SVG Sit-Down: The Switch President/CEO Eric Cooney on the Future of At-Home Production

The video-transmission–services provider sees an expanding its production-services portfolio

In April, The Switch named media-technology stalwart Eric Cooney president/CEO. Having previously served as CEO of Tandberg Television, Internap, and Snell Advanced Media, he is looking to grow not only The Switch’s established video-transmission–services sector but also its up-and-coming production-services offering.

Under Cooney, The Switch has also continued its push into the at-home-production market, announcing last week that it is expanding its The Switch At-Home service with the launch of an additional at-home–production facility in Burbank, CA. This is the latest extension of the company’s at-home–production portfolio, which it launched in 2015 and boosted by acquiring the Burbank facility in 2017.

The Switch’s Eric Cooney: “We feel production services is a natural extension of our video-transmission services.”

SVG sat down with Cooney to discuss the Burbank expansion and the push into at-home–production services; how he sees next-gen technologies like 5G, video-over-IP, and the cloud impacting the company’s growth; The Switch’s continued momentum in the production-services side of the business; the rapid growth in its list of esports customers; and his first few months at his new post.

What do you see as the primary market drivers affecting The Switch’s business in the coming years?
5G is a big one. As a video-transmission–services provider, The Switch is keenly interested in a next-generation wireless network technology that can facilitate significant bandwidth for video-transmission services. So we are interested in that and looking at technology partners that can help us integrate and adopt 5G as part of our transmission-services platform. Since we are a managed-service provider — not a technology developer in our own right — we look out in the universe and endeavor to select best-in-class technologies and partners that we can build into our platform and deliver as a managed service. 5G clearly fits in that category

Video over IP is another big driver. The world is pretty clearly — albeit, in some cases, slowly — moving to an all-IP implementation. There are clear benefits in terms of costs, workflow flexibility, and interoperability, so that’s a relevant macro driver for The Switch’s world.

We also see more demand for multiplatform distribution, [in which] customers can produce once and manage transmission to every platform. Our esports customers know how to [distribute] an esports event onto Twitch or various OTT online platforms, but they are less clear when it comes to getting their content onto Turner or ESPN for linear broadcasts because the language that linear speaks is different from the language OTT speaks. Similarly, the linear broadcasters are looking to produce once and repurpose their content to multiple distribution platforms. We definitely see an opportunity for a service provider to help navigate those waters in both directions.

The final point is live cloud production. Increasingly, there are opportunities for centralized production or production-as-a-service in the TV-production world. We’re clearly not in the world of AWS on-demand production per se, but we are definitely moving in that direction. And The Switch is definitely making significant investments in terms of our production-as-a-service offering.

You mentioned the potential of 5G. in what ways are you helping clients sift through the noise and make decisions about their 5G future right now?
The Switch provides a platform for the production and global transmission of live video. What we are endeavoring to do as a managed-service provider is abstract our customers from the underlying technologies so they don’t have to worry about how their content is getting there, just that it is getting there. Ultimately, our customers shouldn’t need to ask; all they need to know is, I get it to them with the level of quality and reliability they expect.

The 5G conversations that we’re having are more in their infancy and focused on how we are expecting to architect our network, technologies we may use, and partners we may use to help us deliver that solution. We want to keep our finger on the pulse of some of the immediate applications and use cases we are seeing today, but, again, our initial focus is more about the implications for 5G in terms of delivering on our vision and abstracting our customers from needing to worry about the underlying technology.

What are the main areas of focus and investment right now for The Switch to help drive revenue growth and profitability in the future?
Today, roughly 80% of our total company revenue is derived from transmission services, and roughly 20% is derived from production services. In terms of the global market outlook, the revenue from video-transmission services is expected to be relatively flat. So, when I look forward in terms of projections, it’s all about driving growth from the production services. Given that, we are making some major investments in production infrastructure — such as control rooms, studios, and master-control facilities — in particular in Burbank. We also have facilities in both New York and London.

In terms of specific customer segments, we are going to drive growth in particular from esports and enterprise. The esports and enterprise are relatively new customer segments for The Switch and already delivering quite significant traction for us.

International growth outside of North American domestic, which is where we kind of grew up, is also key, and we are doing that through partnerships. For example, we have a bunch of network nodes in China vis-à-vis relationships we’ve put in place with, principally, China Unicom, as well as China Telecom and PCCW, that are affording us network access into the Chinese market. Similarly, MTI, who offers connectivity pretty ubiquitously across the German market, is working with us.

Through these relationships, The Switch helps enable rightsholders outside North America to leverage The Switch’s access to North American content and, conversely, North American rightsholders to bring international content back to North America for distribution domestically.

The final [growth initiative] is really about the capex investment. We’re investing heavily to build out, initially, our Burbank production facility. The expectation is, as we continue to be successful in that market, we will continue to expand within the L.A. Metro market, as well as in New York, London, and potentially new geographic markets— all driven by customer demand ultimately.

You mentioned that esports has been a growth vertical for you. How much have you seen transmission demands in that sector grow in the past couple of years?
Esports has been growing over 100% in terms of year-over-year revenue growth. And, while that’s starting from a relatively small number, our sales pipeline and customer conversations tell us quite clearly that we can expect that esports customer segment to continue to grow well over 100% year over year for the next several years. Thus far, our esports revenue has been derived mainly from our transmission services, but, going forward, we expect a healthy mix of transmission services and production services.

We’ve definitely felt that we needed to be better equipped to sell into the esports community, so hiring a guy like [VP, Gaming,] Charlie Conroy, who has great relationships in esports, to handle business development has been invaluable. We are then able to get our sales engineers and network engineers in front of the esports customers to understand their requirements, because, obviously, many of their transmission and production requirements differ significantly relative to our traditional broadcast customer segment.

How do you see at-home production fitting into your core business, and how are you looking to better serve this rapidly growing trend?
We feel production services is a natural extension of our video-transmission services. Over the past few decades, we have gained the trust and confidence of customers as a services provider carrying the content that is the core essence of their business with 24/7 NOC support, reliability, performance. It’s a natural extension for us to take that customer confidence and extend our services to wrap in production services.

Let me give you an example of the type of contract we are now pursuing and winning. One of the recent wins was for a 10-game package of college-football content, half of which will be produced [via at-home production]. We’re providing the video-transmission services for all 10 games and backhauling some of those games to our Burbank production facility, producing out of that facility, and then handing off the produced content back to the rightsholder for ultimate distribution. We are providing all of the above-the-line as well as below-the-line crew and all of the production services to the customer-specified requirements.

Similarly, for the other half of the games, [which] the customer desired to do with traditional production, we are renting a production truck from one of the [mobile-unit] suppliers, obtaining the crew above the line and below the line, and producing a finished product. We are leveraging our transmission services as part of the package but also providing all the production services. Our goal is just to deliver production and transmission as managed services for our customer base.

Can you detail The Switch’s expansion of its Burbank facility a bit more and how you see it benefiting your customers?
We’re extremely excited about the expansion of that facility. We already have studios and control rooms there, and now we’re building out our third control room in that facility with latest and greatest technologies, including Grass Valley router, Calrec audio console, EVS replay, [the ability to] support 32 cameras, and more.

As I said, approximately 20% of total company revenue comes from production services, so we’re not newly in that business, but we are certainly expanding our existing capabilities and increasing our capacity. We are winning business from some marquee companies, as well as starting to see strong traction in esports. We started there with transmission services and now really like what we’re seeing in terms of opportunities for production services in the esports arena as well. This isn’t a ‘build it and they will come’ scenario, this is a ‘we’ve got to build it in order to keep up with the demand’ scenario.

How have your first few months as CEO gone? What have been some highlights?
It has been very positive so far. I have been most impressed with the staff we employ at The Switch. The team is undoubtedly some of the hardest-working, dedicated, and knowledgeable staff in the industry. Further, our customers have recognized those characteristics, and, in many cases, that hard-won reputation now precedes us in new sales opportunities. We have a remarkable team, and, taken in combination with our key asset, the high-performance network for access and delivery of live content, I’m enthusiastic about the opportunity to deliver growth for the business.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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