By Susan Trott
Remember when business television (BTV) was only synonymous with talking head CEOs relaying corporate information to their staff? Well, times have changed. Although the one-way broadcasts associated with such executive talks still occur, BTV's trend is moving toward two-way interactive, multimedia broadcasts that look more like well-produced TV programs. Moreover, BTV is no longer the sole preserve of Fortune 500 companies. With equipment and transmission costs dropping, it seems everyone is doing it.
There is new wind in the sails of the market," says Larry Steinman, president and CEO of BTV+, a BTV content producer and distributor based in Mississauga, Canada. His words are echoed by Joe Amor, vice president and general manager of Microspace Communications. "We are seeing new players and new industry segments using BTV," Amor says. So why is BTV experiencing this expansion? "The business market is becoming truly global," says Gary Champion, vice president of Globecast's Business Television Services Group in Europe. "To compete globally, you need truly global corporate communications. Nothing delivers this better than satellites."
Changes in BTV
Without a doubt, the hallmark of BTV's renaissance is new and innovative content. "In the past, BTV meant watching the CEO's annual address via satellite," says Amor. "Today, the person originating the BTV broadcast may be the senior vice president of marketing talking specifically to his people, or human resources briefing its managers on a new corporate policy. Moreover, these targeted talks may take place every month, week, or even day as needed. Finally, many companies are giving their audiences ways to talk back-- either by phone line or Internet messaging--making these sessions interactive."
A key part of this new content is effective video. If a new troublesome transistor on a circuit board is under discussion, chances are the BTV originating camera will zoom in on that part so viewers can see it better. "Today's BTV is much more about 'show and tell' than it is about sermons," Steinman says. "This is why it is increasing in popularity."
The second reason for BTV's expansion may be falling equipment costs. Receiving stations that once cost $10,000 now cost a third of that. Meanwhile, the use of digital compression on satellites has cut bandwidth prices substantially, as 10 or more digital channels can be fit into the space previously occupied by one analog broadcast. As a result, there is more ad hoc use of BTV and smaller companies are able to set up multiple-site permanent installations.
The combination of more innovative content and lower costs explains why smaller companies are adopting BTV. "Historically, BTV networks were only established by large corporations who rolled out hundreds of sites at a time," says Amor. "Today, we are seeing networks established by small businesses with just a dozen sites. Small business people now know that BTV via satellite offers them major advantages. Rather than a cost-center, they see BTV as a business-builder."
The fourth factor driving BTV's growth is productivity. When compared to the cost of travel, conducting meetings and training via satellite, BTV is much cheaper. "We're seeing an increase in training content, everything from live product manager or interactive training using tools such as One-Touch, to on-demand training through video," says Mike Tippets, senior vice president of marketing and product strategy for Helius." As well, communicating via BTV keeps employees at their jobs, which reduces lost time. Finally, BTV is a safe alternative for business people who do not want to fly in this terrorism-tinged times.
Homeland security is also boosting the BTV market. Companies like Thales Broadcast and Multimedia have noticed a significant uptick in government and homeland security applications, in relation to the BTV market. "In 2003 some of our best customers have been in the government or homeland security areas," says Howard Barouxis, director of sales for Thales Broadcast and Multimedia. "In 2004 we anticipate even greater activity in this area." For instance, industry sources say that the BTV spectrum is being used by the U.S. government to relay video from unmanned Predator drones. Satellite bandwidth is also in demand for mobile truck-based communications centers, such as the Bickford Linx and the Raytheon First Responder.
Finally, the intrinsic flexibility of satellite broadcasting is itself a reason for BTV's growth. "This is the beauty of satellite business television," says Keven Cahoon, vice president of Globecast America's enterprise group. "We can serve customers large or small anywhere on the planet, whether for one-way video broadcasts or two-way multimedia."
Globecast America itself is a testament to innovative BTV content applications. The company entered the private satellite market through an earlier acquisition of Bonneville Broadcasting, a company founded in the 1980s by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), so that Sunday sermons from Salt Lake City could be beamed live to Mormon congregations worldwide.