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

Telemundo.

"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

area."

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,

and growing."

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

equipment manufacturing."

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

Columbia Records."

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

development."

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

digital cable."

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

connection."

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

software download."

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

2002."

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

Rainville.

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."

"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

bit."

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

engine."

"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

business mindset."

"People with those skills can be very successful," says Basile, "in

many ways."

Doug Dixon’s Manifest Technology website (www.manifest-tech.com) has

reviews and commentary on computers and computer technology.


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