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IBC '19: Imagine Refocuses on Ad Tech
As conversations turn to monetizing OTT, Imagine Communications says it is morphing from hardware manufacturer to software and services

In stark contrast to recent years where it staked out territory in an entire exhibition hall, at IBC 2019 Imagine Communications has downsized and refocussed its business priorities.

"We are morphing from [hardware] manufacturer to software and services products," said CEO Tom Cotney. "In an industry which is declining in terms of total addressable market, everyone is searching for the formula."

Cotney identified three areas of growth for the company: IP-based networking, ad tech, and customer care. 

On the former, sales of IP-based playout systems remain confined to the top 50 major broadcasters globally, Cotney said, but that "now the conversation in general has turned to talking about how to make money from it."

Public service broadcasters, because of budget and the need to amortize every last drop of current investments, will be the last to transition. 

Imagine's main announcement in this area was a very sizeable multi-phase transformation of the playout of Australia's largest commercial broadcasters, Seven and Nine. The pair have jointly formed NPC Media to upgrade a National Playout Centre (NPC) in Sydney largely based on Imagine's kit. This includes the Versio playout and master control solution, systems for playout automation system with Nexio media servers, and content management services. 

It's a showcase project for Imagine, since its systems are being relied on by NPC to transition from baseband/SDI infrastructure to software-defined, commercial off-the-shelf IP-based media services. 

When it comes to advertising technology, the company says it has spent several years winnowing out the nuggets of useful IP (intellectual property) from the products it acquired from Harris.

That now seems to be bearing fruit with systems that can, for example, open up new inventory for more targeted postcode or zonal advertising for U.S. cable companies.

It is plugging its services for dynamic ad insertion for OTT into Amazon Web Services (AWS) and offering what it presents as an 'OTT Monetization Service' that integrates with traffic and scheduling systems, and ensures ads are dynamically aligned with audience demographics. 

"OTT Monetization Service is differentiated by the ability to replace ads in existing workflows, which is critical for maximizing revenue against all content," explained David Heppe, commercial general manager for Imagine. "It is for providers that want to reduce costs, operational complexity, and time-to-market with a solution that supports spot-based and audience-based ad inventory sales across both traditional linear and OTT platforms."

Indeed, it is already collaborating with streaming TV platform provider MobiTV to incorporate monetization capabilities into live connected TV and OTT video services, to eventually include VOD and cloud DVR.

It announced is that UK commercial broadcaster ITV has extended its relationship with the company by moving to Imagine's Landmark sales solution. The system, which is already implemented, is intended to allow ITV to better manage sales across linear, on-demand, linear addressable and web platforms.

"Video delivery business models have been turned upside down, and distributors need every edge they can get," added Heppe. "Our OTT Monetisation Service removes many of the heavy lifts that come with installing, operationalizing and updating next-gen ad tech."

The third area of growth for the company is customer care—essentially managing legacy product until the time is right for the switch to IP. 

"We recognise that some broadcasters are not quite ready to move forward with new technology for lack of capacity or adventurous spirit, so we've gone back to our customers and created new programmes offering our expertise to help migrate them and to extend the product life of systems they have with us."

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