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The death of big broadcast iron

gearsIABM DC releaed its 2016 Global Market Valuation and Strategy Report February 24, and the news for media technology companies was not good. Overall spending for media technology products and services was down 4.3% year over year. The report also noted that product revenues have been in decline since 2012, but this is the first year since the report shows a decline in services spending as well.

Much of the decline can be attributed to disruption from the bottom of the market. What were previously considered lower end tools, such as Adobe Premiere Pro in editing and Axle in asset management have matured a surprisingly brisk pace and have proven themselves ready for prime time.

Technology disruption also plays a part in the overall decline. As IP-video takes hold, the need for satellite links can be replaced by bonded 4G connectivity. “@Home” production of live sports is also lessening the demand for infrastructure. A sign of things to come is Boston-based NESN (MLB Red Sox and NHL Bruins) and LiveU’s announcement in December that portends the demise of the OB truck.

The network will utilize multiple cameras feeding back to NESN’s Boston-area studios via bonded cellular technology.

NESN plans to use multiple LU500 portable transmission units to pilot live “@Home Productions” on the majority of Red Sox home and road spring training Games in 2016 as part of a new innovation and business model for sports coverage. NESN and LiveU successfully developed and tested this new means of remote event coverage last spring during Red Sox Grapefruit League games in Florida and during the summer from minor league baseball AAA Red Sox games in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

If the experiments continue to show progress by the 2018 season these major market franchises might be leaving the heavy iron in the garage. Be assured, sports broadcasters throughout North America are watching this closely as they begin their own cost-cutting efforts.

There’s a case to be made that the news is not as bad as it seems for the larger media tech players such as Avid, EVS, and Belden (Grass Valley). Budget pressures are spurring consolidation of independent broadcasters. These large station groups are likely to settle on a single vendor in each product category. Though the industry is notoriously conservative, all it takes is one disruptor to win a deal to get everybody looking at the new, more cost effective solution. Over the past year there has been a perceptible uptick interest in connecting the Adobe Creative Cloud tools to existing shared storage and asset management infrastructure.

Adobe Creative Cloud Market Size 2018 (projected)

Adobe’s estimated Creative Cloud 2018 revenue projections by segment ©2015 Adobe

Though it’s difficult to extrapolate media technology spend from Adobe’s reported growth in enterprise term licenses, Adobe has pinned much of the growth in Creative Cloud adoption of enterprise term license agreements (ETLAs). These licenses typically have a 36 month term with each customer, giving competitors a very small window once every three years to make a play to convert the enterprise to its solution. Adobe is projecting success in the enterprise, projecting $3.8 billion in recurring revenue from Creative Cloud for teams and enterprise by 2018.

Adobe has been well-rewarded for its brave decision to migrate all Creative Cloud customers to a subscription model, but it will run into some headwinds among some of the large station groups. As one station group executive told me, “Everyone thinks we’re eager to jump to OPEX from CAPEX with our technology spend, but that’s not true. We’re focused on keeping OPEX down.” In a consolidating industry, acquisitions are funded by stock transfers. Share price is tied to operating margins, hence the desire to keep OPEX down. Offering a choice between SaaS and perpetual license models, Avid should be able to maintain its current position, and perhaps grow it, in the station group segment.

Consolidation won’t last forever. There are a finite number of independent broadcast stations remaining ripe for purchase, and nobody is launching new ones. What we’re seeing is similar to the consolidation of newspapers during the 1990s in the early years of this century. As customer bases shrink and profits sink, cost cutting through consolidation takes hold throughout a market segment. No one was buying up newspapers for the long haul.

There is one significant difference between broadcasters and their newspaper cousins that makes a broadcast station a better long term investment. Spectrum, a finite resource. Its value will increase over time. Broadcasters aren’t in the broadcast business as much as they are in the spectrum investment business.

The place to be in media technology these days is IP-based video cloud-based SaaS offerings that multi-platform and OTT delivery. The days of big iron in broadcast, like the days of big iron in post are over.

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