BFV Interview: Pebble Beach Systems

BFV speaks to Alison Pavitt, Marketing Manager at Pebble Beach Systems. Alison discusses the benefits of transitioning operations to IP and its partnership with Vizrt.

I have to say, even though the country is in lockdown Pebble Beach Systems are certainly keeping themselves busy. Following the cancellation of CABSAT and NAB the company organised ‘virtual stands’. Obviously trade shows are very important within this industry, how successful were the platforms and what did the company showcase?

It’s certainly true that we’re all having to think and work differently and, whilst we would have loved the opportunity to meet industry colleagues, partners and customers face to face, the virtual shows were a great alternative, with the added benefit of no jet lag, sore feet, or random selection of freebies! Not only were we able to connect with users and prospectivoperations to IPe customers, but we were also able to give them direct access to a wider team of Pebble experts than would have been at the trade show. Rather than focusing on major announcements, we took the approach of consulting with each attendee and tailoring the meeting around their pain points and the needs of their playout infrastructure. Of course a lot of the focus was on remote working and on demonstrating how our Lighthouse remote management and monitoring tools can facilitate this.

Am I correct in saying the company also discussed its recent partnership with graphics specialist Vizrt? Can you tell me more about this?

In fact we announced this partnership at IBC last year but it remains a hot topic. Ultimately it’s about choice and reducing the total cost of ownership. Broadcast graphics are fundamental to channel identity, so broadcasters naturally don’t want to compromise on their branding when reviewing their playout technology choices. That’s why we’ve collaborated with the top graphics companies in the industry to ensure that our end users can have access to their preferred best-of-breed graphics tools and enhance their carefully crafted graphics workflows. By offering this functionality through a shared memory interface as a software plug-in which utilizes a GPU, it is no longer necessary to pass video signals between disparate devices, which in the IP world could mean high bandwidth demand. This not only simplifies the playout chain, but also greatly reduces network bandwidth within the cloud, since the video interconnect to and from the third party system has been eliminated. It also reduces the amount of hardware required to run a channel whilst providing a full graphics workflow.

What are the benefits of transitioning operations to IP?

The benefits of transitioning to IP centre around the agility and future-proofing that an IP infrastructure will give the user. The ability to remote and virtualise the technology away from the user brings huge logistical benefits, particularly in these times where remote working and access have become prerequisites for business continuity. And whilst connecting devices on an IP network may be more complex than simply running a coax cable to a router in the SDI world, the possibilities that an IP infrastructure unlocks in terms of business agility, access to COTS hardware, quick and easy scaling, and enhanced security soon outweigh these set-up challenges. Of course the main driver for all new IP broadcast installations right now is property. Where a new facility is constructed or a wholesale move is required, broadcasters are looking to leverage the savings that an IP infrastructure can deliver. And the current crisis, with the associated increase in remote working, has prompted serious reconsideration of just how much real estate a broadcaster or media company needs access to.
At Pebble we don’t just comply with new standards, we help formulate them. We participate in the NMOS steering committee (Networked Media Open Specifications (NMOS) is a family of specifications that supports the broadcast industry’s transition to a “fully-networked” architecture). We chair the NMOS IS-07 initiative which, put simply, replaces the need for wired GPI connections in an IP environment, and we’re also chairing the NMOS Modelling activity which aims to ensure immediate interoperability of installed IP devices – bringing obvious benefits to systems integrators and end users in an IP environment.
Removing the need to interface with proprietary standards and simplifying multi-vendor integration enables the design and creation of diverse, bespoke solutions – whether the technology is from large multi-national vendors or specialist niche providers. When we can ensure that these technologies communicate with one other using standardized, universally recognized protocols, the end user gains the freedom to architect the solution that truly meets their needs.

What was the company going to unveil and demonstrate at IBC and will the company be organising a ‘virtual stand’?

We learned a lot from our CABSAT and NAB virtual events, and will definitely be taking those lessons forward for our virtual IBC offering. Rest assured that there will be announcements a-plenty both around IBC time and even before then!

At the end of April the company announced a strong set of financial results until the end of December 2019. The company continues to deliver new and exciting solutions. You must have a great team? This is also excellent news for the future of the firm?

It’s true that there is a committed, talented team here at Pebble, and everyone in it can rightly be proud of what we have achieved over the past couple of years. In the almost exactly 20 years since the company was founded, we have built a great reputation based on our specialist expertise, and on our enthusiasm for building solutions, as no two sets of customer requirements are identical. Our partnerships with other vendors are of course vital – clearly an automation solution needs something to control and interface to, so our industry connections are a key component in our success.
As our CEO Peter Mayhead stated at the time of the announcement, the “strong display of financials is excellent news for our existing customers and prospective Pebble users. It sends a clear signal to the industry about our stability and success as a supplier, and about continuity of supply and support for existing users. It also demonstrates that we are in a strong position to invest in R&D for the future of the company, enabling us to enhance our offering and increasing our ability to meet the market’s requirements as the industry continues to transform.”

Earlier this year Pebble also announced it strengthened its partnership with Jordan Media City (JMC) as it migrated all of its channels to Marina which is the most modern automation platform on the market. Can you tell me more about this platform and its advantages?

Our flagship Marina platform delivers enterprise level automation for powerful multi-channel delivery at broadcasters and media companies worldwide. It’s scalable for systems from one to hundreds of channels, and key to its success is its combination of a flexible architecture with exceptional resilience and performance. Crucially, it enables the broadcaster or service provider to manage legacy products and platforms as well as new and emerging technologies, so that best of breed devices as well as integrated channel and virtualised playout technology can be controlled. Marina is now installed in over 70 countries worldwide, controlling well over 1,000 channels.

The firm is one of the leading developers and suppliers of broadcast automation, channel in a box and content management solutions, how does the company continue to stay ahead of its competitors?

Great question! Obviously we have a focus and an agnostic approach which many of our competitors, who have may have a large portfolio of products, cannot match. And as a solutions provider rather than a box shifter, we pride ourselves on the collaborative relationships we build with our customers. Interoperability is in our DNA, and we have a long history of interfacing to our end users’ preferred devices, enabling them to specify the exact playout infrastructure which meets their specific channel and business requirements. Building on a great couple of years and with some exciting announcements in the pipeline, we’ve got a lot to look forward to!