SVG Sit-Down: The Switch’s Keith Buckley Spreads the Gospel of the Company’s New Era
More than a transmission network, The Switch is becoming a full-service provider
It’s an intriguing time of change at one of the sports-video production’s longtime tech powers: The Switch. These days, the company is expanding on its traditional role as owner and provider of a deeply rich transmission network and is spreading the word that it has bulked up to a full-service content supplier.
The industry has long turned to The Switch for its reliable network, but, to continue to stay at the top of the competition, the company is looking to layer on services to boost value. Those services include The Switch At-Home, The Switch OTT, and The Switch Access.
SVG recently caught up with President/CEO Keith Buckley, who assumed that title last summer, to examine these new services and discuss what it has been like adjusting to his new role and evangelizing for the company’s new direction.
What was your assessment of NAB 2018? Do you get the opportunity to roam the halls, and, if so, what did you learn?
This year was unique in that almost 100% of my time was spent focusing on customers due to their interest in what we are doing. It was a big year for The Switch because we announced new products, a new structure, and a new way that we are marketing The Switch. It’s our new holistic approach to our service offerings. A lot of my time at the show was spent speaking with customers about those changes and how we were now going to market and what the value proposition was for all of the products that we have in our portfolio now.
How challenging are those talks? You guys, obviously, have a reputation for your transmission network. How, as a company, do you approach a change to that overall messaging and explain that you are more than that now?
That’s been the fun part since I’ve come on. The Switch has this phenomenally solid, low-latency, very high-reliability transport network, and we’ve been known for that for a very long time. Within our company’s history, we’ve also acquired companies like Hughes Television Network (HTN) and built out a very high-touch, high-service offering for live sports production and the transmission related to that. We’ve acquired Pacific Television Center [PacTV], which is, again, very high-touch international transmission studio production and master-control–room operations. Also, we acquired the broadcast assets of KCET, a public broadcaster in Los Angeles, which gave us a very large footprint for production studios and master-control–room operations on the West Coast to be building out our at-home, shared-services production facilities. We’re taking all of those things and basically leveraging this incredibly solid network offering that we have and layering on these additional services that give us a very strong service to offer in the industry.
What has this experience been like for you? You are not quite at a year at the company. How does this challenge compare with some of the other stops that you’ve made in your career?
I’ve known The Switch for a very long time. A lot of the companies that I have run over the years have had relationships with The Switch in various ways. We have some great talent in the company from a technology perspective, from a customer-relations perspective, and from a general–service-provision perspective. So, for me, stepping in has been great because I knew I had a very solid foundation in the staff and the operations to build off of. Then comes the opportunity to make my mark and to take the company in the direction that we think it needs to go. It’s a lot easier when you have things that are solid underneath rather than having to build from scratch. So, for me, it has been an excellent opportunity.
In terms of directions, the two that have been prioritized — at least as related to the sports market — are at-home production and OTT distribution. To start with the at-home part, how does The Switch fit into this growth segment of the business? It’s undoubtedly permeating throughout the industry. So how does The Switch play a role in it?
The starting point is that, in order to do at-home productions, you need to bring back to your production facility — wherever that is — a significant amount of content. [With] a network like The Switch’s, we automatically have the ability to move a lot of content in whatever format our customers want to have it backhauled. We’re in an ideal position because we have this network and we can do the highest-quality camera feeds back over our DTM network to ensure all of the cameras are running the same route and not having any latency issues. The Switch network is a great place to start for at-home production. Then, when you add to that our facilities that sit in our network-operations centers, we are in a very secure and solid environment to be able to offer those services because we can build those production facilities within our transmission network. It’s all in the same infrastructure.
As for OTT, The Switch can help aggregate content and push it over the network and create customized solutions for your clients. Is that approach different because it’s on the distribution side and not the backend-transmission side? What’s your play in OTT?
It is a different position for us, taking it on to the distribution piece, but the fact is that there is tons and tons of content in any given event running through our facilities. So for us to simply take on another line out, if you will, for encoding and transcoding before handing off to a CDN, it’s actually a pretty simple and seamless way for us to do this. I think our offerings within that space will continue to grow over the next few years, and I think [that’s because] things are so well integrated into both the contribution and the distribution network.
And how about The Switch Access? What exactly does this bring to the table?
The one thing that people tend to focus on as a value of The Switch is that we have connectivity into, give or take, 180 professional-sports venues in North America and 800 premier program producers in the world, and people really like having access to that Switch community. We launched this product that basically allows anyone in the world, to access The Switch network in the same managed fashion as we do today simply by using the internet with one of our Switch Access devices. From a sports perspective, if you have a very remote sports production, a one-time event, but you want to have access to us and have access to all of the customers that are tied to The Switch community, you can do it. We can set you up on a moment’s notice and have the ability to still leverage the community. That product has really taken off for us, and I think it’s going to be a strong growth lever for us as we continue to expand our offerings throughout the world.