Harris Showcases New Automation
Stations can now integrate traffic, digital-asset management
By Ken Kerschbaumer -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/13/2005 7:00:00 PM
For decades, the buzz around the Harris booth at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference concerned the latest transmission technology for TV and radio. But this year, the company will unveil the fruits of its $340 million cash acquisition of Encoda, an enterprise-level traffic, billing and automation system.
Harris, a Quincy, Ill.-based supplier of transmission and automation hardware and software, deals with customers that integrate traffic, automation and digital-asset management systems from a variety of vendors. Now they will be able to enjoy one-stop shopping. This leaner approach provides operational stability and fewer headaches for stations, the company says.
“When you look at enterprise-class systems versus point-to-point systems, the return on investment is more compelling,” says Jeremy Wensinger, president/GM of Harris' Broadcast Communications division. He notes that such systems eliminate the need for multiple service contracts: “How many software-maintenance and hardware-maintenance agreements do you really want to manage?”
For NAB, Harris is building a “Harris Resource Suite” (HRS), including a Broadcast Presentation Manager (BPM) and Media Mover (MM), to replace the current Encoda ADC system. “In the future, the log will no longer be the foundation for what a broadcaster delivers,” Wensinger says. “Instead, the digital asset will be.”
This next-generation automation system will tie more information into that asset, says John Sorensen, head of Harris' Software Systems division and former CEO of Encoda Systems. A commercial clip, for example, will have business information and rules attached to it, not just an ID number and traffic information. Integrating automation and traffic in the control room, Sorensen points out, allows any change to be reflected in the traffic systems in real time.
HRS will also have a graphical user interface (GUI), minimizing training time.
“Customers will be able to configure the GUI to meet their specific needs,” Sorensen says. The BPM will provide rules-based scheduling of branding, audio voice-overs and other content.
“It also allows for the ability to monitor channels and playout anywhere within the facility or across WANs [wide area networks],” Sorensen adds.
The acquisition of Encoda allows Wensinger to put his stamp on the broadcast communications division. He moved into the new role after successfully heading Harris' government division.
Harris had done well selling DTV transmitters, but as the market cooled (only 90 stations are not yet broadcasting digital signals, and potential long-term growth is about 5% per year), the division needed to expand.
So far, the moves are paying off. The broadcast division recently reported $98.9 million in revenues for fiscal second quarter 2005, an increase of 49% over the year-ago period. Encoda contributed $21 million of that revenue.
Prior to the 2004 Encoda acquisition, Harris' automation group worked on systems for facilities that needed fewer than 15 channels of automation. The addition of Encoda's automation line expands that capability to more than 15 channels. Encoda's traffic and billing software rounds out Harris' technology portfolio, allowing it to be a full-service (traffic, billing, automation) provider.
The new automation system is handled by a new division: the Software Systems Business Unit, which is headed by Sorensen. “Buying Encoda was almost like a reverse acquisition; our automation business was folded into their unit,” says Wensinger. “All our software applications will be built by them, and we think it's a powerful way to go to market.”
Sorensen says the timing of the acquisition was perfect from Encoda's standpoint. Encoda, owned by venture capitalists, was looking for a buyer. Harris was looking for a buy. More important, both companies were looking for a change. “If you look at where the digital environment leads our customers, it's to a complete end-to-end digital-content delivery system,” says Wensinger. “We have that, thanks to Encoda.”
The move also gave Encoda some much needed resources. Harris has more than 5,000 software engineers in Melbourne, Fla. Encoda had about 300. Sorensen believes a surge in the talent pool will help Encoda stave off competitors on the traffic side. Developed more than two decades ago, Encoda's system was considered solid, but rivals VCI, OSI and WideOrbit provide more features and flexibility.
OSI President Ed Adams agrees that Harris' moves will beef up the traffic side of its business. But OSI is “working toward that sort of integration of metadata [delivered via satellite] with companies like Pathfire,” he says.
“The challenge Harris faces is, the days of locking out competitors, something Encoda's proprietary system did, are over. Any software provider looking to do something exclusive,” he says, “is setting themselves up for failure.”
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