Another British Invasion

BBC Technology targets stations in North America

Get ready for the latest British invasion. BBC Technology is launching an effort to bring its technology across the pond and into stations across North America.

"We feel confident that what we're taking to our customers is a unique, tried-and-tested approach to doing things, enabling our customers to tap into our resources and heritage," says BBC Technology President Ann Wilson.

The product and service offerings from BBC Technology have been born out of the work done for the BBC's vast programming and production services. An offshoot of more than 80 years of technical development, the 18-month-old company has a much different pedigree from the traditional start-up effort. It's already reporting strong revenues, with 2002 revenues of $325 million, and also has a $1 billion contract with its parent company ($220 million of that $325 million relates to that deal).

Mitchell Linden, senior vice president, BBC Technology North America, will head the company, which currently has 45 employees and is expected to grow. Its offerings deal with digital-asset management, content flow and editing needs. Over the years, the BBC has undertaken numerous projects across numerous departments, all dealing with those three core issues. Linden says that, with each successive project, BBC Technology realized that there was some commonality in technology deployment. That led to product development and the eventual spinning off of BBC Technology as a commercial enterprise.

"We realized that, if we started to bring in a common set of APIs and standards and implemented top-end vertical solutions, we could develop massive economies of scale," says Linden. "The infrastructure also becomes much more modular, which allows our customers to be able to quickly swap out technologies as, say, formats change."

The BBC's developments are not hardware products in and of themselves. Instead, the company has developed a middleware layer that improves integration of products from different manufacturers. The three areas currently addressed by the BBC are collaborative production, broadcast news and sports, and broadcast-network control.

The company's three product areas sit on top of an integrated-media platform created by the BBC. Linden says it was the result of looking at available media-asset applications and realizing that many of them were built for the publishing industry or were not suited to handling time-based projects.

"More important, asset management is not just about data persistence but also integration with a full end-to-end overarching workflow," he says. "That includes automation systems, production and editing systems, archives, storage systems, and transmission."

Wilson says the company is vendor-agnostic, currently working with such companies as Quantel, Sun, and Oracle. But the number of vendors is likely to expand, provided companies provide APIs to BBC Technology ensuring interoperability.

The company's Broadcast Network Control system (BNCS) is an important link in the system. It allows one interface to control numerous devices. For example, it's currently deployed at DirecTV's monitoring and control facility and can control more than 3,000 pieces of equipment.

According to Linden, it addresses a market need between the broadcast and information-technology markets, where devices traditionally have good interoperability within the broadcast or IT segments but bad interoperability between the segments.

"Everyone has developed points of control for their own devices, but no one has been working on a single way to aggregate the functions of the hardware devices to a single touch point," says Linden. "BNCS does that, with thousands of adapters that drive a single point of touch-screen control."