The chief executive of Imagine Communications and Gates Air on splitting the company in two and the similarities between TV and the telecoms industry
Charlie Vogt put his stamp on Harris Broadcast in March, when the Harris moniker was dropped and the company was split into Imagine Communications and Gates Air.
Appointed in July last year, Vogt joined Harris from software and infrastructure firm Genband, and his pedigree is clear in the changes he instigated at the broadcast equipment firm.
At the time of the split, he said that although Imagine and Gates Air shared common customers, they “innovate on different ends of the technology spectrum”.
According to Vogt, the future of the media and entertainment markets will be defined by IP, software, the cloud and TV everywhere, and splitting the company (Harris acquired OTT and mobile video technology firm Imagine Communications in January this year) will allow them to focus more closely on their areas of expertise.
Vogt ruffled a few feathers when he spoke at the IABM annual conference at the end of last year, when he suggested that the broadcast equipment sector could learn some important lessons from the telecoms industry.
But for Vogt, the future of the vendor sector is clear. “Somebody said it seems like I came back from the future, and it feels like I have seen this movie play out once already. In the late 1990s, the telecoms industry was trying to embrace IP as enabling technology when the traditional TDM infrastructure was the prevalent means of how voice and data was developed.
“It took a decade to get to a place where there was mass adoption of IP as a protocol,” says Vogt. What that meant for the telecoms sector, Vogt says, was a faster and more flexible means to get to market; lower-cost infrastructure; and software and hardware firms could develop on a standard platform.
Vogt says that as in telecoms, there will be early adopters: large networks that see the value of IP and getting content to private or public cloud as quickly as they can. Smaller broadcasters will also adopt, he says, because there may be less risk. But a band of broadcasters in the middle might be nervous about moving to the technology, despite the inevitability.
Since Vogt joined what was Harris Broadcast, he has surrounded himself with a few familiar faces. Around half the senior management team was replaced when he joined the company.
New recruits include chief technology officer Steve Reynolds, who joined from Comcast, and chief financial officer Skip Sorenson, along with the “core group” from sales and marketing at Genband, including president of global sales Pablo Gargiulo.
“I think I had a pretty big influence over the past decade leading the [telecoms] industry through transformative change, and what excites us is that media broadcast will go through a similar transformation over the next decade. Changes in IT and telecoms in the past decade have put us in the right kind of light,” Vogt says.
One of the main ways for the industry to advance is through the use of off-the-shelf computing platforms, he adds. To emphasise his point, Vogt says that over the next six months, the company will make a series of announcements about large broadcasters moving to IP-based architecture.
“IP is the enabling long-term technology evolution, but that doesn’t mean we are abandoning SDI and baseband technology, absolutely not,” he says. “There is a three to 10-year evolutionary path, and the only way we will get there is if companies the size of Imagine invest aggressively in IP-based technology. So IP is a huge theme in this company.”
Like many leaders of broadcast technology vendors, Vogt bemoans the lack of common standards in the broadcast industry. “Every one of our customers asks us to do something a little bit different,” he says. “It makes it challenging to get ahead of the technology curve when you are doing so much custom development work. If we can get to an underlying IP architecture and common standards, we can leverage common computing platforms.”
What that means for Imagine is that over time, it will become less of a proprietary hardware manufacturer and more of a software developer.
“It’s where we – and the industry – ultimately need to go,” he says.
Vogt was encouraged by the themes that emerged at NAB in April.
“There was a lot more talk about IP as an underlying protocol that the industry needs to adopt, and the public and private hybrid cloud virtualisation model. But I didn’t see as much about networks defined by software. That is an area where we are leading, and I probably didn’t see as much because companies are not as well prepared as we are. And clearly the multiscreen and TV everywhere theme was present at the show.”
It was at NAB in Las Vegas that Imagine continued the recent theme of mergers and acquisitions, with the announcement that it had acquired IP and file-based media processing firm Digital Rapids.
Vogt says the reason for the deal was to boost Imagine’s TV everywhere portfolio. Digital Rapids’ software-based workflow management, transcoding and encoding solutions are now being combined with Imagine’s encoding, adaptive bit rate transcoding technology and content delivery network software to create an end-to-end system for file-based and live video streaming.
“Digital Rapids had products that were on our roadmap, but we were 18-24 months away from getting ours to market. It is a company that really complemented what we were doing on the encoding and transcoding side of the business,” says Vogt.
“For second screen, there are different packages and form factors that the industry will have to comply with. The whole notion around second screen or multiscreen is something we are investing heavily in and Digital Rapids complements that part of Imagine’s product portfolio very well.
“Their engineering and support team is also just five miles down the road from our Toronto facility, which helps from a people perspective. And we have a lot of common customers.”
Vogt says Imagine will continue to be “ambitious about complementing the portfolio where we have time to market gaps”. He points to dynamic ad insertion, data analytics and traffic and scheduling as areas where he could look to bolster the company’s existing products.
“Our road map is pretty well aligned with what we think the industry needs, so we have to ask if the technology out there aligns with our vision, and if it will get us to market faster.”
Charlie Vogt on…
Management “I’m about as high-octane a person as you will meet. My management style is very fast paced and ‘now’.”
4K “We’re supporting it, but pushing 4K and 8K content through the network is not the challenge – I don’t think consumers are ready for the buying spree that consumer electronics manufacturers would like.”
Sales and marketing “The experience of spending half my almost 30-year career leading a sales organisation has helped because everything starts and stops with an order.”
Work “I’m blessed in that I don’t think I have ever gone to work; for me, it feels extracurricular. Being surrounded by colleagues, building and creating something is so rewarding for me.”
Jul 2013-present Chief executive, Imagine Communications and Gates Air (formerly Harris Broadcast)
Sep 2004-Jul 2013 Chief executive, Genband
Apr 2002-Jul 2004 Chief executive, Taqua
Nov 1999-Nov 2000 Vice-president sales, Accelerated Networks
Jan 1996-Nov 1999 Vice-president sales Ascend Communications
Spending time with family, playing golf, boating, hiking. Watches Re-runs of Friends, Resurrection, Scandal, Revenge and ESPN “until my eyes shut”.