user experience and virtualisation of future video services to allow for mass infiltration where we believe such a strategy would release the required revenues to our customer base.
Menon: The territories in the Middle East have given us lot of business intelligence. We have been through a significant learning curve about different vertical markets, on product performance in territories, the opportunities and further potential for other complementary products.
Many new initiatives like the service centre and demo centre helped us to build a lot of customer confidence for the brands that we represent. The growth into Turkey as a new market opens doors for us to new opportunities for growth.
Wallis: We started down a next-gen path roughly two years ago. Many of our peers are only now making a full embrace of IT, IP and other next-gen technologies. They are discovering, as we did two years ago, that this is not easy. Everything that is done in SDI must be duplicated in software that is capable of running in any environment. This takes a tremendous investment in time and expense, as well as engineering expertise. It’s much like climbing a mounting. While many of our peers are just now at the base of the mountain, we’ve been putting in the hard work since 2013. As the calendar turns to 2016, we will be at or very near the summit.
Bockskopf: We have always had a reputation for being involved in big events. Of course, this can often create the illusion that our solutions are too expensive for smaller applications. With recent installs at local facilities and smaller events, we have demonstrated that Riedel can handle broadcast challenges of any size.
DS: What were the main challenges that you faced as a company in 2015?
Sherman: The challenges in the region were mainly due to the continued changing environment. We have faced a number of unpredictable events that have meant customers’ needs and plans have been rapidly changing. Meeting those needs requires an agile and often innovative approach. We welcome those challenges to be able to demonstrate our true commitment to the region and our customers.
Menon: We took up the challenge of creating awareness about the opportunities for AV Integrators on digital video production for broadcast and how they can monetise the corporate AV market demands. Our efforts bore fruit when we later saw that there were several corporate AV installations in the region following our training programs.
Saadi: The main regional challenge that we saw is the complete readiness for our customers to adopt new video services. These challenges are present due mainly to the lack of enablement via systematic and uniform fixed and mobile broadband and compelling monetised content. For example 4K or Ultra High Definition in terms of mass scale content availability or the ability of operators and broadcasters’ infrastructure to carry remains somehow limited and the overall video business cases standing in their own right is still a bit challenging.
Wallis: The slowdown in oil revenue and the funding required to support the war effort in many parts of the Middle East has taken its toll on the industry and we are seeing a slowdown in large capex investments. However, the reduced investments available means that customers are looking at new ways to save money by using more cost efficient solutions. At Imagine Communications we are seeing significant interest in our cloud-based offering, albeit there has to be a consideration for the impact on the connectivity costs.
Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that the industry-wide realisation that new levels of agility and cost efficiencies are vital to the future growth of the media and entertainment industry has created a climate of hesitation for many. Media companies are understandably reconsidering technology roadmaps in order to make sure that they meet today’s challenges but are well positioned for tomorrow’s opportunities. Our ability to meet our customers’ needs by ensuring that any investment they make today, SDI or next-gen, will figure into their future plans, has been helpful over the course of this year.
Nazari: 2015 and likewise 2014 had its own challenge in the satellite industry as well. Global investment in communications, especially fibre optic infrastructure and the international trend in almost all the countries to enhance their domestic and terrestrial network and connect them to more rural areas through all possible means such as fibre optic, seems to be threatening the satellite market as those products are seen as a substitute to satellite connectivity.
The plunging crude oil price had some impact on the global economy, which the satellite market is part. It has some direct impact on the satellite communication demand as it is one of the main tools for off-shore and oil and gas project connectivity. Many projects have been delayed or cancelled on this vertical and all those have a direct impact on the supply-demand chain, which satellite connectivity is part of.
Having said that, the satellite market is in a way influenced by the legacy ‘sell-buy’ mode whereby the suppliers often placed much focus on selling their products or services due to high demand and short supply.
Bockskopf: Our first priority was to bring to the market all of the products introduced earlier this year. And we succeeded.The biggest challenges are usually about gauging where the market is and where it’s going. Once you have that figured out, you need to bring superior solutions to market as quickly as possible.
DS: What was your perception of the overall business climate in 2015?
Bockskopf: This has been a time of uncertainty for our industry. Many understand that the targeted technologies in the medium-term are not market-ready. We have benefitted from that with our MediorNet because customers today enjoy all of the benefits of real-time networked infrastructures for audio, video, data and communications. This is the DNA of MediorNet. There is also demand now that customers have come to realise the benefits of networked architectures over point-to-point solutions.
Saadi: The market spend for TV and media solutions had modest growth in 2015 and that could largely be due to regional instability in some areas as deferred budgetary spend, given the pressures on local buying powers. However in the markets where the infrastructure was ready we saw a good potential for future video business and definitely more focus on that element in the overall digital services.
Menon: 2015 has been a year of steady growth, if slow paced, with various exciting products and new technologies being introduced by manufacturers.We are trying to encourage as many reseller partners across verticals that give us strength to face any challenges that rise due to different economic and political conditions in the region.
Sherman: We cover a significant region (Middle East, Africa, Russia and CIS) with certain markets showing more growth than others. Regionally, UAE continued to lead in business, innovations and knowledge in the Middle East region. And from our perspective as a professional solutions provider, we are keen to continue researching and expanding our presence in the region to meet growing demand and expectations of the professional community.
Wallis: Evolving functions toward suitability for a virtualised environment is a monumental task. We essentially needed to create our own supply chain, to deliver the technology that allows media companies to move operations to more agile environments without sacrificing any quality, performance or introducing any operational disruptions. At the same time, we needed to ensure that our SDI-based portfolio continues to advance and deliver the consistent new infusions of innovation that our customers have come to expect for the past decades. There’s a lot of moving parts to make sure are working in unison.
In the Middle East the cost of connectivity far exceeds what is readily available in Europe or North America, making the adoption of cloud based solutions tougher to justify from a cost perspective. However, as the region develops and these costs start to come down, we expect to see a wider adoption of these solutions.