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The Switch: More than just esports

The Switch's executive team tell TVBEurope about their plans for the future

For some within the media and technology industry, when you think of The Switch you think of esports. At least that seems to have been the company’s focus over the past couple of years. But with the recent appointment of Eric Cooney as the company’s CEO, the executive team at The Switch are keen to shift the spotlight on to other areas of their business.

Cooney took over as CEO in April of this year, tasked with focusing on accelerating growth through product innovation. One of the areas he’s also keen to focus on is expanding the company’s global footprint, particularly in Europe where he describes the growth opportunity as “clear and compelling.”

The Switch originally started out as a transmission services provider, leveraging private fibre network connectivity in North America, and subsequently expanding those transmission services to include satellite and fibre elsewhere around the world. More recently, the company made a conscious decision to invest in its production services capability. In North America, The Switch acquired KCET, a public broadcast station located in Burbank, California. “When I look forward in terms of incremental revenue growth, the business is heavily predisposed towards production services as an engine for growth,” Cooney tells TVBEurope.

The Switch’s Burbank facility

Another major operations area for The Switch is live sport transmission. The company has over 800+ connections globally to media organisations, supplying content from the NFL, NHL, Premier League etc. The Switch is also active in news, thanks to their facilities in Los Angeles, New York and London that enable news agencies to interview experts from wherever they are. On top of that, The Switch is also part of the major broadcast operations that bring some of the biggest awards shows to our screens, including both the Oscars and Emmys. At the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on September 22nd, a team from The Switch will have a  transmission trailer on the red carpet providing support for both domestic US and international clients.

As part of their forward thinking, the team at The Switch are already preparing for some of the new technologies that are about to sweep the media and technology industry. “5G as a transmission technology is highly relevant for our business, both in terms of contribution and distribution,” explains Cooney. “Today, our vantage point is relatively early days in terms of 5G adoption, and on both sides of the pond there’s a fair bit of testing and evaluation going on. For us, the questions and opportunities are about adding that to our platform for production and distribution, or transmission of video content. We are keeping our fingers on the pulse in terms of market evolution in both North America and Europe.”

Another emerging technology The Switch is watching closely is video over IP, where the team see their role as ensuring that their platform enables the creation and distribution of video over IP. “I think from our vantage point now with the standards, largely the dust has settled in terms of the SMPTE 2110, 2022 standards that have enabled the hardware providers to develop largely interoperable platforms,” says Cooney. “I think the systems integrators, and ourselves included, would suggest there’s always a bit of secret sauce, so to speak, that needs to be put in to actually making all of the components work together. But nonetheless is it possible today to string together a complete true end-to-end workflow distributing high quality, high performance video over IP? Of course, the answer is yes, it can be done.”

On that point, as well as dealing with the SMPTE standards, how are the team at The Switch preparing for the different codecs such as AV1 and HEVC? “I think I think the point is, we’re pretty agnostic,” says Kevin O’Meara, vice president of marketing at The Switch. “As long as the customer understands what they want, and how they want to do it, we can figure out what the solution is. We’re not betting the farm on any particular type of technology, we assess every opportunity as it comes. Sometimes we need to make a decision as to whether we can invest in that space, at that particular time.”

According to Cooney there are specific opportunities that he is currently focusing on. The first is leveraging the company’s expertise with transmission services to invest in its production services business. “What we have in London, New York and Los Angeles today is really just the starting point,” he explains. “It’s about 20 per cent of our revenue. But we think there are significant opportunities to grow and expand that production services business, given the relevant macro drivers.

“Frankly, looking at the market need and the opportunity for us to invest much more significantly in terms of expansion of our production facilities, what that means and where we go next, is to be determined. But, production services is definitely where we are headed, particularly in terms of remote production, where broadcasters or rights holder are outsourcing some of their production requirements to somebody like The Switch.”

George Lopez, SVP of operations, picks up on that point: “We have been doing remote productions for CBS, UFC, UEFA, so that is nothing new to us. But we’re now in the process of building a brand new 600 square foot state of the art at home production studio. The concept is you do live broadcast production events, and you leverage our robust low latency network to bring it back to a centralised location, which will be Burbank. But we’re looking to expand that. We have so much connectivity all over the US that we’re able to leverage that network so that you don’t have to go out and get a satellite truck, because we’re already there at that venue.”

“If you look at the way that the company has evolved, we’ve actually done the really hard bit of production and distribution, because we’ve been doing the distribution,” adds O’Meara. “To have those connections and the networks, but also the experience in the teams that we have, I’d say they’re probably second to none, anywhere in the industry, for figuring out the hard problems. 

“We’ve got guys on the team that have 30 years of production experience, so building that production side of it is an easier proposition for us than actually the network side. And we’ve been doing that for ages. So I think that gives us a bit of an edge in the marketplace.”