Grass Valley’s New CEO Wants To Lead The Third Video Revolution (The Cloud)

After two years of virtual gathering, broadcasters convening in person for this year’s NAB Show in Las Vegas will see a lot of new faces due to management and staff changes at the various vendors. One notable “new” figure will be Dr. Andrew Cross, formerly with NewTek, Vizrt and now the new CEO of Grass Valley (GV).

When we last saw Cross in person, at the 2019 NAB Show, he was celebrating the acquisition of NewTek—a company he had worked at and eventually lead, for 23 years—Cross joined Vizrt when that company acquired NewTek and it’s increasingly popular NDI networking platform. Now he wants to “disrupt the status quo” in networking and broadcast equipment virtualization.

With an extensive R&D and product development background, which should prove invaluable to GV’s Media Universe, strategy of connected devices, Cross’ vision is to help customers move to the cloud without limiting them to on-premise hardware, either partially or fully. And he wants to make that technology affordable and available to everyone.

Cross spoke to The in an Exclusive interview about the TV Station of the future and how GV’s connected vision will fundamentally change the way people work, in the same way that IP video did and software processing did before that.

[Editor’s Note: At NAB 2022 in booth is #C2107, GV will be showcasing a wide range of cloud, IP, and software-based workflows, including GV’s NativeIP camera portfolio, and the SaaS cloud-native GV Agile Media Processing Platform (AMPP) media production platform. Grass Valley will also be focusing on its GV Media Universe vision at the show, which brings together the company’s solutions, partner software, connected hardware and related services into a unified user experience with familiar media workflows.] As CTO/CEO of NewTek and later President of Global Research & Development at Vizrt you had a leading role in product development.  How will your role as CEO be different at GV?

Cross: At NewTek I ran the company, as CEO, and because of my background I was closely involved in product development as well, because I love that stuff. So, I’m very familiar with running a business, but at the same time Grass Valley is a company that makes products that we hope are going to help our customers make their business successful. You can’t do that ignoring products, can you? So, I’m going to run the GV business, but running the business and not paying attention to the products and how they impact customers is not how I plan to approach my job. What’s always driven me is how do you take great products and technology and have them make a difference for our customers.

That being said, I have to resist the urge to get too involved [in product development] because we have some really great people in product management roles that are very capable, in some cases more capable than me.

Dr. Andrew Cross wants to make GV’s virtualized technology available to everybody.

Dr. Andrew Cross wants to make GV’s virtualized technology available to everybody. How is GV a better fit for you personally?

Cross: I wouldn’t necessarily say it is a better fit. Vizrt is a great company. And as for NewTek, which was bought by Vizrt, I’d been there 23 years. I loved every second of it. We revolutionized the world of software video and IP video. And what I’m excited about here is the next big thing— and currently that is moving to the cloud, and making it so customers are not locked to on-premise hardware, either partially or fully—and I want to be a part of that too. So, it was time for me to go and help build the next big thing. And I’m confident that’s going to be here at Grass Valley. As the Father of NDI, what have you learned about IP networking and packet-based delivery that will benefit GV’s portfolio?

Cross: I think that GV already has a lot of networking experience and they support NDI very well. Of course, I can help them support it a little bit better. But the company also supports ST 21110, RIST, SRT, and other networking protocols as well, in order to stay as open to all IP protocols as possible.

I do think I bring a different perspective. With NDI we wanted to create a technology that was available to everybody and that our products and technologies allowed the video market overall to grow significantly. That’s what I would like to bring to Grass Valley, because I think GV has a portfolio of products that are fully capable of playing in a variety of market segments.

Obviously I come from a software-based background, so if a product works well with software, I love it. I love hardware too, and it’s an important part of the production workflow that is underestimated a lot. The software has got to run somewhere. And it’s got to connect to physical things in the real world at some point. So, we all get caught up in marketing hype sometimes, but it’s all got to connect to a camera and a monitor and the infrastructure within a facility. So, the combination of hardware and software is a necessary combination that can do incredible things. And we’ve got both pieces to make something special. NDI and ST2110 are used by two different sets of customers. For a broadcaster, how will 2110 and NDI co-exist on the same network to improve operations?

Cross: Well, I know some big Grass Valley customers that have standardized on NDI and others that swear by ST 2110 uncompressed video. The magic here is that it can all work on the same network. Then the argument about protocols becomes the same as, what’s better PNG or JPEG? The industry needs both to be successful and support the many digital platforms they need to. They serve different roles and I think we should embrace that because somehow the industry managed to agree that IP is the way to go. Once you go IP then it’s just a matter of choosing between the different variants depending upon your particular business model. We’re seeing new entrants into the business, like Netflix and Amazon, who are ramping up production and distribution. How is your message to them different than it is to a traditional broadcaster?

Cross: This is a great question. The big difference between the OTT players and the way that traditional broadcasters work is that distribution have become very easy. It used to be that you needed a huge antenna outside your building with an FCC license, but networking and Internet connectivity has changed that. What that means is that our existing tools have become applicable to a whole bunch of new video workflows.

As we all move to software and IP and everything is interconnected, we’re going to see that the tools will change (and they have already). If you think about a traditional production environment, there was very high bandwidth downstream.  The camera can pass a very high bandwidth signal down to the mixing system, which would go down to the recording or broadcast system. So you have this huge flow of information (data), all the audio and video, that can be distributed quite easily. Then the upstream, the things that got fed to the camera, was very low bandwidth (the Tally light).

Now when you think about IP networks, that is no longer true. Today we can actually feed things back upstream in the production to the cameras and operators that was never possible before. That’s going to change a lot of the workflows and those workflows will benefit everybody involved with a production. And that will be true for the cable or network news organizations of the world as well as for new entities like Amazon or Netflix.

We can store media easily, it can be moved around easily, it can be transcoded, it can be searched. All of these things benefit everyone on the team. I think that we are already on the forefront of a lot of that. So, I think our current portfolio can serve the various markets very well and we’re all going to learn things as the technology progresses.

The software-enabled GV Media Universe brings together the company’s solutions, partner software, connected hardware and related services into a unified user experience with familiar media workflows.

The software-enabled GV Media Universe brings together the company’s solutions, partner software, connected hardware and related services into a unified user experience with familiar media workflows. What’s your vision of a TV station a decade from now? How will it operate differently than today?

Cross: Well, first of all, I’m sure that everything at a TV station is going to move to the cloud. What we’ve done at GV is built something that allows you to either run it on prem or in the cloud, or both. The same technology runs in both places. For a broadcaster, this is all part of a journey. The notion that we’re going to rip apart a TV station of today and place it all in the cloud is not what our customers want.

We think that for some shows it makes more sense to run them locally, but when you want to try a few things, like digital subchannels, that makes total sense to run exclusively in the cloud. If they could be on the same workflow, that is really enabling. That’s how we see the TV industry progressing in the real world, using a phased-in approach. With cloud services so easy to configure, have we arrived at a time when there’s no need for a traditional system’s integrator?

Cross: I think a systems integrator is still as valuable as they always have been and will continue to be. However, these companies have to adapt with the times, and I’m sure that they are, and get involved in the cloud services configuration process. Where they used to consult on baseband SDI infrastructures, they are quickly becoming experts in cloud deployments. That’s good for everybody. Maybe going forward they are not needed in the small studios as much, but while companies like ourselves are looking at the opportunities here, they are looking at the cloud too. How is Grass Valley and its AMPP technology equipped to leverage the Cloud today and what will it be capable of in the future?

Cross: I see AMPP as the critical infrastructure that provides the oil that greases the wheels of production in many ways. You cannot build a TV station if every piece of it is an island. If you are looking to connect on-prem to the cloud, with different clouds, with remote production, AMPP is the infrastructure designed to do it.

When you come to see us at NAB you’ll see many of the pieces important to production already built on top of AMPP. It’s one connected ecosystem that we call the GV Media Universe. And it supports all of the existing products users already have, so this is not a disjointed platform. We’ve got this entire road map that takes you from the tools of today to the cloud processing (both on prem and in the cloud) everyone is so eager to get to. We believe in this path. Our goal is to take all broadcasters into the future and a big part of that future is AMPP. GV has talked about (and demonstrated) virtualized switchers and routers, but what about the camera? Can the camera be virtualized in such a way that is practical for covering major TV events?

Cross: We know that a lot of news production can be shot on an iPhone or something similar if you want. You don’t need a $50,000 camera to take out into the field. But the needs of high-end sports are very different. You can’t shoot those on an iPhone. It’s more than just the camera and lens. It’s also about the lighting in the stadium, being able to zoom in to capture quick motion and not having the LED screens around the field blow out the image. Those are very physical things that don’t match what a lower end camera can do.

That being said, I don’t know quite where this line gets drawn five or ten years from now. It’s a very good question. While it’s tempting to say that maybe an iPhone will be able to do some bigger things in the future, I’m not sure they can because they are not trying to solve the same problem. This is something we internally have spent a lot of time talking about and I’m sure the discussion will continue for some time. For the benefit of our customers, we want to figure out the things that can be solved with commoditized technology and those that can’t.

The AMPP platform enables a variety of workflows that easily translate to the many different market segments of live production.

The AMPP platform enables a variety of workflows that easily translate to the many different market segments of live production. Explain the role that artificial intelligence will play in the coming years, in terms of live production? Where will the benefits be most realized?

Cross: This is an area I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, although I’ve not yet come to a firm conclusion. With tasks like asset management, AI is now helping in significant ways. If you can automate speech-to-text transcription across your library of content and then can search and retrieve it in seconds, that’s powerful stuff. You can do face detection, even among media going back 50 years.

Live production is a bit more complicated. It’s tempting to say that “AI systems will be able to choose camera angles without human intervention.” And we’ve all seen it demonstrated, both successfully and not so much. There was a referee during an English football match that was bald and the camera kept confusing his head for the ball. So, here’s the problem. There is always something magical and artistic about how a good producer produces or how a director selects his shots. They know what they are doing, based on their experience. I don’t know that AI can replace that person completely or not.

The realistic answer that I have come to is that we need to look at the true value of AI at the real-world production level and whether that is going to be assisting producers and directors or replacing them. I see at the low end that we’ll see fully automated production with limited crew. The cost-benefit ratio is so high that AI is perfect for that application. But will the Super Bowl ever be produced by an AI system, probably not. Will the producer and director get a lot of help from that AI-assisted system, where it might suggest shot angles but a human must implement them during a moor production, that seems very likely to me. You’ve said that “the media and broadcast industry is on the cusp of a third video revolution on the internet.” Explain.

Cross: Computers became fast enough to do real time video and suddenly what took a lot of expensive hardware became very accessible and affordable to a wide range of people. That happened because consumer markets drove the cost of processing down. It was done for computer gaming, really, but it also made it easy to use systems like Adobe Premiere and Apple Final Cut Pro.

The Internet then took all of those computer systems and allowed them to connect together. Once it got fast enough and compression got good enough, you could allow video and data to flow between those pieces. The fact that they could all talk to each other became more revolutionary than even just the fact that these software pieces could process in real time.

These connections became what I consider the next big thing. It does not matter where that processing is done. That’s why I sometimes hesitate to use the word “cloud.” Because what really matters is that we’ve got an interconnected world where the bandwidth between all of the pieces is high enough that what really is important is that you are not limited by a physical location. It could be done on mobile, in the cloud or on premise. There’s something very disruptive about the flexibility you have for production when it does not matter where it’s done. To me, that is revolutionary and it will lead to totally new ways of working.

So, while I’m calling it the cloud because that’s what everyone else is calling it, it’s really this flexibility of where you even can do the work. It’s going to fundamentally change the way people work, in the same way that IP video did and software processing did before that. I’m convinced that’s the next big thing.

My mission now is to make sure that GV leads in this cloud migration and hopefully bring others along with us so we can lift all boats and allow more people to be able to make more content— which will be great for everyone involved, including consumers watching TV at home.

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