Imagine Communications' main R&D facility in Toronto, Canada will host one of the new IC Labs.
Operating within an increasingly competitive marketplace, manufacturers of broadcast equipment have had to get creative in how they attract and interact with their customers. The goal is to get closer to the buyer and help them make the tough technology choices broadcasters and others are going to have to make as they transition to a future that looks very different from the broadcast facility of 20 years ago.
While many companies serving this industry have tried unique things like regional road shows, in-house training and on-site instruction on new products, others, like Imagine Communications, have sought to involve third-party companies that might have technology or workflow strategies complementary to its own and launched new “industry wide” initiatives that help ease customers fears of equipment incompatibility among different manufacturers.
In an effort to get the industry working on the same page (and towards the same goal of seamless operations) to support the next-generation facilities that will most certainly include technology from many different vendors—while also continuing to support its self-serving sales efforts—the company helped launch the Alliance for IP Media Solutions (AIMS) group, an IP initiative originally launched by Imagine, Grass Valley, Lawo and Snell Advanced Media. In just over a year, the organization has grown to include well over 50 members.
The company’s newest service offering along these lines is a series of Imagine Communications (IC) Labs, to be situated in existing sales offices in Toronto, Denver, New York, and the UK. These IC Labs will be overseen by industry veteran Peter Riordan, who recently the company from Encompass Digital Media (a company that specializes in virtualized playout and centralized master control facilities) and will offer both customers and third-party vendors a chance to experiment with new technologies and how they interoperate with one another. Riordan will be responsible for implementing best practices and managing next-generation engagements, including AIMS partner interoperability testing on a global basis.
The Toronto location is Image’s main R&D location and will be up and running sooner than the others, but the plan is to have all IC Lab locations open for testing by April, 2017. Initially, the technology being tested will come from AIMS group members, but the labs will also be used for hands-on testing of other new technologies, like implementing 4K, social media, ATSC 3.0 and virtual reality (VR).
Imagine CPO Brick Eksten said the facility of the future will require technology from many vendors that works together seamlessly.
“Our customers are clamoring for information on all of the emerging technologies and are asking a lot of questions that can only be answered through hands-on experience with the various technologies and how our products interoperate with third-party products,” said Brick Eksten, Chief Product Officer at Imagine Communications. “This last point is extremely important, as the facility of the future will require technology from many vendors working together seamlessly in order for broadcasters to be successful.”
He said at all of the IC Lab locations, product managers and broadcast engineers would be jointly looking at new software integration, virtualization technology, and new types of multi-platform workflows.
“Right now we have customers looking at testing proprietary storage, and others interested in next-generation cloud-based storage,” Eksten said. “How are they going to be able to experiment with the technology when it’s not fully developed yet? How are we, as Imagine, going to interact with these customers, and help them achieve their goals, if they don’t have a lab? That’s the real question that the IC labs hope to solve.”
Imagine sees the new labs as a great way for its customers to test ideas and compatibility between product solutions. Right now, there are limited testing sites (and very few broadcasters have R&D labs like they did in the old days). As broadcasters begin to learn more about virtualization and how they want to integrate software into their environments, and as they begin to think about more advanced topics like the implementation of ATSC 3.0, they need a road map. That’s what Eksten said these IC Labs are designed to do: help customers and vendors find cost-effective and reliable solutions for all types of applications.
“We have a lot of third party partners that we are integrating with,” he said. “It’s all coming to a head and there’s a real need for everyone—vendors and customers alike—to collaborate at a deep whenever possible. We want to make sure that all of our products interact with others out there so customers can make the most informed technology choices. What we’re doing is giving customers a way to experiment and play around with all of the technology they desire.”
Eksten added, “Frankly, it’s a way for [Imagine Communications] to learn from our customers’ proposed solutions and workflow designs, make them practical for daily use, and then share this information with the rest of the industry.
Like the AIMS Initiative, he added, “we needed a place for everybody to collaborate and get on the same page and then share those results with those involved or others that might be interested in a new way for working that takes advantage of COTs hardware and other cost-effective, remotely located solutions.”
So in the end, initiatives like Imagine’s new IC Labs are a great way for its customers to get up close and personal with newer technologies offered by Imagine (and others). It also provides a faster path to market, reducing the time it takes to validate, integrate and deploy next-generation technology solutions. You could call it a win-win for everyone involved.
“There is a commercial aspect to this, largely about promoting our products, technologies and workflows,” Eksten said, “but it’s as beneficial for customers as it is for us.”
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