Sony Touts Turnkey Systems - Broadcasting & Cable

Sony Touts Turnkey Systems

New strategy boasts server-based HD news production
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Sony Corp. plans to unveil an “end-to-end” strategy for selling its high-definition video-production components at the upcoming National Association of Broadcasters show, complete with a new server-based news-production system based on its XDCAM format.

Sony’s “Real Systems-Right Now” campaign reflects a new effort to sell complete systems to broadcast and professional customers as opposed to focusing on individual products, such as XDCAM optical camcorders.

Sony Broadcast & Business Solutions Co. has created a “Solutions Development Group,” headed by Senior VP Shige Morikawa, with dedicated teams targeting markets like newsrooms as well as non-broadcast segments, such as sports venues, museums and universities. Sony is not doing systems integration itself but is teaming with third-party vendors and systems integrators from sales proposal to design to equipment installation.

At NAB, Sony will be showing complete production systems targeting different HD applications: “Networked HD,” for server-based news production using XDCAM; “Affordable HD,” using the low-cost HDV camera format; “Beyond HD,” for digital cinema applications; and “Sports & Live HD,” for high-end mobile production.

The systems approach isn’t exactly novel for the industry—large broadcast vendors like Harris and Thomson Grass Valley also preach the benefits of buying turnkey systems from one vendor—and it isn’t completely new to Sony, either. In fact, the manufacturer is revisiting some of the sales strategies it followed before it sold its San Jose, Calif.-based Systems Integration Center (SIC) to Ascent Media Group in January 2004 (Ascent combined it with subsidiary A.F. Associates to form what is now Ascent Media Systems & Technology Services).

As Sony Senior VP of Sales and Marketing Alec Shapiro explains, after the SIC sale, Sony took its “eye off the ball” when it came to systems sales, although it still supported a few large projects like NBC’s Olympics broadcasts.

“We stopped hunting for big-systems opportunities,” says Shapiro. “What we’re doing now is re-initiating the hunt.”

Where, in the tape-based broadcast market of the ’80s, Sony might have tried to sell all the pieces of the puzzle, the company now recognizes that interoperability with other vendors is important in the file-based world of the 21st century. It touts that XDCAM is supported by some 40 vendors, including editing vendors Apple and Avid and playout-server manufacturer Omneon.

Changing TV Market

What is also new is Sony’s increased focus on selling broadcast gear to non-broadcast customers, a business necessity given the changing television market. Although Sony says it has sold about 21,000 units of XDCAM, including 6,000 XDCAM HD units, the new optical gear is cheaper than the standard-definition tape-based camcorders and decks it is replacing. That means Sony has to make up the difference on volume.

“To grow the business just focused on broadcast and production is very challenging,” says Shapiro. “While we’re going great guns in HD, there is also an equal fall-off in SD.”

One area where Sony sees big potential is newsrooms, with many stations in the process of replacing aging standard-definition production gear. It will introduce a networked news-production system called Sonaps designed to manage content from ingest to playout using an IT-based workflow that combines Sony software and hardware with commodity storage.

Based on XDCAM HD as the acquisition format, Sonaps incorporates Sony’s XPRI nonlinear editor (although it can link to third-party systems) and commodity storage for ingest and near-line storage functions. It uses an Omneon server for playout and links to Sony PetaSite and XDCAM Cart systems for archive. Since Sonaps uses Gigabit Ethernet networking, Sony Chief Technology Officer Hugo Gaggioni points out, it could be linked to various types of archiving systems.

Sonaps will use the Material Exchange Format (MXF) for file interoperability with third-party equipment and feature expanded support for Avid’s iNews and AP’s ENPS newsroom computer systems. Sonaps will rely heavily on metadata to manage content through planning, ingest, editing, playout and archiving,

Says Gaggioni, “There is metadata galore.”

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