Rohde & Schwarz Looks to Playout Future With Pixel Power Acquisition

This year is proving a volatile one for the playout market, with major shifts towards IP technology and major player Arqiva announcing it is aiming to move out of the sector. This has now been followed by Rohde & Schwarz buying UK playout, master control and graphics manufacturer Pixel Power, which substantially expands the German company’s broadcast and media division.

Earlier this year Rohde & Schwarz introduced an upgraded version of its VENICE ingest and playout system, with the aim of pushing further into the distribution market. The acquisition of Pixel Power, which produces the Gallium playout and workflow orchestration ranges as well as media processing and OTT and newsroom graphics systems, is clearly intended to move Rhode & Schwarz into different parts of this sector more quickly.

In the statement announcing the coming together of the two companies, Cornelius Heinemann, head of transmitter and amplifier systems and file-based media solutions at Rohde &Schwarz, says, "With the acquisition of Pixel Power we are significantly expanding our broadcast and media portfolio. Together we can combine the software defined technologies and virtualised environments to offer customers the very real benefits that they provide in the broadcast playout and VoD [video on demand] markets."

Pixel Power will now be branded as 'Pixel Power Ltd - a Rohde & Schwarz company' but will continue to develop its own products and technologies. Chief executive and co-founder James Gilbert and chief technology officer Nick Wright will carry on in their roles, with the aim of further developing the company. "Our virtualisable integrated playout technology is making a major contribution to Rohde & Schwarz reaching its ambitious goals for cloud-based solution," comments Gilbert. "Our modern licence and payment model also contributes to this. In return, Rohde &Schwarz's size, stability, structures and competencies offer optimal opportunities for the further development of our products and the expansion of our worldwide sales. We believe the combination will benefit our customers enormously."

Rumours had been circulating in the industry that Rohde & Schwarz had been considering buying Pixel Power. One source described the eventual deal as "the worst keep secret in the business". Tim Felstead, director of strategic and operational marketing with the Broadcast and Media Division of Rohde and Schwarz, confirmed that the acquisition had been in the works for at least the last 12 months. "Rohde & Schwarz has been considering this for some time," he says. "We were very impressed with them and looked very carefully at their technologies."

Tim Felstead, director of strategic and operational marketing at Rohde and Schwarz's Broadcast and Media Division

Tim Felstead, director of strategic and operational marketing at Rohde and Schwarz's Broadcast and Media Division

Felstead explains that Rohde & Schwarz had been observing the growth and diversity in the playout market, which was now more about general video and media distribution rather than exclusively programme transmission. "The company had been looking at the playout market, while at the same time developing its technology for that sector," he says. "We acknowledged that it was an incredibly fast- moving market and that if linear broadcasters wanted to serve video on demand and virtualisation they would have to look at media asset management, workflows and control."

In such a dynamic marketplace, Felstead says the choice facing Rohde & Schwarz was whether to develop new technologies suited to the new directions in playout or buy a company that was already heading that way. "We'd had our eye on Pixel Power for some time," he comments. "They've done a damn good job of developing suitable technology for the delivery of media. We thought it would be a good acquisition that would allow us to jump ahead faster than developing something ourselves."

While the aim is clearly to move ahead of other companies in a competitive market, Felstead observes that the merged operation will not overreach itself too soon: "We want to make sure that we take great care, with Pixel Power continuing to grow in its own right. At the same time there will be a significant amount of support from Rohde & Schwarz over the next one to three years. It's not the kind of acquisition where technologies will be merged automatically, although we see complementary aspects between Pixel Power and VENICE. Nor is it a merger that will have a negative impact on the performance of either company."

In time Felstead sees Pixel Power technology feeding into Rohde & Schwarz products and vice versa. "There are applications for Pixel Power in a large number of other areas, such as the vertical VoD market," he comments. "In my opinion VoD and linear playout are one are the same market. Broadcasters are not concerned any longer with just linear playout but media delivery in general from a single system with consistent operating methods."

For the longer term Felstead says the combination of Rohde & Schwarz and Pixel Power will give the opportunity to move into associated markets, including studio, media and live. "Customers want innovation but they also want stability," he concludes. "Rohde & Schwarz is looking at the long term and that is rare today."

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