Q&A evaluating the show with Aaron Doughten, Sencore Sr. Product Manager
IBC concluded a month ago today. How did you recover?
Slowly but surely! IBC is intense enough as it is, and I think that goes double for companies flying in from outside of Europe. Nobody relishes trans-Atlantic flights, and with the drama surrounding Schiphol airport this year, we think that everybody had a bit more travel anxiety than normal. But the energy you get from an event like IBC carries you through for a long time after, and we’re still feeling that post-tradeshow momentum at the Sencore offices.
And do what was the big news for Sencore at IBC 2022?
Ah, that’d be the launch of Centra, without a doubt.
And Centra is…?
Centra is our new software platform, designed to coordinate and manage internet protocols for the optimized distribution of video. It handles the reception, conversion and transmission of RIST, SRT, Zixi, HLS and MPEG over IP. It’s more than a simple conversion tool though – it’s really designed to give network engineers (and indeed non-technical managers also) deep but highly accessible and intuitive insight into their network performance, collecting, converting, aggregating, distributing and perhaps most importantly optimizing data transport. It ensures resources are being most efficiently deployed – in terms of both resource utilization but also in ensuring coordination occurs in a way that prevents error to the highest degree possible. And if/when error does occur, the constant stream of metrics either ensure it is predicted before it impacts ultimate QoS/QoE, or allows for it to be quickly pinpointed, with automated tools incorporated to rectify issues if they arise.
How did you feel it was received?
We honestly don’t think it could have been better. Launching a product at one of the big shows is a bit like sending your kid to school on their first day. There’s a lot of excitement, and a certain amount of fear and trepidation. You know that your child is wonderful; clever and full of potential. You love them to bits, and you’ve spent years nurturing them. But are they going to be liked by their peers? Are they going to be understood by their teachers? Are they going to fit in, but somewhat paradoxically, also stand out?
And so, was it a good first day at school?
Absolutely – star pupil. We did a really good job of communicating the concept and benefits of Centra clearly – though to be honest a lot of that is because Centra is inherently intuitive in what it does and how it does it: it was designed specifically to be intrinsically usable, with straightforward workflows and the presentation of concepts and data in a way that is understandable even to those with no deep technological network knowledge.
What particularly caught people’s attention about Centra?
The usability, certainly. But also, the underpinning ideology of the technology as much as anything; the idea that it facilitates not just integration but interoperability, aiming to create an industry-wide ecosystem of functionality, rather than the super limiting proprietary ecosystems that have dominated in previous years, and have aimed to artificially lock users into a single product line. We’re fundamentally against that; when manufacturers know they have a captive audience with huge sunk costs, they have less motivation to push technological boundaries. But when the industry works together in a form of competitive collaboration, everybody wins. That’s our fundamental philosophy at Sencore, and Centra represents the tool that we’ll be using to apply it.
What kind of people were taking an interest?
We had people from a diverse range of backgrounds asking questions. A lot of people from sports – which made at least some of the engineers happy to get a chance to talk baseball and basketball stats in between network configuration and packet drop jargon. Red carpet productions also – indeed, pretty much anybody involved in contribution had a deep interest.
Though not those only: we had a lot of interest from people who were tasked with overseeing either incremental network upgrades on brownfield sites, or the complete greenfield IP operations. They saw remarkable potential in Centra, which I think highlights its ability to either coordinate operations right from the start or be ‘plonked in’ on top of legacy systems with the aim of straightening them out a little.
And what kind of questions were people asking?
Once they’d understood its capability, they asked about its potential. Which we were pleased about because we’ve got big plans for its growth and expansion. Centra already represents a really crucial core network tool, but further iterations will also make it a completely comprehensive one; Integrating further with Sencore devices, providing true end-to-end management and control of a network.
Centra’s a pretty catchy name. In last month’s blog you talked about the ‘alphabet soup’ of product names in the broadcast industry – was that something you were seeking to deliberately avoid?
Absolutely. Going back to that ‘sending your child to school’ metaphor, naming your product is a surprisingly tough thing to do. It’s going to be saddled with it for life, so you want it to fit. We joked in the last blog about naming it after our favorite film, and we came really close to that: it was our kick-off meeting to start building Centra, and the project manager asked the group what to name the project. Of course, it was only crickets from the group as no one had an idea. “Bueller? Bueller?” he joking said to the group so from then on, the working name for the system was ‘Ferris’.
We were quite tempted to keep it… but ‘Centra’ does well at communicating the idea of coordination, so we switched. I think maybe it’s still Ferris in my heart.
Any other big news from show?
Well, it’s still Centra related, but we’re pleased to have won the ‘Best in Show’ award! It’s nice that the concept isn’t just being understood by its core potential user base, but recognised for what it’s achieving – both conceptually and technology – by the industry as a whole. And the award is certainly a big help in promoting the product – and our brand message more generally.
Aside from Centra, we hear there’s another reason people were dropping by the booth, and it wasn’t strictly technological…
It’s true, we have a few bourbon connoisseurs among our ranks, and so we brought quite the line-up of whiskey with us, along with some rather stylish Sencore Glencairn tasting glasses and stainless-steel water bottles. It doesn’t matter how professional you are or how many tradeshows you’ve been to, good swag is always a key consideration – the days of pens and stress balls are long behind us…
With more than two years away from tradeshows, how did it feel to be back? How important did you feel it was to re-establish presence: was there any temptation to use the break as a way to change how you do things?
It was great to be back, and we were eager to be there. I don’t think there was ever any real consideration that we’d not attend. Certainly, the accountants have loved the significantly smaller expenses column of the last two years, empty of flights and hotels and elaborate booth design fees. But I think that across the industry there’s a recognition these savings were false economies; the intangible benefit that comes from real and personal connection with each other can’t be replicated in the same way online – not just potential customers but old friends, technological peers, industry innovators…
And so what now?
Well, there’s an immense amount of follow-up to do from IBC. Our engineers are hard-at-work on increasing the functionality and potential of Centra in its next iteration. And of course, we are already preparing for NAB 2023. There’s certainly enough to keep us occupied for the foreseeable future!