SVG Sit-Down: TVU Networks’ Eric Chang and Dan Sorensen on Distribution Through IP Transmission

IP transmission continues to shake up the broadcast industry, altering the workflows of major media organizations and opening up new opportunities for smaller content creators. TVU Networks has spent the past decade servicing news and sports broadcasting with its TVUPack family of mobile IP transmission backpacks. However, with the development of one of its newest offerings, TVU Grid, the company has changed its direction a bit.

TVU Grid is an IP video-distribution, routing, and switching solution that enables broadcasters to switch live IP video content and share live video streams with multiple remote locations. It significantly reduces satellite time and fiber needs by using the public Internet to move video content quickly.

SVG caught up with TVU Networks’ Eric Chang, VP of marketing, and Dan Sorensen, senior marketing communications manager, in the company’s Silicon Valley offices to discuss how IP transmission is moving the needle for its sports clients.

TVU Networks’ Dan Sorensen (left) and Eric Chang

TVU Networks’ Dan Sorensen (left) and Eric Chang

What’s the latest at TVU Networks? How have the backpacks evolved, and where are we now in terms of this technology as NAB 2015 gets closer?
Eric Chang: We started out as kind of a cellular-backpack provider.  That’s a big part of our business, and that’s what our customers know. But, over the past year, we’ve really moved towards a direction that we see a lot of broadcasters going, and I think it’s not just the news broadcasters but the sports broadcasters —the Web guys have always been there —[moving] towards IP-based technology. I think people have started to realize, in the broadcast industries, that the public Internet is a place where you can do a lot of things very cost-effectively, do it very quickly. That’s where everything is really moving, and we’re hearing that very, very clearly from all of our customers, regardless of the types of industries or business that they’re in.

To that degree, all of our equipment has always been IP-based — that’s what we know, IP video — and what we’ve done is roll in things like TVU Grid, which we announced a year ago. It’s really about distribution of video: taking assets that you acquire in the field and then being able to share that, wherever it may be, with multiple stations or with Web or TV audience or anything of that nature. You really knock down the boundaries, and so we’re continuing to move in that direction where we’re now getting very involved in workflow and IP-based workflow.

Again, a lot of broadcasters are taking their legacy systems [and] not necessarily making a full transition to IP-based but doing them in sections: they’ll take one piece at a time and move towards that. Basically, all of our stuff is designed to make that easy for them, so [they] can do it in a very sectional way, not suddenly jettisoning millions of dollars of equipment invested in over years. [They] do it in a very systematic fashion.

Traditionally, you work with broadcast stations, but, to focus on the sports side, you have started working a lot with professional teams, college programs, and venues. Those clients have offered you interesting new opportunities. What kinds of teams are you working with, and how are they using TVU equipment?
Dan Sorensen:
From a team and a sports perspective, we’re seeing a lot of growth. They’ve already got this following, and they are looking for ways to capture these audiences. They’re looking for ways to monetize video content to give additional revenue streams. So they’re turning to us because, [for] a lot of these venues that they’re going from or the things that they’re doing, they need a mobile solution, where they can stream video from any location, distribute it to wherever.

We’re seeing lots of different professional teams from MLS, NBA, NFL, and Major League Baseball, the big leagues looking to create more video content. They’ve got these rabid fan bases, these people that want to be engaged with the team, and so they’re looking for ways to give them more access, to drive more eyeballs to their Web properties. They’re using us a lot in those ways, whether it be from Spring Training for Major League Baseball, or whether there’s another type of event, like a fanfest they’re looking to stream or the charity golf tournament that they do a live show from with interviews. Any way that they can get deeper fan engagement, they’re looking to do that.

We’re also seeing teams looking to have a deeper engagement with the media in their regions. The [NBA’s] New Orleans Pelicans are using TVU Grid. They’ll use a TVUPack to stream live video to their Website, but, simultaneously, they’ll use their TVU Grid setup to distribute live video to seven call-letter stations and the newspaper property in New Orleans, nola.com. They’re able to send coach interviews, shoot-around footage, those sorts of things to the call-letter stations. Where those outlets wouldn’t necessarily send a photographer to the event, they’re able to get coverage for that event and deepen their relationships. News directors love it because they can get more using fewer resources. The teams love it because, from a PR perspective, any coverage is good coverage, and, as you increase your coverage, it leads to more revenue, more exposure for the franchise.

TVU Grid is still a relatively new, young system, and it’s interesting that your clients are already finding cool ways to use it to increase their exposure. What’s the general feeling about how TVU Grid has grown so far, are you pleased with where it is, and where would you like to see it go in the future?
Chang:
We’re very pleased because our customers are very happy with it. We have customers that have deployed it here in the U.S. as well as internationally, and the great feedback we’re getting is that it is literally being used to replace some of the more traditional infrastructure, which was more expensive. The Grid has actually allowed them to be a lot more cost-effective but increases their flexibility and the types of things that they can do to share the video with a lot of their different stations. We get a lot of inquiry and a lot of interest in having that deployed, again, globally, and we just expect that Grid will continue to be a big, strong part of our future.

Sorensen: We’re seeing major customers using the Grid to replace, like Eric said, their infrastructure. For example: the Super Bowl. We had a major broadcast group in the U.S. that, rather than using satellite time to send feeds to each of their stations throughout the country, had several teams using TVUPack to stream things back to a central location and use Grid to basically stream out the video live or even [enable] people to pull it on demand. We’re talking press conferences and pre- and post-game things and just the general activities of the craziness that is Super Bowl Week. They did it without using a second of [satellite] time; it was all over the Internet infrastructure.

They were able to streamline their workflow and do it in a much more cost-effective way. And it was instantaneous: the click of a button, and a station can do that. So we’re seeing that, more and more frequently for big events, these large, major broadcasters are using Grid to replace dedicated fiber lines, which are very expensive, [and] satellite links, which can be expensive.

It takes 15 minutes to [transmit via satellite]; 15 minutes in broadcast is an eternity. So they’re changing their entire workflow and the way that they do things. They’re streamlining things, and it’s all due to TVU Grid.

Let’s talk a little about NAB 2015. What can attendees look forward to seeing from you guys at the show?
Chang:
Some surprises, for sure. Every year since 2011 — our first NAB, where we showed our first kind of mobile cellular backpack — we’ve launched or unveiled something that we consider to be very different and kind of disruptive, in some cases, in terms of how things are being done. And this year will be no different.

Of course, we’ll be displaying, as usual, our award-winning mobile cellular devices. There’s been a lot of improvements to them; we’ll be demonstrating that to our customers. But we’ll have some new stuff to show them around that, and then we also will have something new that will extend the idea of sharing video, how to share that video and how to do it differently than it’s being done today and even more effectively.

I think you will hear at NAB a lot of the talk about IP. The stuff that we’re doing is really just going to be an extension along IP and IP-based transmission of video.

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