Corrections or additions?
This article by Doug Dixon was prepared for the July 21, 2004
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Scopus Goes for Gold in Athens
Looking for a high-profile challenge for your company? How about
having your equipment responsible for transmitting the video feed for
NBC’s 24-hour continuous coverage from the 2004 Olympic Games this
August 13 through 29? That’s the assignment for Princeton-based Scopus
Network Technologies, which is providing digital video transmission
systems to carry two high-definition and up to 25 standard-definition
channels for NBC, and for a Spanish-language U.S. broadcast on
"It’s a very high profile event," says Carlo Basile, president of
Scopus Network Technologies. "It will be an exciting summer." And for
other reasons as well: "We’re big in the news-gathering environment,
and this is an election year." says Basile. "We’ll play a pretty good
role with a couple broadcasters at both conventions."
Scopus helps to design these video networks, install the equipment,
and provides on-site service for such high-profile events. "It’s a
very mission critical thing," says Mario Rainville, associate vice
president of Product Marketing at Scopus. "So you have to do
everything you can and more to make sure. It’s like practicing for a
sport: You ask ‘Have I practiced enough?’ But sometimes enough is
never enough. You always use all the time that you have to make sure
it’s going to be perfect when it’s on the air."
Basile founded the North American headquarters of Scopus in July,
2003, as the Israeli company expanded its worldwide presence, by also
adding offices in the UK, Scandinavia, and Singapore. The Princeton
office has since expanded to 13 people, and occupies approximately
3,300 square feet in the Princeton Overlook Center on Canal Pointe
Boulevard off Alexander Road and Route 1.
Scopus has over 200 employees worldwide, with offices in New Jersey
and San Diego in the U.S., Beijing, China, Mexico City, Mexico, San
Paolo, Brazil, Mumbai, India, Moscow, Russia, Frankfurt, Germany,
Scandinavia, the U.K., Singapore, and the corporate headquarters in
Tel Aviv, Israel. Most of the satellite offices are sales oriented,
with Princeton and Beijing staffed for sales and marketing, and also
technical support and system integration.
Scopus chose Princeton for the new office even though it already had a
U.S. office in San Diego, since, with the headquarters in Israel, "the
10-hour time difference to the west coast is difficult," says Basile.
"The company had its sights on someplace close to New York City," he
says, since "a lot of our customer base is here on the east coast."
But "doing business in Manhattan itself is expensive and has its own
difficulties," he says. "I live not far from here, and this is a great
building. And right here on the Route 1 corridor is a good place to
find people. There’s a talent pool that likes to work in this area,
and the cost of doing business is reasonable. We haven’t had to
relocate people; we’ve been doing fine with the employee base in this
Subsequently, the Princeton office has become the Americas
headquarters for Scopus, "basically Canada down to Chile," says
Basile. "We started out with one person. Now we have 12 people here,
Both Basile and Rainville are actually trained as electrical
engineers. They were previously with Morecom Inc., an interactive TV
(ITV) software company in Horsham, Pennsylvania, that Rainville
co-founded in 1997 to develop interactive software for
Internet-enabled cable set-top boxes. Basile joined Rainville at
Morecom as COO in 1999.
While ahead of its time in consumer adoption of digital television,
Morecom was a success and was sold to Liberate Technologies in 2000,
for $561 million. When Liberate closed the Horsham site in 2002,
Basile left the company, while Rainville remained in product
marketing, and later joined Basile at Scopus in July, 2003.
"I’m an engineer by trade," says Basile. "I’ve been in the video
business my whole career, all different aspects of it. I’ve been with
CBS, a broadcaster, to a consumer electronics company, Philips, then
working on software for set-tops with Morecom, and now professional
Basile graduated from Polytechnic University in New York in 1979 with
a master’s degree in electrical engineering. He then joined the CBS
research and development facility in Stanford Connecticut. "At that
time CBS was a very different company than it is today," says Basile.
"It owned Columbia Records, did R&D on television and audio recording
for records, and had people working on musical instruments for
Steinway Piano and Fender. I was working on video disc recording for
In 1984 Basile joined the Philips research facility in Briarcliff
Manor, New York, working on high definition television and then
digital communications. "I spent a lot of years working in television
and video compression," says Basile. "For a few years I worked very
closely with the people at Sarnoff on high definition television and
the digital television standard. Jim Carnes (then CEO of Sarnoff) was
really connected with the program; he was very much involved. I spent
a lot of time in the field lab there."
Then from 1997 to 1999 Basile moved to Silicon Valley to work with
Philips consumer electronics in Palo Alto, where he was responsible
for worldwide development of digital television products. "Then I
wound up back here," he says, as CTO at Princeton Video Image Inc.,
joining another former Sarnoff person, Brown Williams, who founded the
company. Basile also played a role in the development of the Digital
Television Standard, for which he earned an Emmy award in 1997.
Basile joined Morecom at the end of 1999, through a Philips
connection. "The CEO and co-founder of Morecom, who Mario was working
with, was a former Philips guy who was actually my boss for a time."
Mario Rainville received his electrical engineering degree in 1987
from Laval University in Quebec, where he was born.
Rainville then joined Matrox Electronics Systems in Montreal to design
high-performance image processing and graphics hardware.
"I spent five to six years in design," he says, "designing hardware
accelerators, to find image features in real time doing pattern
recognition." This equipment was used for various applications,
including airport security.
In 1992, says Rainville, "I got into telecom" with a start-up in
Montreal, ABL (Advanced Broadband Links), "doing transport for voice
and data over fiber optic links. I was in charge of technical product
Then in 1995 Rainville was recruited by General Instrument Corporation
(now Motorola) to develop broadband equipment in San Diego. "The cable
companies were looking to offer telephone services," he says, "and
were looking for guys with telco backgrounds, and I had video too."
However, Rainville did not want to move to the west coast, but
conveniently GI’s headquarters was in the Philadelphia area, so he
joined as director of interactive set-top terminals. "I was in charge
of digital set-top development," he says, "a new generation for
Morecom started out in early 1997, says Rainville. "The idea was to
build an interactive television platform based on Internet standards,"
so the platform could provide Web-like interactivity combined with
streaming video and video on demand (VOD).
On key differentiator for Morecom was using a broadband connection.
"The stuff that was going on at that time were things like WebTV that
used a telephony connection," says Basile. "We let you use a broadband
The other difference was to not require a new, high-performance
set-top platform. "This idea had not been done before," says
Rainville. "The WebTV was a very powerful box. The idea at Morecom was
to run software on the existing deployed base of set-top boxes. We put
together a platform that runs on the low-end boxes that allows us to
do a lot of cool things, without having to deploy it; it was just a
Unfortunately, the whole idea of interactive television services just
has not caught on with consumers. "What you see today, what got into
the field was VOD," says Rainville. "The E-commerce part of it did not
take off yet."
Even so, Morecom had a good run from 1997 to 2000. "It took us six
months to raise money," says Rainville, "and then at the end of 1997
we were ready to get the team in place and develop the technology. We
did quite a bit of good things in Europe, in Germany, and things were
running pretty well."
Then the competition arrived, including OpenTV, Liberate, ACTV, and
others. "All those companies got into the field in 1999 and 2000,"
says Rainville. "It was really time for consolidation."
And the consolidation of interactive television software companies
arrived in March, 2000. Liberate Technologies acquired Morecom for
$561 million, and "the same night we announced the deal," says
Rainville, "OpenTV announced they acquired Spyglass. We had 60
employees in Horsham," he says. "Liberate was in San Carlos,
California. It was a pretty high profile acquisition by the standards
of the time."
"In a start-up you end up doing a lot of things," says Rainville, "you
do whatever it takes. You go to a trade show and roll up your sleeves.
The resources are limited. Even after three years, you are always
stretched, and do more than you can."
"That’s a great environment to be in," says Basile, "It’s a really fun
environment. There’s no such thing as ‘It’s not my job’ – whatever it
is, it’s your job."
"It was very dynamic," says Rainville. "That’s one of the reasons the
acquisition took place, because the team was very strong."
However, "Liberate went though a lot of restructuring," says Basile,
"and now they are Chapter 11." Liberate consolidated to the California
office, and "we unfortunately had to close the doors in Horsham in
Rainville stayed with Liberate after the acquisition until late 2002.
"I worked out of my home office," he says. "but most of the time I was
traveling." Meanwhile, Basile left with the office closing. "I turned
out the lights," he says.
"The companies are still in competition today in terms of a middleware
platform for cable set-top boxes," says Rainville. "Liberate was very
well positioned because it was backed by Oracle. So the big battle was
between Oracle and Microsoft, because Microsoft bought WebTV."
"The interactive TV space changed a lot." he says. "It really stated
being focused on VOD (video on demand) and PVR (personal video
recorders), video-based services. Buying a pizza on TV is not there,
at least on the consumer side."
"It’s not clear from a business standpoint how a subscriber will want
to do all those interactive things," says Rainville. "Television has
to be simple, has to remain simple."
Joining Scopus moved Basile and Rainville further away from consumer
set-top boxes to transmission and video compression equipment. Instead
of needing to sell products to cable companies, which then have to
deploy boxes into homes, Scopus sells professional equipment directly
to the broadcasters, that they use directly within their studios and
networks. "The video you see is transported using our equipment," says
Scopus is focused on the delivery of digital TV and data over
broadband networks. This turns out to be a non-trivial problem in
today’s world because of the profusion of formats and standards for
storing video and transmitting through data networks. You shoot some
video at a remote site in any one of a number of "standard" video
formats, analog or digital, and then you want to transmit it over some
arbitrary links of high-speed networks, and then deliver it in some
other arbitrary mix of formats. And you want this end-to-end process
to be rock-solid reliable.
This is Scopus’ bread and butter: products that encode, aggregate,
convert, transmit, route, monitor, receive, decode, and distribute
digital video. Scopus calls this the "Intelligent Video Network"
architecture, components for end-to-end networked distribution of
compressed digital video. This equipment is used by customers
including global satellite broadcasters and cable television and telco
operators such as BBC, CBS Newspath, Hughes, FOX News, Deutsche
Telekom, France Telecom, Korea Telecom, SKY Italia, and others.
For broadcasters, Scopus products are used for applications including
direct to home distribution over satellite, cable TV, and DSL. Scopus
equipment is also used for video distribution for digital satellite /
Electronic News Gathering (ENG) and distance learning and business
users, over satellite and terrestrial telecommunications links, as
well as wireless cable, and microwave links.
While Scopus is well-known and successful overseas, "we had a small
presence in the U.S.," says Rainville. "The market for our product in
North America is quite large. By the end of this year at least half
the cable subscribers in the U.S. will be able to get VOD if they want
"It’s a perception issue, he says, "people don’t know the company, we
need to build the brand. We’re not a start-up. The company has been
around for a long time." Scopus began as spin-off of Tadiran, "which
was basically the GE of Israel, a widely diversified company." As a
result, "Scopus benefits from over 20 years of video compression
work." Scopus is privately held, and raised $15.5 million of second
round financing in August 2003.
Scopus built its reputation for major events like the Olympics with
the 2002 World Cup. "It’s not very well known in North America, says
Basile, "but in the rest of the world soccer is king. There were
billions of eyeballs watching it. That was 200 channels of compressed
video, all of which was handled by our equipment. We demonstrated that
we could handle such an event."
For the Olympics, NBC’s main transmission path is between the
International Broadcast Center in Athens and its New York and New
Jersey sites in the U.S. This will use Scopus MPEG DVB Encoders to
transmit six channels via satellite and fiber optic links to Scopus
Integrated Receiver Decoders. These Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB)
boxes compress the various video inputs into the MPEG compressed
digital video format (also used on DVDs and for digital satellite and
cable TV), transmit it over the various network links, and then
decompress and convert it back into the formats. Scopus is also
equipping two digital satellite news gathering vans with video
encoders for as many as four transmissions per mobile van.
But Scopus’ involvement with its customers is much deeper than just
selling products. "We are very close to customers", says Rainville.
"It’s not enough to have the right thing on the shelf, but when they
call with a problem or they want to add features you have to be
responsive and listen to what they need. Our team works really well
with R&D to add different types of interfaces to our products."
"You can imagine this kind of customer," says Basile. "The business
that they’re in is not a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, kind of business.
It’s 24/7, 365; when you’re working with them you have to be prepared
to support them."
"We have a wide range of video products installed," says Rainville,
"some are at fixed locations in nice air-conditioned systems, but
there are also encoders that fit in news trucks that are carried,
moved, and can be dropped on the floor. It’s important that when they
call we are there." Similarly, when there’s a possible problem in a
broadcast, "you need to troubleshoot in real time to monitor what the
problem is," he says. "You need a specialist on site to look at the
configuration and status of the encoder to troubleshoot before the
problem gets worse. Mission-critical stuff like this happens quite a
For the Olympics, Scopus is deploying teams from around the world.
"The people here in Princeton are handling the receive side of it,"
says Basile, "for redistribution using the NBC network in North
America. Other Scopus people are more convenient to Athens."
The Princeton office is half professional services, and half sales and
marketing. "We identify customer needs, what they want," says
Rainville. "We gain an understanding of their needs in the next six
months. This is a moving target, so you have to shoot and lead the
target. We can develop it so it’s ready for the market. You cannot
just react; you need to predict a little bit where it is going to be."
The future also includes a transition to new, more efficient digital
video formats. "MPEG-2 encoding is stretched to the limit in terms of
what you can do to stretch the bandwidth," says Rainville, "so now you
are looking at alternate methods." Scopus has announced a new
universal platform to support next-generation technologies including
MPEG-4 and Windows Media Video 9.
However, "commercialization is in its infancy," says Basile.
"Infrastructure for digital video connectivity worldwide started to be
built about 10 years ago, and now is widely deployed. Billions have
been spent building that infrastructure, so the companies that have
built it are not eager to abandon it."
One driver of newer technology is high definition television, "since
HD is a bandwidth hog and needs all the help it can get," says Basile.
Similarly, "satellite operators are always at the top in terms of data
conservation, always pushing the limit" to squeeze more channels into
the available circuits.
Another open field is video delivered over DSL. "DirectTV has tens of
millions of set-tops boxes out there," says Rainville. "You can’t tell
everybody to buy a new one." But video for DSL is a new field, with
more difficult challenges. "Because of bandwidth constraints, DSL
needs to see better performance in video encoding to be more widely
deployed. The limit today is two video streams per copper wire pair,
but most homes have more than two televisions."
"The direction that the industry will take is not entirely clear,"
says Basile. "There are unresolved licensing issues with MPEG-4, and
the adoption of two competing standards could significantly reduce the
economy of scale in moving to a new digital video infrastructure.
There will come a time when the economic case is made, and the
customer will choose."
Scopus has completed the transition for Basile and Rainville from the
original training in engineering and development to roles focused on
business and marketing.
"At a start-up, you become more marketing and business development,"
says Rainville. "You start to sell on day one because you sell
investors. It’s a transition to a more marketing role from the
technical side." Even at Morecom, "It was a mix for the first year
until we got the team in place, then it was more focused on technical
marketing. I actually wrote quite a bit of code for the graphics
"Twenty years ago it would be different," says Basile, "engineers were
much more pigeon holed."
"Now, in today’s world it’s good to have the [technical] background,"
says Rainville. "You develop the products, and then it’s much easier
to have discussions with technical guys at the customer. It’s an
advantage to understand that; it’s obvious you need to have the
"People with those skills can be very successful," says Basile, "in
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