The Ross Video keynote and reception traditionally held the night before the opening of NAB always brings some unexpected announcements from the company. This year’s event was no different, as CEO David Ross charmed a full-house of almost 1000 customers, partners and press, unveiling a number of new products. In addition to the ten new products and significant updates announced last week, David also revealed a number of surprise new developments for NAB 2018.
David Ross showed off new products in the form of the openGear frame, Ultrix IP platform, video image processor, graphics hardware and software, news server, cloud-based MAM, and robotics lift to packed audience. Additionaly, he unveiled a new Ross branding with the tagline: ‘Living Live!’ reflecting a commitment to Live Production.
Stuart Russell, Senior Communications Director at Ross Video, explains the thinking behind the new brand positioning and how Ross Vidoe continues to advance product development and focus on solutions, in an era characterized by hybrid production models.
Digital Studio: Ross Video released an unprecedented number of new products and updates at this year’s NAB show. How was the reaction to the product releases?
Stuart Russell: Thank you! It was one of the busiest shows we’ve ever had in terms of new product launches – more than a dozen new products and significant updates – and that seems to contrast sharply with what was going on elsewhere at NAB. I thought the show was a little disappointing in terms of new products overall. With all the talk of recent vendor consolidation, reduction in customer choice and questions over the ongoing viability of some of the other brands at the show, I think this is exactly the time when customers are looking for strong signals from manufacturers about consistency of approach and product development. I was personally very pleased to see that Ross launched products right across the full breadth of the solutions range and I think that sends a very clear message to the market about our strategy – we’ve consistently said that hybrid production models (IP and SDI) will remain a feature of this industry for a long time to come and we believe that customers shouldn’t be ‘orphaned’ just because their preferred suppliers feel they can make more money from IP-based products. Customer reaction to the new products launched at NAB was very positive; I think customers appreciate that we’re still promoting SDI, especially 12G, and trying to give them upgrade options that don’t require a wholesale change of infrastructure and workflow. We have solutions for the IP-ready, of course, but we also understand that not all customers are quite ready to make that wholesale jump to IP, and so I think its important that we continue to develop products across both SDI and IP at different price points to help as many customers as we can.
DS: Tell us about the strategy behind the new ‘Living Live!’ brand slogan, and the decision to focus on live production workflows?
Russell: Live production is the most exciting part of the broadcast industry, and we consistently hear from customers that they want to get more live news, sports and entertainment into their schedules. The issue has traditionally always been cost – live is more expensive, more complex and more risky than pre-recorded content. One of our key objectives as a company has been to make products that help reduce the cost, the complexity and the risk of live content, making it easier to produce and enabling broadcasters to create more. We got a lot of value from our ‘Production Technology Experts’ slogan and it very neatly encapsulated the ‘what’ of Ross, but I think customers these days are just as interested (if not more so) in the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of a company, so ‘Living Live!’ throws it out there and says “we love the same stuff you do, that is what drives us and we’re living it every day”. If you look around the market today, customers can choose to work with a number of long-established vendors and technology partners selling products that will satisfy their requirements and perform reliably. Let’s be honest, we’d all have gone out of business a long time ago if that wasn’t the case! The upshot of this situation, however, is that customers can sometime struggle to feel that one manufacturer really differs from another. As one of the few private (and family-owned) companies left in the industry, I think Ross has a unique voice and has the opportunity to say ‘we make great products, of course, but we’re still driven by a passion for the content and the technology rather than the balance sheet’.
DS: How was the NAB experience for Ross this year? What is your feedback on this year’s event?
Russell: I’ve seen the official statement from the organisers noting that overall visitor numbers were down a little versus 2017. That said, Ross moved into the South Lower hall this year and we were very busy, so I think it was a very positive experience for us. Yes, of course we’d always like to see a consistent increase in traffic every year, but the timing of Easter this year and the accompanying school holidays may have had an impact on ability to attend. I think we were generally quite happy with the way NAB played out; we had the best-ever turnout at our keynote and reception the evening before the show opened (over 900 customers, partners and media) and that event generated a lot of buzz that we carried through the show. From a selfish perspective, I was busier than ever and definitely noticed an increased media interest in Ross compared to previous years. I’m sure the exciting new product announcements were a large part of that, but our remarkable growth in EMEA over the last couple of years also makes me feel that we’re perhaps reaching some kind of tipping point, and we’re now getting noticed in a way we weren’t previously. That’s obviously very satisfying because we’ve always been very strong as a company in the US and Canada, so it’s great to see the profile rising in other parts of the world.
DS: How has ongoing manufacturer consolidation affected the broadcast industry? Will increasing use of cloud production and software based solutions further drive consolidation?
Russell: Merger and acquisition activity has always been a fact of life in this industry. Any mergers or takeovers that significantly reduce customer choice are obviously concerning, because they inevitably cause uncertainty and doubt in the minds of customers, and that’s not always good for the wider industry. Fundamentally, however, these things are outside of Ross Video’s control and so we can’t devote too much energy to them.
We’re a strong and growing business with a lot of positive messages to share with the market so we’ll keep on focusing on what we’re good at and the rest will take care of itself. In terms of cloud and software-based solutions, the cost of virtualizing productions is still quite high and so I don’t see demand for hardware going away any time soon. Yes, there are some advantages to cloud solutions and we’ve launched a couple of [our] own over the last 12 months, recognizing that some customers may want more of a subscription-based model that lets them scale their operations very flexibly, but we’re probably another ten years away (at least) from a ‘Production as a Service’ cloud-based model.
Software-based solutions are slightly different in the sense that we’re a great believer in Software Defined Production. At Ross, we like the idea of offering customers hardware that can then be upgraded or augmented via software licenses, and we’ve launched a number of new products over the last 12 months that follow this model. Ultrix – our innovative routing/AV processing platform – is a great example. It’s a fully featured router that has a great deal of production horsepower straight out of the box, but all the additional functionality on offer is software enabled so no additional hardware needs to be purchased. That’s a very powerful proposition. To go back to your question, I think we’re definitely going to see an increasing variety of cloud and software-based solutions being offered by vendors and that will require greater collaboration with companies like, for example, Cisco, but I don’t see that further consolidation is an inevitability for those specific reasons. As it happens, I do believe there will be further consolidation, perhaps even before IBC, but I think it will be driven by other, more prosaic concerns.
DS: With the launch of Ultrix IP, do you anticipate a lot more upcoming projects in all-IP facilities? Is the transition to IP accelerating?
Russell: In terms of content creators transitioning to entirely IP-based workflows, I think we have to take a look at the world map and apply a healthy dose of pragmatism. IP has felt like an industry obsession over the last 2-3 years, and companies like Ross should be fully engaged in the debate and developing solutions to meet the needs of customers looking for end-to-end IP workflows. That’s the right and proper thing to do. However, there is sometimes a disconnect between what customers want and what vendors want to sell. David Ross has expressed his concern on a number of occasions about vendors pushing IP as an exclusive cure-all, when in fact it’s not always the right choice for customers and certainly not the only way to achieve agility. We do need to be pragmatic and remember that IP is not yet a priority for thousands of customers around the world, and their business should be just as valid to vendors as anyone else’s. if anything, I sense a growing sense of frustration among customers that vendors are not offering cost-effective upgrade paths based on existing hardware and that’s dangerous territory. In my experience, customers want options rather than being offered a single path.
Ultrix IP was announced at NAB and we’re working hard to announce a shipping date just before IBC. Ultrix is a really cool platform and we’re finding that customers really appreciate the flexibility it offers. It’s like a Swiss Army knife for infrastructure, providing routing, clean/quiet switching, audio embedding/de-embedding, MultiViewers and a lot more. The decision to offer Ultrix IP was based on my comment above about customer focus; we have the ability to move Ultrix into the IP domain and offer all of its key features to customers who want that IP-led solution, without negatively impacting any customers who are happily using Ultrix in the SDI domain. Again, its all about options and flexibility.
DS: After a record year of growth, how does Ross plan to keep the momentum going?
Russell: I’ve been with the company for 5 years now, and the changes I have seen in that time have been amazing. I think David Ross has made some very astute acquisitions, and has also brought in highly talented and experienced senior executives and given them room to express themselves. No company is perfect and the rapid expansion we’ve experienced (especially in EMEA) can sometimes cause growing pains, but the culture is strong and the emphasis is always on doing the right thing by the customer. I think if we continue to focus on product quality and customer service, success should hopefully continue. As David always says, “we’re the good guys!”
DS: Which areas of the business do you expect will grow fastest?
Russell: Tough question, because growth across products does seem to vary from year to year so can be hard to predict. Robotics and automation continue to be strong areas for us – OverDrive is indisputably the industry’s preferred choice for production automation with over 400 international deployments – and it would be great to see more customers in the Middle East embracing automation. Switchers and graphics consistently exceed our expectations and the Carbonite doesn’t look like it’s going to be moved from its position as the world’s most popular midsize switcher anytime soon.
Ultrix is such an innovative and disruptive product that I’m sure it will be a big seller for us this year and I’m very pleased to see the Abkeas range of video servers, replay systems and profanity delay solutions doing so well since we acquired the company in 2016. I should also mention that we launched a couple of new solutions for the sports/stadium market this year so we’ve got high hopes for those internationally.
DS: What is your outlook for the Middle East market? Any specific plans or projects you can tell us about?
Russell: We’re generally very positive about the Middle East and we’ve seen consistent growth in the region despite not being one of the better-known brands. That’s partly because we have one of the broadest product ranges in the industry and I think customers like the convenience of being able to procure so much from one single vendor. At the same time, some of the other players in the region have been downsizing their presence and that does not go unnoticed by customers, so our profile is as positive as it has ever been.
Without going into specific plans, we’re definitely reaching the point where additional resource is going to be required and we’re looking very broadly at how we’re set up in the Middle East. As many people know, our regional sales manager now lives in Dubai and that has been an important statement in terms of proving our commitment to the region.
We also chose to launch the new Ultrix-FR5 at CABSAT this year – a big move from Ross that underlines how we feel about the importance of the Middle East. It’s a vibrant region with great ambition and that definitely strikes a chord with us.