Still thinking purple10 June 2013
Miranda has been a market leader and innovator since its foundation 25 years ago. Now, under new owner Belden, it has undergone a management transformation. Dick Hobbs talked to new company president Marco Lopez (pictured) about inorganic development and the risks of venture capital.
Like many companies in our industry, Miranda was founded by broadcast engineers — in this case from CBC in Canada. The late eighties was the time of the first digital video technology, and Miranda’s first products were analogue to parallel digital converters, the foundation of the PicoLink series. They were housed in small, bright purple cases: the colour stuck, and the first advertising urged engineers to ‘think purple’.
The engineers grew the product line, and were responsible for many innovations: Miranda invented the multi-viewer virtually single-handed. But from 2001 onwards the company also embarked on a series of tactical acquisitions.
First was Oxtel’s master control switchers and Vertigo graphics, which were combined in the Imagestore product which did branding as well as playout switching and tapped into the desire for lots of ‘coming nexts’ and rundown menus.
In 2009 it bought Californian router manufacturer NVision. “We looked at our product portfolio,” Lopez told me. “We had great glue, we invented the multiviewer. But we felt we were missing an important part: routing technology.”
The big deal, though, came in 2010, with the acquisition of automation specialist Omnibus and its iTX automation platform. “It was a bitter sweet moment for us: do we build or do we buy?” Lopez recalls. “We had all the technology to build a channel in a box, but we felt the whole workflow was essential.
“ITX had everything from ingest to QC to managing the assets. That was what was critical in the movement from traditional playout to integrated platforms which offer a real cost benefit as you increase the channel count.”
The most recent acquisition, subtitling specialist Softel, is seen by Miranda as part of the same workflow approach. “Subtitling is growing at a phenomenal pace,” according to Lopez. “ITX is all about integrated playout. Adding Softel improves the convenience and reliability, and reduces the overall cost.”
Miranda has generally been regarded as very successful at inorganic growth, the art of making acquisitions work. “You have to have a rigorous process to select the right company, then carefully integrate or you will get into trouble. We are going through this with Softel now: it’s a six month programme.”
The cultivation funnel
But while Miranda was on the acquisition trail, it too was the subject of a strategic buyout, following an uncomfortable and very public boardroom spat. Late in 2012 Miranda became a Belden brand. As part of the changes, long-term president and CEO Strath Goodship had his job split in two. He remains CEO and is responsible for the long-term view for the company. His role includes what was described as “the cultivation funnel” for future inorganic developments.
Marco Lopez as president reports to him, and handles the day-to-day running of the company and its 750 staff. Lopez has been at Miranda since 2005, joining from Matrox, so has a career in broadcast technology.
With a new hand on the tiller and a new owner, will Miranda shift direction? Lopez is emphatic that it will not. “If we look from a market point of view, broadcast is heavily fragmented,” he says. “You go to NAB and see thousands of companies serving a relatively small market. Vendors are looking for growth, so consolidation is inevitable.
“Belden is a very strong and financially healthy organisation,” he adds. “They have been around for more than 100 years, thanks to underlying principles including financial responsibility. And there is a lot of liquid money out there. People are keeping it in their coffers because they are very wary, but there are those who will lend – at low rates – to respectable businesses like Belden.”
But Belden is a $2 billion business. Is Miranda more than petty cash? “Broadcast is an important part of the strategy at Belden, and the addition of Miranda is adding to their opportunities to sell,” Lopez asserts. “We work closely with our counterparts at Belden where appropriate. For example, we developed the new M3 cable for linking multiviewers and routers together in very short time.
“Belden’s approach is that they bought Miranda because it was a growing, healthy company that was executing on its own strategic plan,” he says. “So it does not make sense to break what has been working for so many years.”
Asked what Belden brought to the deal, Lopez explained that it was helping Miranda do what it did in a more efficient manner. “Miranda had got to the point of growth where an entrepreneurial company needed to introduce process,” he explains. “We were bringing in consultancies for management, manufacture, development, HR. Belden had proven processes in place, and it had the resources to tailor those processes for the Miranda workspace.”
He also argues strongly that the Belden acquisition of Miranda is rather different to much of the current change in broadcast technology supply. “It brings a certain level of stability to the industry, which has been troubled by some of the private equity entities now in the business.
“They want to turn a certain profit in three, four, five years,” he says. “I believe that has hurt our industry. And it is different to how Belden is looking at Miranda.”
If Miranda has received the benefit of new business processes and financial security for further organic and inorganic growth, what is next for the company? Lopez voices a common concern.
“What we might call the ‘western’ markets – in which I include places like Japan as well as Europe and North America – are struggling now,” he says. “For an organisation like Miranda we have to be careful not to put all our eggs in one basket. We need to execute as quickly and as flawlessly as possible in the emerging markets.
“In our traditional markets we want to increase share, taking from struggling companies,” he concludes. “In emerging markets, we want to grow the market.”