Robert Placek, CEO, Wegener Corp.

Keeping ahead of the technology curve is becoming more important for equipment suppliers, as their customers are demanding the latest advancements to help fuel their business plans and satisfy the demand for content.

Wegener Corp. provides equipment such as its iPump media servers and Compel network control system for TV and audio broadcasting, primarily concentrated on satellite networks.

“I think technology advance is extremely important,” says Robert Placek, co-founder, CEO and chairman of Wegener. “This is the start of a major long-term trend in terms of technology for these marketplaces. Many of our existing network customers are looking to migrate to the newer technologies for bandwidth savings or going to high-definition programming.”

Placek spoke with Via Satellite Editor Jason Bates about Wegener’s business and the content distribution market.

VIA SATELLITE: What will drive your business in the next few years?

Placek: Our real focus is on targeted media distribution, ad insertion, regionalization of content, multiple languages, environments and the complex, dynamic networks to accomplish these things. One of our strongest areas is the network control area. We are developing our own control system, Compel, that evolved from a basic control system to primarily handle commercial insertions on satellite networks to today’s version which is capable of operating in highly dynamic situation where there is commercial insertion or switching of venues involved.

In the past several years we have been developing our iPump digital media server managed by Compel. We have expanded into management of content across networks and are developing the iPump media service.
Our newer products use DVB-S2 modulation and MPEG-4 compression and is backwards compatible with all modulation schemes. It comes out of the box with full high-definition capability, which we think will be highly important for the future.

VIA SATELLITE: What new demands are you seeing from your customers?

Placek: The idea of store-and-forward and non-linear broadcasting also is an idea whose time has come in terms of bandwidth savings. One of our customers converted to a non-linear network for a file-based broadcasting model based on the iPump and saved more than 90 percent on bandwidth cost. They are still using MPEG-2 and DVB-S modulation and older compression technologies. That’s a product we’ve been working on for a number of years and are gaining traction rapidly now.

VIA SATELLITE: How is the growth of hybrid networks affecting your business?

Placek: Another major development that is just now entering the deployment phase is the ability to operate Compel over IP networks over the Internet. That is important in that it lets us have a hybrid network that is controlled by one system. That is important because the satellite provides great point-to-multipoint networks in places you can’t put dishes. One of our customers has a domestic network but is starting to expand internationally by deploying IP-fed iPumps as part of the overall network.

The idea is to not be limited by satellites in terms of the customer. This expansion can be done with no major addition for satellite costs around the world. In some regions, that portion of the IP-fed network can switch to satellite if it makes economic sense. We think that is very important. Constantly growing capacity of the Internet or private IP networks is competition for satellite-based solutions to some extent, and we think we need to accommodate that.

VIA SATELLITE: Are these new technologies bringing in new customers?

Placek: Very much so. The huge bandwidth savings possible with file-based broadcast solutions create an entirely new economic model for networks in terms of cost structure in terms of content distribution, and one of the areas that these products are used in is in digital signage, which is a rapidly growing area. The cost savings of using the non-linear or file-based distribution systems make many of these type of networks economically possible.

VIA SATELLITE: Many companies are waiting for high-definition to really take off. When do you think it will happen?

Placek: Everyone is looking at the 2009 deadline for the death of analog TV broadcasting and preparing for the high-definition world. Our cable programmer customers are all looking at high-definition solutions, and we’re selling a lot of products to implement high-definition channels for the cable world. But we also think high-definition is important for private network customers, digital signage customers and in particular some of the networks that broadcast to large audiences in single locations. With the falling prices of LCD and plasma screens, the next step for some of these customers is high-definition programming.

Customers today want to take advantage of the bandwidth savings afforded by MPEG-4 and DVB-S2 and that in itself is a driving factor, but the fact that our products are fully high-definition capable makes a compelling case for our customers to upgrade.
The products really are just now ready for production. A lot of the basic technology, for example, our system-on-a-chip solution for MPEG-4 decoding has been a long time coming. These products are just now hitting the market. One of our large customers just now ordered a large quantity and is beginning their conversion. If a Wegener customer that depends on Compel to manage operations can save money on bandwidth or for the same money go to high-definition, it’s a compelling story.

When a lot of these networks were built they were MPEG-2. That equipment is old and needs replacement as well. This is a natural opportunity to migrate to the latest technology and be future proof. I believe high-definition will come to dominate commercial broadcasting and private networks as well.

VIA SATELLITE: What will private networks do with high-definition content?

Placek: We think we hear from our customers that even if they don’t do high-definition programming immediately, if they are going to upgrade their networks to take advantage of the newest compression and modulation technology and replace old equipment, they want to have high-definition capability there. I think it is important for part of the signage application that high-definition is essential. One of our retail customers uses a lot of screens to sell high-definition TVs fed from an iPump network. I think we’ll see a major switch to high-definition by the consumer as people get used to it.

VIA SATELLITE: What do you see happening in the digital signage arena?

Placek: The whole signage area is very complex and fragmented with all kinds of solutions possible. Some networks are run by DVDs. Our model customer there is one that has many, many locations and needs to customize content for the various locations and needs to able to manage that content throughout the network. We’re just seeing a lot of opportunities there. The competition comes from all areas, but in the areas of satellite-based solution for digital signage, we think we have the best products around. The major move we’ve made is hybrid, so we don’t care if the path is satellite or Internet. We don’t are which way it goes. Each one is operable by Compel-controlled management systems.

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