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
"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