Vislink CEO says that sports is likely to drive HD uptake in Africa


Last week African Broadcast, Film and Convergence interviewed Duncan Lewis, CEO of Vislink, a an international supplier of broadcast solutions. Lewis spoke about the forthcoming Workd Cup in South Africa and the impact of sports events on take-up of HD on the continent.

Q: Could you please tell us about your broadcast business?

A: We believe that through various Group companies, we have served nearly every broadcaster in the world; this is because of the comprehensive range of our products - Microwave, Wireless Cameras and Satellite systems - and our international reach. We expect this to continue, as we are investing heavily in the next generation of ENG products, we have reorganised the company around our customers, and we are expanding our international presence.

Q: Who are your broadcast clients?

A: We serve broadcasters, independent production houses and film producers.

Q: Have you secured any contracts with African companies in the media segment?

A: Yes, Globecast South Africa uses our satellite communications equipment and we have sold to many of the African broadcasters. We believe that this is going to be an increasingly important market for us in the future. For this reason, we are establishing a new sales and service office in Africa. We believe that if we are to look after our customers properly, we have to be located near them.

Q: How do you see the market for HD in Africa? The transition to HD has been very much spurred by the World Cup, but because it is more costly (in terms of additional satellite bandwidth) it may have less relevance elsewhere on the continent. That said, AIT in Nigeria is in the process of setting up an HD pay TV channel.

A: Until recently, satellite capacity has been a limiting factor in Africa, due to scarcity of bandwidth, but we are seeing a lot of investment in launching satellites for Africa and there is going to be a much greater capacity on the transponders for broadcasters to use. That coupled with the arrival of new technologies such as MPEG-4 encoding and DVB-S2 modulation means that it will be possible to transfer large amounts of data on narrow satellite bandwidth for a relatively low cost. HD will become big when the digital transition takes place and broadcasters will be able to migrate quite quickly. We foresee that HD will be very attractive for Sports applications.

We know that in many parts of Africa, broadcasters are intending to upgrade their equipment as it comes to the natural end of its life. We believe that HD will be progressively adopted, and indeed, a lot of modern equipment can be quickly converted to be HD.

Q: What level are your products addressing security issues? At the wholesale level to prevent capture of signal? Or at the retail level to prevent piracy at the card/set-top box level?

A: Our interest of course, is at the wholesale level for we sell ENG kit to the broadcasters; piracy at the retail level is a matter for the broadcasters and their suppliers of set-top boxes and all the related encryption systems.

Q: What is your view of the African market compared to Europe?

A: Many parts of the European market are quite quiet at the moment due to the economic slowdown. By contract, we are seeing signs of continued demand in Africa.

Q: How can you help support the 2020 (2010) FIFA World Cup in South Africa?

A: Our Link wireless camera systems are often chosen for sports events and they have some special features that are essential for sports broadcast, like camera control, reverse video and Triax interfaces. One of the considerations when covering a large stadium with wireless cameras is how to ensure that there will be stable reception as the cameramen move around during the game. We are using Diversity reception with multiple antennas to cover these large events and we are continuing to invest in enhancing our wireless camera technologies. For example, we have just released our Deep Interleaving firmware which fills in some of the tiny breaks in coverage that are typical of wireless camera outputs. This was used live at the recent London Marathon, with great success. The Premier League, the Champions League, the 2006 World Cup and the Euro 2008 competition were all captured in High Definition with our Link wireless camera systems so it should not be a surprise if our systems are used for the 2010 World Cup.

Q: Are there other major African football events (like the African Cup of Nations) where these same products might be relevant?

A: Any major outdoor event will be enhanced by using these products.

Q: Do you have any other plans in Africa?

A: In addition to opening an office, the details of which will be announced in due course, we shall increasingly be attending the major media events. We were recently at one in Jo'burg, and we will be going to MediaSat in July.