'2004 can be a very dramatic year globally due to the fervor with which studios are looking at tapeless environments' : Ken Lorber - TM Systems CEO

The recipient of the coveted Prime Time Emmy Award for technical achievement, for the development and implementation of the industry’s first, fully integrated, digital, language localization system for translation, dubbing and subtitling.

Aiming at becoming the global standard worldwide and moving the language customisation business from a tape dependent to a tapeless environment, TM Systems CEO Ken Lorber discusses the global production industry with's Sonali Krishna offering some interesting insights on his company's state-of-the-art software that reduces costs and time, traditionally associated with the localization process by nearly 40 per cent and also looks at the current state of affairs in terms of technolgy advancement in the langauage customisation industry.


Is this your first business trip to India? Could you please expand on what essentially is your business and the whole service gamut it covers?

Our business is providing tools for the language customization business. And we differentiate ourselves from some of the other companies that claim to do parts of it. There are companies that market various components within the whole gamut of the language customization business.

There are companies that provide solutions for sub-titling, transcribing but there is no one who has addressed the entire process from the time you receive that video tape that needs to be converted into multiple languages until the new audio track is laid down. So, we distinguish ourselves because we have tools for every step from encoding to encryption to transcribing to translating to dubbing to adaptation to sub-titling, the whole gamut.

Another reason why this technique is so efficient is because when there is no standardised process involved, two people interpret the same scene totally differently, the context starts to differ from language to language. So, the advantage we offer is by routing it all through one path, there's consistency both in the dubbing and subtitling process.

What about economic viability? Are you an economical option?

From the actual equipment standpoint, it's dramatic. But the operations standpoint, it's even more dramatic again because of the consolidation of assets. This is a win-win situation, because you don't have dubbing company or a sub-titling company investing in new equipment for the same yield. As a studio owner I know, just to remain status quo, you have to keep upgrading. This is an ability to spend less money for the hardware/software combination and be able to generate much more efficiency and not having to deal with something getting obsolete.

Your trip here marks your interest in the Asian zone? Is 2004 a strategic timing to move into the Asian arena or is there other reasoning behind it. Also what is your POA in India in terms of showcasing your offerings, building relationships and acquiring business?

I can't pretend that 2004 was any strategic brainstorm. It was more motivated with the involvement with Discovery. We came to India on this occasion specifically because Discovery Communications had invited us through their Singapore office. Having said that, it is clear from the meetings we've had that there is a tremendous opportunity here in Asia. For our software to be the most effective for the ultimate user and the ultimate user being the Discovery's, Warner Brothers, the major proprietors of programming is that it really be saturated around the globe. It doesn't do us any good for lets say Discovery to adopt our technology and find out that three quarters of the world isn't using it. Because they have created so many tools to enrich and enhance the process and if it is being ignored in major markets then we're back to making tapes, which is what nobody wants to do.

Do you think the Indian market is mature enough to enter and secondly the cost factor, considering India is a very price driven country?

(Laughs) You sound like our prospect today. He asked me the same question. I asked him how much was the cost of your digi-beta TCR, and he told me $ 60,000. My software is a lot less expensive. So, I have learned very quickly that we are charging a lot less money for your work than is being charged elsewhere. But, one does have to adapt to the technology. Well, is it true if I go to a different market like maybe Japan where the cost is probably 10 times more for their customization work, they will realise a greater return on investment? Absolutely! But does that mean it's not valid to have it here as well. It's absolutely valid, maybe to a lesser degree but nonetheless, India is a market.

"Our goal is for TM Systems to be global standard when it comes to language customization. "

Tell me about you winning the Emmy Award for your software.

I have to admit that it was the biggest high in my professional life. This was a prime time national Emmy award for technology. We won in a category where there were three or four other winners, two notable companies that I remember were Apple computers for final cut pro and a camera company called Aeroflux which has been the industry standard for three years. Probably as gratifying as the Emmy awards was the response of the technical committee that evaluated our software. We're also hoping it's not the last one. I think 2004 can be a very dramatic year not just in Asia but globally because we know the fervor with which the studios are looking at tapeless environments. And the only hole in the plan has been language customization. The industry has advanced and its time the customization industry steps up with the rest.

What is your client profile like and tell me a little about the evolution of TM as a company as well as on the macro level about the evolution of your business per se?

Our client profile is interesting as it is a combination of dubbing companies, dubbing vendors and studios. Our original marketing plan was to go to one's that would most benefit. So we spent a lot of time calling on dubbing companies, touting this remarkable new software. And the reaction was unanimous. Wow! This is really remarkable but we've been doing this work for the last 15 yrs and most of our clients are comfortable with us doing our work this way. And I don't know if I want to be the pioneer. So, that's where we came from. But there's no one who's purchased our software and not continued to use it. But we got smarter and realised the real beneficiary of this technology with be the major networks and the major studios. It's the studios and the networks that have the overwhelming challenge of customizing in multiple languages as well as within a stipulated time frame.

"It's the studios and the networks that have the overwhelming challenge of customizing in multiple languages as well as within a stipulated time frame. "

With the coming of language customization software; what in your opinion will it do to programming content across the world?

Good Question! I don't know what its going to do to it other than making it available more quickly and more inexpensively. I've been involved with the TV companies who have to limit the amount of material customized for international distribution based purely on their limited budgets. So, if you were to do 20 or 30 per cent more material with the same dollar, assuming nothing else to be different, it has to lead to development of programming and its distribution network.

What is TM Systems vision; short term and long term in terms of business acquisitions and technology development?

Well I think we have a long way to go in terms of becoming a global standard. We are in a prime position to become a global standard and when I say that I don't mean that there will not be others who can become global standards. I consider protocols to be a global standard for audio workstations. I consider Avid technology for editing. Our goal is for TM Systems to be global standard when it comes to language customization. That's both short term and long term. We have a number of different markets that we would like to conquer. TV and film is not the only area where video tape and film conversion is a necessary evil. Spreading our wings into the production arena and moving into the corporate zone.

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