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Will life ever be the same again – supporting customers in a socially distanced world without tradeshows

By Scott Murray, Vice President of Marketing, Telestream

Tue 22, 09 2020

Ever since news first broke of the coronavirus pandemic at the start of 2020, all the usual rules of customer engagement have been suspended in the broadcast & media tech industries. NAB was first to fall, and this has been followed, almost inevitably, by other global events such as Broadcast Asia and IBC.

For any organization – whether you are on the customer or the tech vendor side – things have been tough (and for many continue to be so). But we will emerge on the other side. The big question is how are companies managing to either disseminate or acquire the industry knowledge they require to operate their businesses?

Seemingly forever, NAB and IBC have been cornerstones of the industry. So how have companies accommodated their demise this year, and are there lessons to be learned and positives to come out of the virtual environment that has replaced these mega events? We discuss this issue with Scott Murray, Vice President of Marketing at Telestream.

So Scott, by losing NAB, what challenges does this pose to Telestream in terms of engaging with its customers?

The greatest value of NAB is meeting with our customers and partners, many of whom have been friends for years. It’s so great to greet them with a smile and a handshake, catch-up about life and discuss how we can help them achieve their business objectives. By losing NAB, we have had to transition to video conferences, phone calls and remote demos, which are great, but there is nothing like sitting down and talking directly to our customers. We are confident that, sometime in the future, we will be able to greet our friends and customers like we have in the past.

Flipping that coin, how big an issue is it for our customers not to be able to meet with us at NAB?

This is interesting because there have been both positive and negative issues around this. When a customer comes to NAB, they not only learn about the new solutions we have that can help their business, they also learn about products that we had previously announced, but maybe they didn’t know about. We like to think our customers are always up on our latest & greatest, but the truth is that we may have introduced something a year ago and at NAB, our customer may just get their first introduction to it. No fault of theirs, they are busy running their business and have so many vendors to pay attention to. So, by not having NAB, it is hard for customers to know about all the great tech that’s out there in the video world…you discover a lot by wandering around the show floor. On the positive side, we’ve had to switch to virtual meetings and our customers have been able to have many more people attend than would have attended in person at NAB.

How quickly did the size the challenge become evident to our team after the announcement of NAB’s cancellation?

When news started spreading about COVID, we began speculating about the potential of not having NAB and what we would do. Then, as the pandemic progressed and several companies started cancelling their attendance, we seriously began putting a ‘Plan B’ in place. By the time NAB was officially cancelled, we were well under way. The great thing is that we learned a lot by hosting all of our webinars and are making some great adjustments for fall now that IBC has been cancelled.

What was more important – to act fast and get a strategy of customer engagement in place; or to reflect and take time working out the correct engagement strategy?

Abraham Lincoln said, “When I have six hours to chop down a tree, I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.” So, it’s always better to #1, not panic. Pause, take a deep breath, assemble your team of experts and determine the best strategy…then go like gangbusters on the execution!

Do customers need to tell their vendors what information they need, moving forward, or is it the responsibility of vendors to present all that info?

The responsibility falls on both parties. Our objective is to help our customers be successful. With that comes the responsibility from the customers to explain the projects they are executing on so they can run their business. Our responsibility is to clearly articulate how our solutions can be integrated into their business ecosystem to ensure a successful outcome. The interesting thing about this is customers need to trust us and value our solutions and our expertise. We like to be seen as someone our customer can trust and turn to when they need help figuring something out.

What new activities have worked best and why?

Our own employees have been working from home and so we have had to find way to, for example, play ‘unplayable’ media files. Hence, we developed GLIM to solve our own need and realized it was perfect for our customers.

GLIM is designed for ingest QC, engineering, master control, news, postproduction, and more, GLIM enables media professionals to play full resolution, mezzanine grade media files from their centralized storage over the Internet in a web browser.

GLIM was developed to solve well known remote work challenges where remote employees waste hours every day downloading mezzanine grade media files just so they can be played back. Many collaborative video production applications require transcoding prior to uploading to the site. GLIM allows users to play files immediately, from a browser interface, without any delays caused by transcoding and uploading. It supports playback, frame scrubbing & stepping and display of file properties and metadata. The GLIM playback experience is vastly superior to remote and virtual desktop techniques.

What activities have not worked so well and why?

With the shutdown of essentially all sports, live production has taken a hit. In addition, episodic production in Hollywood has also been put in hiatus. A lot of our NAB story has been focused on production and it’s tough for customers to get excited about some of our advances in areas that may be on hold for a period of time. We’re seeing signs that this is changing and we’re excited for customers to learn about our new production solutions.

How big a deal is it that IBC has cancelled now? Does it make a difference that there will be no big tradeshows in 2020 – would it have been easier to bridge the gap up to September or doesn’t that make much difference?

We’re not surprised IBC was cancelled. What is super interesting is that this gives us an opportunity to rethink our fall production announcement lineup. Given that we will be doing these announcements virtually, it gives us the opportunity to make it a worldwide event, not one that mostly is a European focused event.

When the big shows start up again, do you think they will follow the traditional model – if not, what changes do you think we will see?

I believe in tradeshows…but augmented with virtual presentations and meetings. I predict companies will look at their financials this year and ask themselves, did I really get my money’s worth out of that investment…did I miss NAB and IBC? Tradeshows are notoriously hard to analyze the return on investment. But in the 30+ years that I’ve been involved in NAB I’ve only ever heard pitches about how to “Spend more! Get greater return! Bigger Booth!” when in reality, I believe we need to “Spend Smarter”. No one in any of the trade organizations has ever come to me to say “OK, looks like we’ll be able to give you more space for less $”.

Has non-NAB taught us anything new about customer engagement – will we continue any of the new activities to support our attendance at the tradeshows?

NAB provides a great service to the industry (as all trade shows are intended to do). The bringing together like-minded individuals to discuss the latest technology trends and how best these can be deployed for the entertainment, and betterment, of society. The conference & technical sessions associated with trade shows are invaluable for any industry. What we really missed this year were these technical sessions and the face to face meetings.

Do you think our customers will stand to gain anything from this whole experience?

With vendors doing webinars and virtual demos, it provides exposure to more people who can’t attend the tradeshow. This is a plus and something that we saw. The key is going to see if we can do both…host an awesome booth where we can meet our customers face to face, and for those unable to attend, provide them with a compelling experience.

And finally, how much of a watershed moment will the 2020 pandemic prove be in the broadcast industry’s evolution – for example, will it rank alongside the introduction of color television?

Probably not as big as the shift to color (and BTW, I was a wee lad when color came out). However, 2020 will be seen as a year when the “world shifted” in so many ways. There are so many issues to tackle in society today.

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