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‘We want to be the leading managed services company in Europe’: Red Bee Media’s new CEO discusses the company’s plans

James Arnold talks to TVBEurope about his new role, plans for the company, and why broadcasters need to evaluate their needs as they move from SDI to IP

Last week it was announced that James Arnold has been appointed as the new CEO of Red Bee Media, taking over from Steve Nylund.

By his own admission, Arnold has been with the company for “a very long time”, having most recently served as chief commercial officer.

“I was very much at the heart of all of our commercial activities, how we develop our go-to-market proposition and how it moves forward,” Arnold tells TVBEurope.

He describes his new role as CEO as a “bit more all-encompassing” due to his new responsibilities, including operations and technologies. “There are very strong and capable individuals who are running those parts of the business,” he adds. “I’m not a technologist, that’s not my area of expertise, but because I’ve been in the business for so long, when we’re developing our commercial propositions, building solutions based on technology, I’ve always been very close to that.

“Ultimately, the decision-making now rests with me and it probably gives me an opportunity to look at some of those things I maybe haven’t understood in the past and have questioned why they are done the way they’re or why things are as complicated as they are, and really challenge that,” he adds.

Arnold describes Red Bee as having a “customer-centric” focus, with the aim of understanding and delivering solutions that they need. “Hopefully I can bring my perspective and also maybe a customer’s perspective so we can really start to sharpen customer focus across the entire organisation,” he explains. “I’m not stepping aside from the fact that I do now have responsibility for the parts of the business where I didn’t have direct responsibility before. But the good news is we have strong people in there who I trust and I know are doing a good job, so we can hopefully look at things in a slightly different way because there’s always opportunities to make improvements and make changes.”

While admitting he isn’t a technologist, Arnold is keen to stress that no one can work in our industry without picking up some knowledge. “You can’t go through the period of change and transition that we’ve experienced without becoming pretty tuned into what things work, what things are right, what structures work,” he states. “I was part of the team which actually migrated the entire business out of Television Centre into Broadcast Centre, that was a fundamental regear of the entire business, new facility, new infrastructure, new operating models.

“Technology doesn’t evolve in isolation. It evolves in relation to your commercial models. It evolves in relation to your operating models. And so, whilst we have areas of expertise, all of us have to be pretty competent in all of those spheres if we aren’t going to come up with solutions that are going to meet our customers’ needs.”

When Red Bee first launched in 2005. it included a technology stack for the BBC, one for UKTV, another for ITV and another for Channel 4. While it has been investing in its platforms recently, Arnold admits no one solution will ever meet every customer’s needs, despite the fact that most of them are probably wrestling with the same challenges. “They all approach that problem in a different way, and they’re all looking for different ways of solving that problem,” he continues. “That’s one of the things I think we’re looking to do now. That awareness, understanding of the motivations and drivers behind those customers, hopefully gives me a bit of an advantage in terms of thinking about how we organise our business to meet their needs.”

Asked about his immediate plans for the company, Arnold says the management team’s aim is for Red Bee to become the leading managed services partner for video in Europe. “If you think about last few years in phases, we went through a period where we started to invest heavily in our platforms, looking at software, looking at how we use cloud, how we achieve some common standards across our platforms. That was a very introspective exercise,” says Arnold.

“We then spent quite a bit of time working with our existing customers, and we’re now in a good place. We’ve migrated a number of customers onto our new platforms. We’ve got agreements in place with our next round of customers, and our existing customers to migrate them onto our new platforms. So the strategy really is to extend that out into the wider market.”

Arnold adds that the move by many broadcasters to outsourcing has happened in “fits and spurts over the last 15-20 years”.

He believes that many should now be re-evaluating their needs going forward, especially as the industry moves from SDI to IP. “It means many organisations are thinking about the skills and the capabilities they need to have to be able to maintain operations,” he adds. “It forces them to think about what they do themselves and what they don’t do.

“In the past, you could make an investment and you could rely on delivering what you need for the next 10 years. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. People have shorter planning horizons, which again mitigate against making big significant investments which they then have to live with for a period of time. So why wouldn’t you work with a more agile operator?”

That’s part of Red Bee’s key message to current and future customers: what do they consider is a core capability for their businesses to succeed and to challenge the status quo? “In the old days there was a suggestion that organisations wanted to do everything themselves just from a sort of control point of view,” explains Arnold. “I don’t think organisations think that way anymore. They’re far more progressive in challenging the way they do things. So the message to our customers is to do the analysis internally and ask what do we need to do ourselves? What can we buy from the market?”

“At Red Bee we’ve invested in our platforms, but that doesn’t mean we’ve just got one common solution to a range of problems. We’ve got a far more modular approach and model, and we’re very open to working with our customers to come up with a solution that meets their needs, and is specific to their particular circumstances, the size, the scale, the complexity, the reach of the services that they provide. We want them to welcome us in and to have an open and meaningful conversation about what they need from a service provider such as Red Bee, and just test and challenge the established ways of working, because it may well be that in those conversations, we can see an opportunity for us to do something really special and quite significant together.”