NAB 2017

NAB Reflections: CEO Chris Walters on Encompass’s Burgeoning OTT Business

New partnerships help position the company as a digital-services provider

Encompass Digital Media made multiple big partner announcements at NAB 2017, including a new expanded multiplatform distribution deal with LGBTQ-oriented–content provider Here Media and a major role in the first-ever live 4K stream from space and in distribution of the NASA TV UHD network. In addition, Encompass continues to position itself as a digital/streaming-services provider in addition to its established footprint in the linear television market.

SVG sat down with Encompass CEO Chris Walters to discuss the Here Media and NASA announcements, how the company is evolving as an OTT-services provider (and how he’s working to grow awareness of those services), and how he sees IP distribution growing in the coming years.

Encompass’s Chris Walters: “We believe it’s inevitable that IP distribution will take more and more market share.”

Can you tell me a bit about the expanded partnership with Here Media that you announced here at the show?
As a company, we have a major focus on digital [distribution], and Here Media is a great early example of Encompass delivering a full end-to-end digital solution. Here Media wanted a consumer-facing offering. We managed the entire solution and partnered with Kaltura on the OVP [online video platform] portion, and we found the right partners on the CDN side. Here Media is in a great position serving their market niche, and they have a very cool collection of apps and web experiences for both ad-supported content and a premium subscription offering.

Since you took over as CEO in 2015, Encompass has been pushing for growth in the digital and OTT area. How would you grade those efforts thus far?
I’d say we’re a solid B. What I would love to have said for an A is, there are 10 other really big announcements for full end-to-end OTT solutions. The reality is, we’ve had a number of very positive wins in the space, and we’ve gone down the path exactly as I [envisioned], meaning we have productized a lot of the things that we do and built the right ecosystem of partners. I feel like we are exceptionally competitive and are highly likely to win a number of really big deals over the coming year. We’re already winning a number of medium-size opportunities in the digital space, and, once we start winning those big ones, I can give us an A.

Our biggest barrier is awareness, because we are thought of as a television-service provider. Every single media organization has digital needs, and I believe it’s easier for them to work with a party that they’re already working with [on the linear side] to deliver on them, as long we can deliver reliably. And we can.

I really think, for us, it’s about the perception change for business. The things that we can do for sports [entities] are as broad and comprehensive as anybody in the market — in terms of the suite of services and the geographies covered. And we’re only getting better with our integrated digital proposals as we continue to productize our services and deliver them in a more consistent fashion. We already support most of the major leagues and broadcasters, so we’re in a unique position to sports organizations’ lives simpler across television and digital.

On the 4K front, tell us a bit about Encompass’s role in the launch of the new NASA TV UHD channel?
We are very excited to be part of this. Here at the show, we are part of the first live 4K stream from space. The feed is coming right from the International Space Station to the convention center.

We have managed many of the complexities out of the system, and we will be delivering a 24/7 4K channel for NASA. Therefore, we’re ready to go with anybody else who wants it. The market demand, though, is just not there for a 24/7 channel. Right now, we’re seeing real demand only for 4K in sports and event-based content.

Do you see the demand for IP distribution of live sports productions growing, and how does that impact the satellite and fiber sector?
We’ve been doing IP distribution forever and are in a great position as sports networks start to look at that. We believe it’s inevitable that IP distribution will take more and more market share. The fact is that, today, the reliability and cost-effectiveness of satellite when you’re going to many different points still makes a ton of sense. But IP will continue to pick up more and more share. It’s a simple economic analysis: as satellite capacity and fiber costs come down and IP costs are more modest, you just have to look at the number of points that you’re delivering to and see what the cost tradeoff is. Everyone’s asking that question, and it’s a meaningful trend moving forward. But I don’t expect IP to be the primary distribution means for any of the highest-value events anytime soon.