Charting a New Course
Wilson champions Modulus Video in hot new market
By Ken Kerschbaumer -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/22/2004 8:00:00 PM
After spending the past 20 years guiding high-tech video companies like Grass Valley and Ampex, Bob Wilson could rest on his laurels. Instead, he's now CEO of Modulus Video, a startup that sells gear designed around the MPEG-4 Advanced Video Codec. "It doesn't allow much time for rest," he laughs. "If I get one weekend a month to sail, I'm OK. Two, I'm in heaven."
Modulus Video's goal is to establish a strong position in the encoder/decoder market. To enhance its visibility, Modulus is showcasing its products at the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam.
After all, the MPEG-4 AVC market is one of the hottest technologies in recent memory. Far more efficient than the MPEG-2 standard, it lets distributors increase channel capacity as quickly as they can roll out set-top boxes that decode the format.
"MPEG-4 is incredibly compelling—a technology that comes along every 10 years. It will dramatically change the way all video is captured, produced and distributed," predicts Wilson.
Being on the cutting edge is a Wilson career trademark.
When he was president and CEO of Grass Valley in the early '90s, the company made the move from analog production switchers to digital production switchers. At his last NAB conference with the company, it introduced the Profile video server. That industry first was a "technology transforming event," he remembers. Today, the video server is essential to any broadcast facility.
"I've had luck in being with organizations at the center of change," he says. "Even when I was with Ampex in the late '80s, the cost of videotape machines dropped from $100,000 to $20,000." Ampex was Wilson's introduction to the broadcast industry, and it was the ideal place to start. Located in Redwood City, Calif., the Ampex sign along Highway 101 serves as the unofficial start of Silicon Valley.
Wilson graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and, after working as a CPA, joined Allied Signal. Allied Signal then acquired Ampex, and he made the move to Redwood City, working on the company's turnaround team. "We refocused the energies on fewer businesses and built the revenues up from $400 million to $700 million."
Wilson and other Ampex alums refer to it as "video university" because of the wealth of knowledge its staffers generously imparted to others. He found himself learning about the industry from Mark Sanders, then vice president and general manager of the audio/video division.
"Ampex had some of the world's best experts in video technologies working there," he says proudly.
When Sanders left to work for Pinnacle Systems, he asked Wilson to join him. Together, they established a professional video division at the company.
"Mark's dream was to make Pinnacle a provider of video technologies to everyone from beginners to broadcasters," he says. "It was an exciting time. The company had raised a fair amount of money to build still stores, digital video effects and other devices." The investments paid off. Over time, Pinnacle grew its professional division revenues from $8 million to $140 million.
Wilson left Pinnacle Systems earlier this year to head Modulus.
"I don't think there is anyone who knows how to leverage technology from capture to editing and playback like Pinnacle," he says. "Their challenge now is to figure out what areas they want to focus on and be a leader in."
These days, Wilson has challenges of his own.
Keeping a young, aggressive company on its feet takes determination and vision. Fortunately, he has inherited a smart, well-respected engineering team he thinks can one day compete with market leaders Tandberg and Harmonic.
"Within three years, we intend to have helped revolutionize how video content is distributed," says Wilson. "Our aim is to help deliver more content to more viewers at top quality, but at a fraction of the cost of conventional technology."
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