The successful Workshop Future of Media 2022 (FOM 2022), co-organized on June 2022 by AmyDV (Imagine Communications’ Distributor in Greece), Imagine Communications and other major Industry brands was a great opportunity to meet and discuss several critical issues with Fabrizio Mariani, Sales Manager of Imagine Communications for Italy, Greece and Malta. Before the end of 2022 we had the chance to meet him again in Athens and made this Interview come true.
Text: Andreas Tzanakos
Images: Andreas Tzanakos & Imagine Communications Archive
The use of effective and reliable solutions which are bringing plenty of valuable tools in the Broadcast, Media and Entertainment Industry, such as Imagine’s Selenio Network Processor (SNP™) with the many personalities and also the effective utilization of cloud for cost effective-secure playout and stronger monetizing of the content for Broadcasters & Content Providers taking advantage of Imagine’s Aviator capabilities, as well as more products and solutions from this historical company are the focus of this Interview.
radiotvlink.com: Before we start our conversation, it is good to hear from you some basic things about your professional career up to date so our readers understand who we are speaking to.
Fabrizio Mariani: I’m working since more than 20 years in broadcast and media, I started working as director room operator while I was studying at the university, and I stayed in this world for my entire career. I had the pleasure to work in an Italian broadcast main integrator, called Gruppo TNT, then I had been working in DataDirect Networks deploying storages in all the main media customers in Europe; then I managed the media production business in Rohde & Schwarz for southern Europe.
Since 1 and ½ years I am now sales manager in Imagine Communications, managing the business in Italy, Greece and Malta.
"Imagine is committed to the customers to support them in all these transitions, and actually we act as innovators, building standards and be precursors for these new technologies; however we are also still committed in supporting the traditional broadcast standards."
radiotvlink.com: When was Imagine Communications established? What are the landmarks of Imagine Communications’ successful history up to date?
Fabrizio Mariani: I would not speak about the Imagine’s history; otherwise we will need a book. I would rather point out that before Harris then Imagine was a collector of the best technology and people in the industry.
We have a good name and this is well deserved by continuously innovating and continuously supporting customers and business partners.
radiotvlink.com: Imagine Communications enjoys the respect of the Industry all over the world. In your opinion what are the main reasons for this? What is Imagine’s philosophy regarding its operation, creation of new products and services, enhancement-upgrade of its older products, but also for the support of its customers?
Fabrizio Mariani: I believe the answer is reliability; reliability as products, as company and integrity as employees.
Everyone who used our products knows how our playout automations, our routers and all the other products are stable and reliable.
They also know that as a company we are not going to leave them alone but we will be supporting them. When I say support I mean technical support for installed equipment, products and professional services availability for expansions and changing requirements. We also support our customer by providing future proof products for their new requirement; this means they can trust us as a technology partner for their evolving requirements.
We are still able to expand and support routers with more than 12 years, I believe this is a good example of reliability; many of our competitors would have dropped totally the old technologies.
radiotvlink.com: What is the role of the established and emerging Industry’s Standards and Formats regarding the development of Imagine’s products? Could you describe further Imagine Communications’ efforts for creating, enhancing and establishing common-open standards for the industry worldwide?
Fabrizio Mariani: Imagine Communications is part of the main technical committee, working with the other vendors and the customers on the new standards. For example we are one of the founders of the SMPTE committee and actively working in creating and promoting the SMPTE standards such as the ST2110.
From a product side we were one of the first adopter of the ST2022 and ST2110 standards and we try to be as open as possible, the result is that it is very easy to interface Imagine’s devices with third party’s devices. A demonstration for this is that often our Magellan control system is used to test and certify standard compliant devices.
“They also know that as a company we are not going to leave them alone but we will be supporting them. When I say support I mean technical support for installed equipment, products and professional services availability for expansions and changing requirements. We also support our customer by providing future proof products for their new requirement; this means they can trust us as a technology partner for their evolving requirements.”
radiotvlink.com: What is your opinion concerning the transition from SDI to IP, from HD to 1080P to UHD, from SDR to HDR/WCG and from on-premises facilities to cloud that Industry is going through right now? What’s the role of Imagine Communications’ products for all the transitions mentioned?
Fabrizio Mariani: Those are all trends that are currently happening in the industry, but each transition is happening at his own pace depending the geography and the customer type.
All these transitions at the moment can happen only in some parts of the industry, for example the broadcast IP technology is now mature and implemented in many big broadcaster; but for the time being this transition is only for some customers where the Ip production brings advantages, while many other customers will continue investing in SDI because for them makes perfectly sense.
As well, looking at the last trend you mentioned, the transition to cloud, it is happing but only for few workflows, not for any workflow. I believe in the future we will see customer investing in cloud for some workflows and on-premises technologies for other workflows.
The challenges for the large broadcast vendors is indeed twofold. We are asked to produce mature and reliable products utilizing the latest technology in order to better future-proof our customer’s installations, and at the same time remain compatible with the legacy technologies as large broadcast organisations cannot be expected to change everything every few years.
Imagine is committed to the customers to support them in all these transitions, and actually we act as innovators, building standards and be precursors for these new technologies; however we are also still committed in supporting the traditional broadcast standards.
Two simple example, we have equipment for the most complex ST2110 IP routers, but we also build the biggest SDI router in the industry; we are innovators on cloud playout with our Αviator platform, but we still support our traditional customers with the ADC device servers, the most used playout automation in the industry.
“We are still able to expand and support routers with more than 12 years, I believe this is a good example of reliability; many of our competitors would have dropped totally the old technologies.”
radiotvlink.com: At the ‘Future of Media 2022 (FOM 2022)’ workshop held in Greece on June 2022, we realized the new features and personalities that the Selenio Network Processor (SNP™) can now offer to TV Broadcast and Content Providers Facilities and to OB Vans. In your opinion what are the most useful personalities that SNP™ provides to the Broadcasters, OB Services Companies, Content Providers and why? And what are the most interesting traditional features this IP enabled media processing platform can provide?
Fabrizio Mariani: This is a good question. SNP™ is a very advanced platform for helping broadcasters evolving their workflow, in SDI and in IP and making convergent the two technologies.
Usually SNP™ is compared to a swiss knife, a single device that can do more or less everything.
I see very successful the “sync” personality, that basically is a synchronizer and SDI/IP gateway as well as the conversion personality, doing conversion between the different resolutions as well as production multiviewer, with a very minimal latency.
Recently we released the master control feature as well as the JPEG XS encoder/decoder personality and they promise to be extremely interesting.
radiotvlink.com: The industry talks a lot about JPEG XS. What are its highlights and what is your opinion about it? What are the practical uses for JPEG XS on SNP™?
Fabrizio Mariani: It is a very good protocol for low latency contribution and remote production. It is able to enable high quality video streaming over geographies with an extremely good quality and a very low latency, less than a frame.
I see this protocol getting the most used for low-latency contribution, for remote production and also for connecting different offices of the same company across geographies, having a very good quality.
I believe this codec will replace the “old” JPEG 2000 encoding and also – in few cases where quality and latency is important – the more compressed H264 and H265.
For example we have already been implementing the connection between the offices of a national broadcaster in Italy, across main cities, for high quality link, using our SNP™ platform.
It allows to save a lot of bandwidth compared with the uncompressed connection and it is very difficult to see a difference in terms of quality.
"From a product side we were one of the first adopter of the ST2022 and ST2110 standards and we try to be as open as possible, the result is that it is very easy to interface Imagine’s devices with third party’s devices. A demonstration for this is that often our Magellan control system is used to test and certify standard compliant devices."
radiotvlink.com: And what about SNP™’s compatibility and interoperability with products from other manufacturers?
Fabrizio Mariani: SNP™ it leverages proprietary API or NMOS standard. With NMOS the integration in third party network is very easy as it is a standard protocol, with API the integration is more complex but allows a more granular control of the device.
Said that we have actual implementation with many 3rd party device including the main broadcast controllers and the integration is generally very easy.
As well when with our Magellan broadcast controller we need to control third party devices, the integration with ST 2110 and NMOS is extremely easy.
radiotvlink.com: Imagine Communications is a leader also in the Routing and Software defined networking for broadcast application (SDN). At the FOM22 show you were demonstrating the Magellan and the Magellan Touch. Tell us, how important this is today and where it is used?
Fabrizio Mariani: Magellan is our broadcast controller, Magellan touch is the control interface, providing a easy and nice interface to the users.
I believe Magellan is a very nice product for controlling both SDI and IP network in a transparent way, it brings a layer of abstraction removing complexity to the users, and allowing them to have the right stream exactly where is needed.
Customers usually start deploying Magellan on their SDI router but then they discover that is a perfect controller for their expansions, hiding the complexity of having multiple routers in a single network or allowing them to consolidate SDI and IP routing into the same network in a transparent way. I believe this is another important contribution of the SNP™™ platform, to hide the complexity of the infrastructure so that Broadcasters can do the job they know so well without needing to have a degree in computer science!
Magellan touch is the perfect extension for Magellan, providing an easy human interface for routing signal across networks and providing user friendly software panels, that can run on any device from dedicated touch screen to tablets and even phones.
"Amy DV is a great company to work with, they are very experienced in the market and they are a very good complement of our technology, they are very professional and trustful.
I believe over the few years the Greece market will accelerate the transitions that are currently happening on other bigger markets such as Italy. Here we are now speaking with some customers for the first implementation of video IP networks, while in Italy we have already few of them implemented. I believe this delay is given by the market size, but I believe the adoption of new standards will accelerate, also because the Greece customers are often very innovative."
radiotvlink.com: At the Workshop Future of Media 2022 (FOM 2022) you presented from Imagine Communications a Cloud-Native Platform to Plan, Make and Monetize TV, the ‘Aviator’ Platform. In your opinion how can the Broadcast and Media companies of the industry take advantage of these Cloud solutions? Are the Next Generation cloud services secure enough, reliable and cost-effective? Can the Broadcast and Media Industry trust them and why?
Fabrizio Mariani: We see the implementation of cloud technologies to be one of the key transitions now happening in the market. In the past we believe this was a general transition bringing the market to the cloud, now it is clear that this is not a general transition but – at least for the moment – it makes sense for some customers and workflows.
Some of the workflows where cloud makes sense is the “planning” - such as traffic and scheduling, where cloud deployments are already common, playout and OTT distribution.
For playout we are not speaking about general 24/7 playout system for big broadcasters, but for some specific use cases such as disaster recovery, temporary channels, FAST channels and channels running few hours per day. In these workflows we see cloud implementation it does make sense, both from technical and financial point of view, making the service more available and helping reducing the total cost.
I believe the Broadcast and Media market can trust cloud in terms of availability and security, actually their implementation is usually more safe than a normal broadcaster datacenter. What needs to be carefully calculated is the feasibility in terms of total cost of ownership and what can be the hidden costs for outsourcing the content and technology. But these factors really depend from use case to use case and by customer priorities.
radiotvlink.com: Can you mention the full product offering that Broadcast and Media companies can get from Imagine Communications to Monetize in the best ways their TV Content? Can you tell us in a few lines what are the advantages that these products bring to the workflows and to the market? We understand that Imagine traditionally adheres to standards and takes great care to provide interoperability with its products, but we would like to know what is the product range of Imagine today and why it matters to our readers.
Fabrizio Mariani: Our “ADtech” product line has a full range of products.
We start with Landmark Sales that is a great platform for managing advertisement sales for linear and digital world.
Then we move to the traffic systems such as Landmark Rights & Scheduling (Landmark R&S) that is chosen by the bigger worldwide customers to manage the rights of their content and create their scheduling for broadcasting; and Broadcast Master that is a flexible, cost-effective system for growing television operations
We then move to the advertisement optimizers, GamePlan that allows to increase revenue in the linear world and SureFire that is an intelligent AD server allowing optimization in the OTT and digital market.
All these products are modules each customer can invest in their requirements and then expand their workflow by adding additional modules, when they get to a specific business challenge.
"In this discussion we focused on the new technologies, of course, such as cloud and IP. I would like to point out that Imagine is a perfect business partner for the traditional solutions, for example with ADC and Versio we currently support a huge number of worldwide playout center, we are continually enhancing and developing these product as we do believe that the new technologies will not replace the traditional ones, but will work aside of them and still be the best choice for many customers and workflows."
radiotvlink.com: Now let’s focus in Aviator. In your opinion what are the significant features that distinguish Aviator from other platforms in the market? How does it work? Please refer some basic and advanced use cases. Why should the Broadcast and Media companies invest in Aviator and how?
Fabrizio Mariani: With Imagine’s Aviator we are able to support the entire plan, playout, monetize workflow, typical of any linear or digital channel, into a single cloud native superplatform, running on public cloud and soon on private cloud.
This is unique, Aviator is the only broadcast quality platform able to integrate all these parts of the production and helping the customers also to monetize the content; usually to do this at this level the customer have to provide and interface multiple software for many vendors, causing many headaches.
I believe Aviator can bring advantages to many customer types.
For traditional linear broadcasters it brings the possibility to have a playout platform in the cloud, able to do DTV but also OTT, producing TV at a broadcast quality perfectly integrated with the online tier, for DR (Disaster Reovery), pop-up channels and so on. It also helps these broadcasters to start monetizing their content. That is something that usually they don’t do until today.
For the digital native customers, building FAST and OTT playout networks, we bring them broadcast quality playout, and we offer a single platform for their entire workflow, with a very good return on investment and time to market.
radiotvlink.com: Imagine Communications presented SureFire™, the Broadcast Quality Ad Decisioning solution for Linear TV and VOD applications. What is SureFire™ and in your opinion what are its main features? Why is it important to the Broadcast and Media companies?
Fabrizio Mariani: SureFire is a game changer because it is an AD server integrated with the ‘plan’ (sales, right and scheduling) and ‘make’ (playout) modules. This allows this server to take the best decisions on which AD to be shown to a OTT customer based on his interest, but also based on what content watched and he is going to watch in the future. Avoiding to show multiple time the same advertisement and offering an AD that make sense with the playlist.
The most common AD servers they do not have this capability and SureFire allows indeed customers to monetize better their advertisement. Such a unified system has also many more advantages from the operational side.
"SNP™ is a very advanced platform for helping broadcasters evolving their workflow, in SDI and in IP and making convergent the two technologies."
radiotvlink.com: In your opinion, after so many technology transitions, what will be the path of the Broadcast and Media Industry in the following years? And what will be the future of Imagine Communications according this path?
Fabrizio Mariani: These transitions will have to consolidate and expand into the market, some of them becoming standards and some of them will remain niche solutions. This is a normal process.
Imagine Communications will help customers get the best advantage from these new trends by offering productised technology to implement them.
radiotvlink.com: Is there any other significant solution from Imagine Communications that you should mention to provide a more spherical view for our readers?
Fabrizio Mariani: In this discussion we focused on the new technologies, of course, such as cloud and IP. I would like to point out that Imagine is a perfect business partner for the traditional solutions, for example with ADC and Versio we currently support a huge number of worldwide playout center, we are continually enhancing and developing these product as we do believe that the new technologies will not replace the traditional ones, but will work aside of them and still be the best choice for many customers and workflows.
radiotvlink.com: I believe it is the right time to talk about Services, before, during the implementation and after the end of a project that Imagine Communications and/or AmyDV can provide to the Broadcast and Media companies. What’s the philosophy behind the Services?
Fabrizio Mariani: Imagine and partners such as AmyDV are able to provide a full range of services, such as presale and consultancy services, to help the customers to design the best system and to optimize their business and technical processes. We have also a big team to offer any level of post sales service such as professional services for implementation and support services to guarantee the availability and productivity of the equipment.
AmyDV and the other Imagine partners are very important because they help Imagine to be close to the customers, speaking their language and understanding their challenges.
"I believe this codec (JPEG XS) will replace the “old” JPEG 2000 encoding and also – in few cases where quality and latency is important – the more compressed H264 and H265."
radiotvlink.com: Having in mind the installations and all the post-covid figures, in which markets is Imagine Communications present in your area (Italy, Greece and Malta) and globally and in what position in the market? Also what are the prospects for the company?
Fabrizio Mariani: Imagine is a very strong player in the market, in all my area we are working with the main broadcasters and over the last few years we did key implementation in all our areas, such as playout, networking and traffic.
We have a similar position in the other areas, having key deployments in all the areas being one of the most recognized players in the market and leading the innovation in our market.
radiotvlink.com: You have recently joined Imagine Communications and you are responsible for our area. What do you find here and what are your prospects for the future? How is your cooperation with AmyDV (AMY S.A.)?
Fabrizio Mariani: Amy DV is a great company to work with, they are very experienced in the market and they are a very good complement of our technology, they are very professional and trustful.
I believe over the few years the Greece market will accelerate the transitions that are currently happening on other bigger markets such as Italy. Here we are now speaking with some customers for the first implementation of video IP networks, while in Italy we have already few of them implemented. I believe this delay is given by the market size, but I believe the adoption of new standards will accelerate, also because the Greece customers are often very innovative.
"I believe the Broadcast and Media market can trust cloud in terms of availability and security, actually their implementation is usually more safe than a normal broadcaster datacenter. What needs to be carefully calculated is the feasibility in terms of total cost of ownership and what can be the hidden costs for outsourcing the content and technology. But these factors really depend from use case to use case and by customer priorities."
radiotvlink.com: Thank you very much for this meeting and the conversation we had and I wish to Imagine and to you all the best for the future.
Fabrizio Mariani: Thank you too, it was nice to have this conversation! I wish you all the best.
* Distributor for Hellas