Adtec Digital Celebrates 30 Years
It all began on Sept. 12, 1985, when three friends attending Tennessee Tech University had an idea for an automated VCR controller. Fast forward to today, and those three friends — Ron Johnson, André Ancelin, and David Cook — continue to be involved in the company they founded 30 years ago: Adtec Digital.
“When we all graduated, we got together and made our company — just went down to the state of Tennessee and incorporated — and came to market with our first product,” explains Johnson, who currently serves as president (Ancelin is VP/CTO, Cook is corporate secretary). “We called it the Active Broadcasting System, and it was our first commercially successful product.”
In those days, Adtec Digital — then called Adtec Productions Inc. because, laughs Johnson, “it just sounded good” — operated out of Johnson’s dining room. After Adtec moved out of Johnson’s house, the next step was the Nashville Incubation Center — a program developed jointly by Tennessee State University and Tennessee Valley Authority to support and grow fledgling businesses — where Adtec had access to office space and support from university professors.
According to Johnson, the Active Broadcasting System was a multichannel VCR-control device that enabled character generators to play between programs.
“Let’s say you were playing a program that started at 8:00 and ended at 8:20,” he explains. “The character generator would automatically come on until the next scheduled program. We were the first ones to make a device to do that.”
Before getting into the TV-broadcast market, Adtec found success with hospitals and universities that needed a way to switch between long-form programming. At that point, the company enhanced the product’s capabilities to control a wider range of VCRs and launched a commercial single-channel ad inserter that could pick up on the dual-tone multifrequency signals embedded in many cable-networks’ signal (the tones leading into the iconic “This is CNN” being a prime example).
As television networks looked to play programs in a more automated way, Adtec responded with its first embedded digital video player and a digital ad inserter before breaking into one of the company’s most successful market segments: encoders.
“One of the things people had a need to do was get content from point A to point B; from the transmitter at one point to the studio at another. That pushed us to develop some encoders and decoders,” says Johnson. “The digital video players we were making were also streaming decoders, so, when we made the encoder, we really had an end-to-end solution. We could encode content and send it across a network and decode it on the other side.”
Meanwhile, Adtec had outgrown the Nashville Incubation Center and moved into a larger facility in Nashville. In the mid 1990s, Adtec expanded to Jacksonville, FL, where it now boasts a 20,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility. Today, the company employs more than 60 staffers and maintains offices in Nashville, Jacksonville, Miami, and Orlando, as well as in Brazil and the UK
In the past 30 years, Johnson notes, the advent of AVC/MPEG-4 — and, subsequently, the company’s EN-91 ultra-low-delay MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 encoder — was a real milestone. “I think it’s safe to say we provided probably the first successful commercial use of AVC in the contribution broadcast marketplace,” he says. “There were some others out there, but we kind of got some of the big networks to use it. They had an infrastructure with MPEG-2 — their test equipment, their encoding equipment, everything was MPEG-2 — so to go to MPEG-4 was an investment, but it was one that proved worthwhile for many of our customers because of the saving in bandwidth.”
Adtec continues to focus on digital ad insertion, including a new multichannel product on display at IBC2015, encoders, video players, and more. Other plans for the show in Amsterdam include support for OTT applications via the company’s new EN-200 encoder, the RD-71 10-bit 1080p receiver, and RD-31 multi-codec decoder. “The industry is moving to do more OTT applications,” he says, “and these products allow it.”
Looking forward to the next 30 years, Johnson has his eye on HEVC. “We know that’s coming,” he says. “We’re working on products using HEVC, and we’re trying to provide products that provide a better user interface and a better experience for our customers. Our focus has always been to provide really good service — we think that’s important — so we’re going to continue to try and do that.”