Television

'We expect that HD will arrive in India with sports and general entertainment' : Krishan Sanghi - Avid country head

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As India enters a digital environment with more delivery platforms like direct-tohome (DTH) scheduled for launch this year, television technology firms are looking to service broadcasters who will face new challenges. One such firm is Avid. It offers products and services for digital nonlinear media creation.

Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto caught up with Avid country head Krishan Sanghi to find out more about the company's plans.

Excerpts:

When Avid says that it is a pioneer in digital nonlinear media creation, what does it mean?

Nonlinear media creation allows one to transfer all the shot material or "rushes" onto a computer hard disk. Unlike linear editing where editing can only be done in a chronological order, the hard disk is a "random access" device which can play your shots one after another regardless of the order they were on your tape.

Through its Unity storages and Interplay, Avid has pioneered this further to allow multiple users to simultaneously work on the same media and edit, modify and create them in a collaborative environment. This allows processes to be conducted independent of a particular sequence and is, therefore, nonlinear in nature. This technology has revolutionised content creation in video, audio, film, animation, gaming and TV broadcast industries.

Could you give me an overview of the products and solutions in Avid's portfolio?

Our products are used to make television and news shows, commercials, music videos and CDs, corporate/industrial productions and major motion pictures. We deliver solutions that make, manage and move media.

Avid provides solutions in areas like video, news editing, film editing, special effects for video and films. We also offer integrated newsroom solutions as well as networked storages for workgroup editing. Besides, we offer broadcast and playout automation as well as on-air graphics and animation.

What is the global broadcast technology market worth?

The global broadcast technology market is estimated to be worth more than $10 billion, and is set to grow at an expected rate of 11 per cent with the pace being set in Europe, Middle East and Africa.

What is Avid's share in this?

Avid has converted the highest number of broadcasters to digital news workflows in the industry with more than 250 end-to-end news work group installations. Our broadcast and cable customers include national and international broadcasters, such as NBC, Reuters, CBS News, Fox Television, the BBC, NDTV, CNBC, Times Now and DirectTV. Our clients also include network affiliates, local independent television stations, web news providers, and local and regional cable operators that produce news programming.

We are currently present in 22 countries including India, the US, Canada, Japan and Korea.

In terms of revenue and business generation, how much do India and Asia contribute?

India is part of the Middle East and Africa region in Avid. Although we have been well represented here by our dealers, it's only now that we have started to properly focus on the region.

Our customers, installed base and revenues have been steadily growing, especially in the broadcast industry. Customers' confidence in Avid's technology, products and services is reflected in repeat orders for their new projects. We have invested in trainings and have the best trained manpower in broadcast support and as a result we are targeting a very healthy growth.

'It's only now that we have started to properly focus on the region. Our customers, installed base and revenues have been steadily growing, especially in the broadcast industry'

What growth is being targeted from here?

A healthy and sustainable revenue growth is being targeted and has been achieved. This has resulted in healthy demand for people who are able to use our software and systems. So it is not just a question of selling products for us. We are also investing to ensure that training in Avid products is available countrywide.

Till date, Avid provides training which is available at more than 50 training institutes, a high percentage of which is part of graduation in mass media. We expect to double this number this year, and to achieve this we are partnering with leaders in the IT industry.

Who are Avid's major clients in India and could you give me examples of how your solutions are being used by them?

Avid targets business solutions and not products alone. Some of our major clients in India are NDTV, Star TV Network, Network18, Neo Sports, Kalignar and Kasthuri.

These customers use Avid's Unity Isis shared storage media networks which is focussed on the real-time requirements of broadcast production workflows. The new file system and storage architecture combine to provide industry-leading availability, and dramatically increase storage capacity, bandwidth, and client connectivity.

In terms of providing technical support and servicing, what does Avid offer its clients?

We ensure that our business partners are well trained and we are proud that our Indian partner Real Image provides support round the clock through its team of engineers. They are in turn supported by our team of product and workflow experts.

We understand our responsibility to update the technical expertise of the industry. We are, therefore, investing in providing specialised trainings to technical resources available here so that the project implementation is quick and economical.

Support training on equipment requires a huge pile of equipment, and that's why traditionally we have been imparting technical support training only at our regional headquarters. However, realising the regional need, we are bringing the experts and required kits to the region at high costs in the second quarter of this year. This will help add to the local knowledge and expertise, and in turn improve the support level considerably. This will be an opportunity for customers to train their own team, and keep the equipment and workflow efficient, at a fraction of traditional costs.

Would you say that cost-effectiveness is an advantage that Avid offers clients vis-?-vis competition?

Absolutely! All our efforts and products strive to increase our customers' cost-effectiveness, which in itself is based on broadly on three operating parameters. Our tools and processes are aimed at enhancing the workflows efficiency and to address the rising cost of manpower and facilities. We reduce the operational cost by increasing efficiency of the employees. Today, it is more important how people collaborate than calculate on cost per machine.

At the same time, we minimise the loss in revenues by building resilience and reliability in the system and processes. Furthermore, today it is important for media companies to market their assets in more ways than one. We enable our customers monetise their assets in multiple ways. For example, the film captured for production can be easily re-purposed in TV, mobile, IPTV and net, etc. Sharing the media across states and across nations has become important, and Avid makes this possible and easy.

The technical departments of channels globally often do not understand fully the technology they have bought and its capabilities. Does Avid face this problem vis-?-vis clients?

Today, the business has changed considerably. The technical department needs to have a vision and understanding of the business as a whole. Deciding on a product without looking at the full workflow is being shortsighted. Many companies fail to see the big picture.

Yes, we face the challenge wherein the purchases are highly box driven. Judicious customers look at the big picture and visualize, and thereafter make provisions for growth in the very beginning. If you will look around, you will find Avid customers whom we have helped migrate technologically to the latest and are now using their resources for multiple revenue streams. For these companies, growth has been a painless process while others are struggling with incompatible products or obsolete technologies and have to bear the cost of running various parallel operations.

It is important for broadcasters to bear in mind that technology is changing so fast that even experts may lack information. Therefore, we educate companies in current technologies. Selecting a right product is more important for small companies who cannot afford to take a wrong step.

Insofar as advancements in broadcast technology are concerned, what are the trends noticeable in India and Asia?

Broadcast has gained a much wider meaning. Trends in India and Asia are no different than the world. There is pressure of quality as well as quantity. In all, it's a dynamic industry. Broadcasters and people who have the strength to be flexible and dynamic will survive on the technical front.

Traditional broadcast is growing by leaps and bounds. Every broadcast station is now a network of a few channels. We are seeing that international content and participation is increasing. We are also seeing a proliferation of small regional channels.

Sports and entertainment are looking at HDTV. Compression will play an important role here. Avid is the first company to have solutions fully compliant with SMPTE VC3 that allows HD handling at lower rates. News broadcasting will spread to the mobile and internet as well.

Tape will loose further ground with all acquisition and distribution being digital. The post-production houses will be next to use the digital wave.

As we move towards a digital environment in India and Asia where new platforms like online and mobile will emerge, what are the challenges that broadcasters will face on the technical front?

Reliability and resilience is the key to all technology requirements for the broadcast industry and this is where the biggest challenge lies. This is mainly because broadcast businesses rely on stories and footage as their asset; so the technology they adopt has to be reliable.

Speed is another criterion that is a challenge as the news industry depends on it. As seen in the World Trade Center bombing, the news channels with modern workflows were faster than the ones with traditional workflows. Sky News and Fox were the first to broadcast the bombing and both use Avid solutions.

Has Avid signed deals with Indian broadcasters that are launching new channels to create their on-air look, graphics, etc?

On-air looks and graphics reflect a channel's personality and business space they are in. It is very individualistic. We provide tools and technology to bring out thoughts and creativity.

However, at the same time we do not recommend any particular on-air look or feel. We have an on-air graphic solution called Deko, which creates on-air graphics in real time.

What are the new solutions that Avid has recently introduced in India?

Avid constantly updates its products. Therefore, whenever there is a version change, it is like a new product and we have released new versions in 2007. Our highly expandable storage system Isis and Interplay are recent introductions.

We expect some more products to be announced in the near future. The future is good.

In terms of the news genre, how do your solutions facilitate the expanding roles of journalists?

Our newsroom solutions are used by journalists, producers, assignment editors, reporters and presenters for researching, creating, managing and delivering television news programmes. Avid iNews newsroom computer systems give producers and assignment editors control of an entire news production, including gathering and reading wires, e-mail and other messages, organising assignments, writing stories and preparing news programmes.

Another product iNews Instinct is a storytelling tool with scriptwriting, shot selection and video and audio editing specifically designed for journalists.

HD is an area of intense focus for Avid. How long do you feel it will take for HDTV to come to India?

Avid offers a complete HD workflow, and in fact is playing a leading role. From ingest, storage to playout, Avid can handle HD in all its forms. HDTV compression will play an important role.

HD has already taken off in a big way outside. However, in India it may take a while. Our expectation is that HD will arrive with sports and general entertainment.

Could you shed light on Avid's research and development (R&D) facilities? How much investment goes into this activity?

Our R&D activities are focused on the development of digital media content-creation tools and workgroup solutions that operate primarily on the Macintosh and Windows platforms. Avid is committed to delivering best-in-class video, film, 3D animation, and audio editing systems to meet the professionals in the television, film, music, broadcast news production, and industrial post-production markets. We have always provided path-breaking technologies and visions, and have patents on a number of technologies.

Our efforts also include networking and storage initiatives to deliver standard-based media transfer and media asset management tools, as well as stand-alone and network-attached media storage systems for workgroups.

Avid spends one of the largest percentages of its income, of any company in the sector, on R&D. For instance, our R&D expenditures for 2006 were $141.4 million.

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