We spoke to Indrek Lepp, EVP, Head of Media Services at Levira, the Tallinn, Estonia-based digital services provider about the company’s proud history, current operations, future plans and how it is championing start-ups – as well as base jumping the 314m Tallinn Tower which is its home.
A proud history and secure future
Levira is a technology partner to companies whose business depends on technologies and who wish to involve a professional service provider that can offer the necessary infrastructure solutions.
The history of Levira goes back to 1920s when radio broadcasting first began. At the same time there was also a need for broadcast network and other technical services, and the predecessor of Levira was established to supply these. Today almost 100 years later, although the industry has changed and keeps on changing, the need for technical competence, innovation and reliable services is undiminished.
Throughout those 100 years, Estonia has been through very different and some difficult times, but our organization has survived, and our people are carrying forward our history, knowledge and competence. During my time at Levira, which I joined in 2001, we have on several occasions celebrated 50 year work anniversaries of our colleagues and there are many more such celebrations to come.
Broadcast network services have been our historical core role in the Estonian domestic market and this is still an important part of what we do. Today we focus on helping broadcasters and media houses to transform, to keep up with changes, to grow and develop, not just to survive. We appreciate innovation, continuity and creativity, and we design agile solutions together with our clients. We value strong partnerships which is the foundation of trust.
Levira operates one of the largest independent TV play-out centers in Northern Europe serving local, regional as well as international broadcasters. Our dedicated fiber-based Media Distribution Network, which spans Europe, allows us to deliver linear content to TV-platforms in all the major networks in Scandinavia, the Baltics and Central-Eastern Europe in a reliable and cost-efficient way.
Our Asset Management, Orchestration and Automation solutions fit the various needs of media companies, but are also well applicable in other industries working with video, audio, photo or other digital assets. Levira’s Outside Broadcast team is recognized to be the best in the region and is regularly involved in various productions with the highest requirements like FIBA Eurobasket tournaments or Eurovision Song Contests to name just two.
We operate a data center of over 1000m2 in one of the safest and securest premises – in the basement of Tallinn TV-Tower –surrounded by tons of concrete; we also provide various IT services on the top.
Levira has been profitable since it was re-established in 1997 and we have two very strong shareholders: the Estonian government (with 51%) & TDF Group from France. This is important to allow us to innovate, develop, and test and means we can also allow ourselves to fail with some innovations.
On top of all above we also operate Tallinn TV tower as a tourist attraction, hosting annually close to 200,000 visitors. There is an interesting connection between Levira and the TV-Tower as a tourist attraction: every year in the summer there is one week when base jumpers from around the world come to jump from the 314m TV-Tower. By a coincidence (or not…) one of the very first to base jump about 15 years ago was our current chairman of the Council. Jumping with a parachute, particularly from the top of the building, is a real challenge and takes a lot of courage – exactly like jumping into a new technology, into a new service, into something what no one has done before and you do not know if you will succeed or not. I can imagine that for start-ups ‘base jumping’ is their everyday life, with only one difference: unlike start-ups close to all base jumps are successful.
What is our ‘secret sauce’, you ask?It is dedication, competence and courage to try out new ideas, to disrupt traditional approaches. We are not afraid to fail, as long we do it fast, and learn the lessons from it.
Moving into IoT
We see IoT as an important part of the future of our living and existence. Therefore we put efforts into developing and securing IoT infrastructure and IoT platforms to be used in various applications and services. Broadcasting and IOT solutions share an essential requirement: 100% reliability. Our network of high masts covering 100% of the country with secured power is an unbeatable asset for services which need the highest possible reliability. One cannot imagine a situation when self-driving cars on highways all of a sudden lose control because a power line was broken or some batteries on base stations went flat.
Tuned for synergy
We are all in the same boat – one cannot succeed without others succeeding too. Particularly in today’s world, you need to collaborate with every party: with your providers, with your clients as well as with your competitors and always keep in mind that it is always about people, not companies or brands.
Our team is tuned for synergy. As people we all are different but each of us will supplement others and the result is smooth and optimal communication inside and outside of the company in relations with clients and partners. We are good listeners and can provide successful solutions because of this. This is our DNA – synergetic partnerships.
Change or die
It is change or die, as simple as that. Over its history Levira has faced this situation tens of times. Some changes were forced by state/government decisions, but mostly it has been a need coming from the market. However, over recent decades most changes were technology driven – kind of a replacing one box with another, better one. Changes which are happening now over last years are, of course, also technical, but much, much more business model-based. So replacing one ‘box’ with another is not sufficient anymore. You need to adopt or even better, you need to drive those changes, if you are smart enough.
It is our true goal to be in the forefront of innovation; we bring validated early stage media solutions to our customers, helping them to innovate. In doing so we also work closely together with the disrupters of the industry. There are already several products developed by start-ups which we are closely working with to help them develop, improve, productize and bring to the market. One example here is Votemo, a real-time audience interaction tool which brings innovation in audience engagement with extra revenue streams from extra ad-space and paid voting options. This autumn Freemantle’s X-Factor in Latvia has been using Votemo with great success. Other examples are Adbreak AI, an automated ad spot scheduling tool and Slash9, an automated media monitoring and enhanced statistics tool. Both are using the same AI based engine in the background and on top of it they have developed tools bringing efficiency and savings. It has also become a great tradition at Levira to run internal Hackathons to generate new ideas, initiatives and solutions as well to develop agility and teamworking within organisation.
We see our role here as a technology partner to companies whose business depends on technologies and who wish to involve a professional service provider that can offer essential infrastructure solutions.
What’s next for Levira?
From technology perspective SMPTE ST 2110 based workflows will make a significant impact in the near future and Levira is fully geared up for this. Last summer we set-up for a client a real live ST 2110 based test platform which was tested for all possible functionalities and capabilities. As testing was successful, we have already started planning a commercial set-up of the platform to go live by mid-2020.
Also, various new AI-based solutions are coming to make different operations more efficient and more accurate. Levira cooperates with several start-up companies developing such solutions and helping them to take their products to the market as briefly described above.
On another note, while we see growth of different new content platforms, I still believe traditional television will remain an important part of the media industry. It will transform and change to focus more on live content, sports and news, but it will remain at the top of viewer preferences – at least for quite some time. Just like TV/DVD did not kill cinemas – quite the opposite with cinemas now having best time ever – I personally believe there is a place for linear TV, but it will likely have to change, become much more attractive and engaging.