SVG Sit-Down: SAM CEO Tim Thorsteinson on the Quantel-Snell Rebrand

He discusses how the new synergies are seen in the market, as well as IP at NAB 2016 and the rise of 4K

At IBC2015 in September, the group formerly known as Quantel and Snell was officially reorganized and rebranded as Snell Advanced Media (SAM), just six months after Quantel inked a deal to acquire Snell. With the transition completed, the company has begun promoting not only its revamped brand but also new tech offerings intended to take advantage of both arms of the new entity.

Tim Thorsteinson

Tim Thorsteinson came aboard shortly before Quantel’s acquisition of Snell was announced.

With the countdown to NAB 2016 at three months, SVG sat down with SAM CEO Tim Thorsteinson (who came aboard just before the Quantel-Snell deal was announced) to discuss how the industry has reacted to the rebrand, how the synergies will lead to product launches, and whether 2016 will mark the mainstream arrival of 4K, HDR, and IP-based tools for live sports production.

How has the SAM rebrand gone, and how has the market reacted? How have you taken advantage of synergies between Snell’s and Quantel’s businesses?
I think it will really come together when people come to [NAB 2016] and see that our postproduction products have some of our standards-conversion technology embedded and our switchers and live touch control products work well together. When they see a merger of the technology, they can see the value of putting the businesses together. That’s when it will really become apparent.

As it relates to the rebrand, I think the people inside the company have embraced it. From a customer’s standpoint, I get mostly positive feedback. I don’t have a lot of people referring to [Snell and Quantel] anymore; they tend to call us SAM, which is what we ultimately are positioning the business as. Now we’re also working with a lot of new customers, and, to them, we’re a new company. At the end of the day, we’ve increased our number of total opportunities, which is what matters at the end of the day. If we have half a billion dollars of opportunities and we used to have $350 million, it was a good thing. And all of our social-media indicators have been tracking well, so I think it’s been good. And I think it will build.

With the rebranding process complete, what will be different about SAM’s NAB Show presence this year?
I think that we’ve made a big investment in our engineering organization the last year and solidified our product-development roadmaps in line with what we think the market wants. I think you’re going to see a radically different product offering at NAB this year than you’ve seen from the company in the past.

Historically, the company’s been kind of at the top end of the pyramid relative to its technology. We’re moving our switcher technology downmarket; we’ve introduced a product that will be more appropriate for use in small sports stadiums, small sports trucks, university settings, and things like that. We have a lower-end production-switcher offering that will be 4K that we’ll be introducing at NAB. The rest of the infrastructure products to go along with that will come soon after. The business is global, so there are lots of markets in Asia, in the Middle East, in Latin America that don’t have the capital budgets that people do in the Northeast or some of the big metropolitan areas. So you’ll see an expansion of the technology.

With the launch of Rogers and Bell Media’s 4K services in Canada this month and BT Sport launching its own in the UK last year, 2016 looks to be the year of live 4K sports production. How is SAM serving the 4K needs of sports broadcasters?
We were involved with BT Sport, and European football is such a big deal for all of our customers, so we have been right in the middle of that. We have a lot of 4K-production-switcher business that we’re testing right now in quite a few deployments. And now we’ve started to see that spill over into North America, which has been good.

How much customer interest in high dynamic range (HDR) have you seen, and how does that impact the growth of 4K?
Obviously, we are hearing that everybody currently investing in 4K also wants to know what our plans are for high dynamic range. Those two things seem to be going together. At NAB, we’ll be showing high-dynamic-range products and be able to quote when they will be in production. So it’s definitely part of our current roadmap.

IP-based production tools are expected to have a major presence at NAB 2016. How is SAM approaching IP for sports clients looking to make the move to IP?
We are about to take our first order in the next couple of days for a couple of IP production switchers in the Americas.

It’s my belief that most vendors will come to NAB this year with working IP solutions, not just roadmaps and concepts. So, yes, I would expect that SAM and most of our major competitors will all have working IP product at NAB. We will have IP production switchers deployed and in operation, and my guess is, the competition will, too.

The biggest issue complicating the IP transition seems to be the standards battle currently taking place. How is SAM alleviating these concerns for customers, and why has it joined the Alliance for IP Media Solutions (AIMS)?
At the end of the day, there will be a handful of standards that the industry will embrace. We plan to cooperate and be in line with industry standards. That’s why we joined AIMS, and we plan to work with other vendors so everything can be interoperable as we move forward. We’re very supportive of the work done by VSF and AIMS and other industry bodies. Realistically, all of us are in a position where we need to interoperate. That’s what the customers want and that’s what we expect to do. Having a few standards that the industry embraces just removes confusion on the part of the customer. I think it will move pretty quickly and there will be a lot more disclosed at NAB relative to the specific plans about building interoperability labs and things like that.

What do you see for your sports customers this year?
I think we’ll have a more formalized sports-marketing initiative than we have today. We tend to sell into the market today but more in a reactionary way than a strategic way. But I think, as we move through the year, we’ll be unveiling a broader sports strategy as it involves software and things like that. I think it’s a great market, challenging but a great business. So we’re going to try to do what we can to expand our offering into the market. We are obviously into production switchers and live event controllers and things like that, but I think, in the software end of things, we’re looking at acquisitions that would allow us to play in a broader sense of that market.