SatCon 2011: More Mixed Signals


‘Tis the season for conferences. Three weeks ago, it was the TV Next Conference in San Jose, with a core focus on Over-the Top (OTT) on line video models. This past week, in New York City, I attended the SatCon event of a couple days at the Javits Convention Center.

The reason I titled this week’s review of SatCon “More Mixed Signals,” is because visit after visit to SatCon booths and with company representatives suggested how each is trying to adapt to the changing universe of TV, whereby just about everyone has to figure out how terrestrial mixes with satellite, and how traditional video (i.e., both pay and free, Over-The-Air (OTA)) mixes with OTT.

Indeed, more and more companies are accepting the idea that there is true pressure to see the industry not in the form of infrastructure or technology used to convey video, but as simply companies that are multi-faceted carriers of video, be it OTT or traditional, be it land line, wireless, or space delivered.

Two perfect examples of this transition are Broomfield, Colo.-based Level 3, and Luxembourg’s Intelsat One. And although each is finding competing against the traditional carriers in their new area — satellite for Level 3, and fiber for Intelsat One — a true challenge, ultimately the definition of their business as simply an multifaceted “deliverer of ones and zeros” is, to my way of thinking, a much clearer and common sense method for the future.

Moreover, for a Hollywood studio wishing to send dailies to a center from filming locations afar, or for a network wishing to carry a backhaul transmission of its NFL game from the west coast to a broadcast center in Manhattan, if Level 3 can’t manage a part of that process by fiber, it makes sense that it could turn immediately to its division in Tulsa, OK that manages the satellite side. Or vice versa, using Intelsat.

And for satellites to complement the land-based carriage of more and more consumer video traffic by carrying to edge servers as the volume of video increases remarkably over the years ahead, is yet another example of how companies need to think very differently about what they do and how it gets done, as well as how they think about the companies they work with to help them get video distribution done.

From what I have seen, expanding the vision from just “signals” to “mixed signals,” as companies like Intelsat and Level 3 have, just makes that good, common sense, and is a clear and nonsensical investment in the future of video distribution. It’s helpful that conferences like SatCon help bring that message to the fore.

Jimmy Schaeffler is chairman and CSO of Carmel-by-the-Sea-based consultancy The Carmel Group (