Audio Global Viewpoint – August 2022

Open-Source Opportunities

One of the interesting challenges we face with open-source code is understanding how vendors can monetize it. Other than just wrapping the code as part of a larger product, is there a better alternative?

Over the last ten years or so, broadcasters have started to employ professional procurement departments. Instead of just shaking hands over a good lunch and agreeing a new product development with an innovative vendor, commissioning engineers must now go through the whole procurement process. This clearly has advantages for the broadcaster such as guaranteeing value for money (which stretches beyond engineering requirements), support, and longevity of supply. However, all this extra red tape can cause innovators new to the industry a real headache, to the point where the barrier to entry just becomes too big.

I understand why broadcasters have gone down this path and to a greater extent it reflects the transition our industry has experienced. No longer is broadcasting a collection of cottage industries but is now an industrialised supply chain and procurement departments are a part of this model.

There is a downside to industrialisation and that is smaller boutique companies, who have been responsible for massive innovation in the past, simply do not have the resources to operate in this environment. Consequently, the industry is in danger of becoming dominated by a few multimillion-dollar international businesses. Although such businesses have brought untold stability to the industry and continue to deliver new and interesting products and services, history has demonstrated some of the left-field innovation has come from small businesses where the principal proprietors had a bright idea one day.

Ideas of this nature often don’t fit well with the corporate model, they’re generally just too risky and don’t comply with the current business direction. I believe this is a short thinking strategy and any CEO finding themselves in such a position should read Christensen’s “The Innovators Dilemma”, but the harsh reality is that left-field ideas often don’t even reach the drawing board, never mind get off it again.

Paradoxically, giving away open-source code may be the small businesses entry to delivering innovative and forward-thinking products into our industry. As I understand, one of the concerns of procurement is making sure the product can be supported and although small businesses have usually excelled in this (because if they didn’t, they would be dead in the water), providing the code for the product on an open forum is key to quickly demonstrating an ability to deliver on longevity and support.

But still, you may ask “how do we make money if we’re giving the product away?”. Well, I believe this mode of thought is fundamentally flawed as the product is much more than the code. It’s the people who came up with the idea in the first place, and it’s the community that engages with the design that deliver the passion for future development, that is, an ideal not just driven by money. Entire successful businesses have grown from supporting and validating open-source code, so there is certainly a profit to be made.

Corporates are key to the success of our industry as they have brought stability and inspiration. But it’s often the smaller business, the engineer burning the midnight oil delivering their passion, that will benefit from open source. And if they benefit, then we all benefit. Hoorah for the penguin!