Harris Broadcast Rebrands to Get to Cloud-Based Network of the Future


It’s no secret that traditional TV and broadcast industry models are changing rapidly due to multiple factors including the increasing availability of broadband, multiple new devices and nontraditional media content, as well as an Internet model that is substantially changing viewing habits. Acknowledging that it’s time to reposition in the marketplace, Harris Broadcast, the venerable company that started off as Gates Radio almost 100 years ago, has made a big market transition with a rebranding and new corporate structure, along with a fresh product roadmap. To start with, it has split into two separate entities: Imagine Communications and GatesAir.

Harris, owned by The Gores Group, was previously a catch-all company for media and entertainment wares, with a portfolio focused on media software, a variety of networking options and over-the-air broadcast solutions.

Now, Imagine Communications will be focused on software defined, IP-based, virtualized networks to support TV Everywhere, the cloud and IP distribution going forward. It will be headquartered in Dallas, with Centers of Excellence in Denver, Toronto, Los Angeles, Tel Aviv and Beijing. Going with it will be 3,000 customers spanning 185 countries, with more than 3 million products deployed that support over half of the world's video channels, along with a portfolio of patents.

GatesAir meanwhile will stay true to its over-the-air TV and radio transmission roots, offering access and other gear to help broadcasters effectively navigate major technology evolutions, such as digital conversions, new use of spectrum and licenses in many countries, and spectrum auctions and TV band repacking. It will be headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, with its manufacturing, supply chain and fulfillment center in Quincy, Ill.

Moving to Standardized Video Infrastructures

With two companies and a more focused approach for each, the hope is to become more nimble in the marketplace. For instance, going forward, Imagine has a new, network virtualization roadmap aimed at delivering and monetizing multiscreen content.

At a media day event announcing the new companies in New York, Imagine unveiled a new media platform, dubbed MediaCentral, that is meant to be an integrated, end-to-end ad sales, traffic, scheduling, automation and playout platform that virtualizes key capabilities in the cloud—capabilities that traditionally are provided in distinct, separate and often premises-based platforms.

"Our industry is moving rapidly to a place where media companies no longer want to deploy and manage proprietary technology," said CEO Charlie Vogt, who took the helm at Harris last July after nine years heading up No. 1 VoIP vendor GENBAND. He will remain CEO at both companies. "They have been burdened over the years by costly, legacy infrastructure that limits their expansion options and flexibility to transition to new models. Our customers, channels and business partners around the world are enthusiastically embracing our new paradigm of service-oriented, software-based architectures that utilize commercial off-the-shelf technology and the virtualization of network functions."

Image via Shutterstock.

Imagine also introduced Software Defined Workflows (SDW), a capability enabled by the company's existing MultiService SDN architecture. Media companies currently operate in a hybrid environment of both baseband and IP workflows—SDW looks to improve the way video is managed through broadcast facilities by allowing the entire workflow to be software-defined, bringing all media into the IP layer and separating the media content components from control.

The idea is to help media companies expand their customer reach and leverage their content and branding beyond traditional distribution methods. These changes are also impacting advertising and monetization models, forcing media companies across the globe to simplify and accelerate their next generation workflows and virtualize their resources across geographies and markets.

Chief technology officer, Steve Reynolds joined Harris three months ago after a long stint at Comcast, where he was part of the leadership team that developed the RDK—a reference architecture for set-tops to better enable cloud-based multiscreen distribution. He stressed the need for an underlying architecture of modular, IP-based services that can fully support the integration of media and playout functions, such as live log integration, simplifying operations and providing advanced service velocity for operators.

“TV is starting to pull in some of the technologies that drove the Internet over the last decade,” Reynolds said, speaking at the New York event. “Multiplatform content delivery will change the television business more than anything. And the rate of change will just continue to accelerate so we need to offer service velocity, by building our products to virtualize functions and run them on COTS hardware and in the public and private cloud.”

To that end, he said that the industry needs to move to service-based hardware, with applications built on top of software-oriented architecture (SOA) and standards so that they can be hosted in the cloud. That also means moving to an ecosystem model built around a reference architecture.

“We need common frameworks and development techniques,” Reynolds noted. “That includes HTML5 user interfaces so consumers can use whatever device they want to access back-end services. And as we’re developing those services, using techniques such as abstraction to support existing architectures and the same interfaces and logic that operators already use will be important.”

Vogt also pledged support for open standards, noting that Imagine is building a vendor ecosystem oriented around that, including partners like IBM and Ericsson.

A Long Way to Go to All-IP

Reynolds noted that while Imagine is making strides with the new products, fully migrating itself to the future will take a generational approach over time.

Vogt was upfront at the New York event when it came to where networks are today.

“Media is in the fast lane—video traffic in January was up 50% year over year, underlining the fact that the broadcast industry needs a robust, elastic, virtual and always-on experience,” Vogt said. “The number of pixels is being enhanced every day, but the network of the future has a long way to go.

“For how much longer will we call what we watch ‘television?’” he added. “Consumers want convenience, social interaction, personalization and mobility, so online will eventually take over linear. But when? Is 2020 too soon? We don’t know. But what we do know is that online business models are much more complex than linear, posing the question of whether today’s network is ready to support them.”

The answer, of course, is no. “Consumer demand and expectations are outpacing the network,” Vogt said. “Workflows have reached an inflection point. The network needs to understand you.”

There are changes afoot. Given the consumption trends—IBM says that 75 percent of consumers surf the Internet and use social media while watching TV, and that by 2017 we will watch the equivalent of 5 million years of video each month—C-level priorities are changing. In an IBM survey of media execs, a full 85 percent of CMOs said that social media and customer analytics are the most important priorities going forward; for CEOs, 70 percent of them want to reap value from the growth in customer data and to enable shorter cycle times.

“Media is in a state of constant change as we move beyond digital to a new connected consumer era. Framework we worked on for 10 years,” said Steve Canepa, general manager for the global media & entertainment industry at IBM, speaking at the media day event. “We’re spending $1.2billion for 40 data centers to enable global, cloud-based virtual enterprises. “We’ve taken 10 years to develop the Media and Entertainment Framework – and we’re taking all of our acquisitions ($17 billion’s worth) and all of the R&D resources we have and we’re pouring it into getting agile.”

It will be a staged transition. “In 1994 and 1995, IP was introduced into telco world,” Vogt noted. “But, it didn’t reach mass deployment until 2005—and it still has a long way to go today. There are not a lot of traditional broadcasters that are leveraging IP, and that’s because there are some challenges. The industry needs to transition to a common platform.”

By 2020, it’s unlikely that the industry will “have everything figured out,” he said. “And even if we do, it will take another 10 years to transition completely.”

However, “I think the roadmap will be spelled out and there will be strategic decisions to make by 2020,” he added. “Everyone still has to make money and be profitable so financial decisions about moving to that next level will guide [much of the pace of the transition].” 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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