Grass Valley invited Joe Zaller and Josh Stinehour from Devoncroft Partners to meet with the company’s newly announced CEO, Dr. Andrew Cross, and talk about Cross’s new role, and his plans for the company. This wide ranging conversation covered a variety of topics including Cross’s thoughts on industry transformation, the role Grass Valley has to play in that transition, customer relationships (an area Cross appears especially passionate about), the ever-accelerating pace of change, guiding Grass Valley through the transition to IP- and cloud-based operations in the media technology sector including product development and go-to-market strategies, trade shows, and what he sees as the third revolution of the media and broadcast industry.
Grass Valley Names Dr. Andrew Cross New CEO, Effective Immediately
Grass Valley said today in a press release that the company has named Dr. Andrew Cross its new CEO.
He joins from NewTek, where he held executive management roles from more than 20 years, including CTO from 2019 to 2015 and CEO from 2015 through its 2019 acquisition by Vizrt.
Following Vizrt’s 2019 acquisition of NewTek, Cross took on the role of Vizrt’s President of Global Research & Development, and oversaw all product development across Vizrt Group’s three brands (Vizrt, NewTek, and NDI).
During his tenure at NewTek, Cross oversaw the development of more than 50 products including TriCaster, 3Play, Lightwave3D and VideoToaster.
Cross is also credited as the inventor of the Network Device Interface (NDI), the royalty-free protocol developed by NewTek that is today embedded in a wide variety of IP-aware third-party systems ranging from image processors to PTZ cameras, to Microsoft Teams. NDI is integrated into products from companies including Adobe, Evertz, Panasonic, Cisco, Deltacast, and (unsurprisingly) Grass Valley.
Cross joins Grass Valley at a strategically important time for the company, as it continues to navigate the technical and commercial challenges the industry’s ongoing transition to IP- and cloud-based operations.
Highlighting this strategic intent, Grass Valley said that “Cross will lead the company through the next phase to power the digital transformation of its customers and support them as they transition to the future of media and entertainment through IP, software, and cloud-based technologies.”
Grass Valley has been pushing hard into the cloud space for the past several years through its GV AMPP platform, which has seen some high-profile initial deployments in a variety of media use cases, and highlighted the strategic importance of its transition to cloud, saying that “Cross will lead the Grass Valley team as it realizes its GV Media Universe (GVMU) vision. The GVMU is a digitally connected community that enables media companies to combine on-premise, hybrid and public cloud technologies to build live production environments while adapting to future demands.
Cross’s appointment ends a transitional period during which the Grass Valley’s chairman, Louis Hernandez, Jr., who is also the CEO of parent company Black Dragon Capital, served as interim CEO following a November 2021 management shakeup that led to the departure of both GV’s former CEO and president Tim Shoulders and Marco Lopez, GM of live production.
“Andrew is an experienced senior leader with deep industry knowledge and a track record of successfully taking media technology businesses into the new era of software-centric, cloud-based video technology,” said Louis Hernandez Jr., Executive Chairman of Grass Valley. “I’m excited to have Andrew join at this transformative time for the company and industry. I look forward to his direction and leadership of Grass Valley alongside the excellent executive leadership team already in place.”
Cross is currently based in San Antonio, Texas, where he told us in an interview he will remain, saying “while working at Vizrt, I realized he had only one direct report in Texas, everybody else was somewhere else in the world. But you know as people who believe that video is the best communication mechanism out there, we should eat our own dog food and learn how to communicate that way. My number priority is to get to know the team everywhere, so I will be on a lot of airplanes in the next few days.
For those that meet the new GV CEO, be sure to say ‘happy birthday’ along with ‘congratulations.’ Cross told us he deliberately chose his birthday (March 1st) as his start date at GV for “psychological reasons,” saying he sees it as an exciting new beginning for both him and the company.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity (but it’s still relatively long).
Devoncroft: Andrew, congratulations on the new position. Let’s start with the most obvious questions. You were in a great position at Vizrt. Your brainchild, NDI, appears to have gained real traction in the market. So why make the move to Grass Valley? And why now?
Dr. Andrew Cross: The [media and broadcast industry] is on the cusp of a third video revolution on the internet.
The first was the revolution of computers and software, and [at NewTek] we were the first people who made an integrated production system that could do web streaming, which today is totally taken for granted.
The next major revolution in our industry was when IP networks connected it all together. And, you know, we created NDI and that has done remarkably well — better than I have ever expected.
But I look at the ‘what’s next,’ ‘what’s the next big revolution,’? I think that’s got to be the move to the cloud. And I believe that we at Grass Valley are just so well positioned to be the leaders in that. And I want I want to be part of that disruption. I’ve been doing this for 23 years now, and I think this is the next big one. And, you know, I’m driven to go out and help change what we’re all doing in broadcast. And I think that this is where the next big one is and that’s why I’m here.
Devoncroft: So, you talked about NewTek, Vizrt, and Grass Valley. With all three companies, regardless of how revolutionary the technology may have been historically, there was always the constraint of delivering that technology to customers via the shipment of a physical box / appliance through, either a direct salesforce or a distribution channel. And maybe if we look at something like Grass Valley’s AMPP, is the company breaking out of those constraints? How do you see that go-to-market evolving over the next five years?
Cross: That’s a really, really good question. So first of all, at NewTek we had to ship boxes. Heck, at GV we ship a lot of boxes. But it’s not about boxes, it’s about the relationship with the customer, and companies must go out and talk to customers.
Just because the medium used to deliver product / technology to the customer has changed means that your relationship with customers is different.
I think customers need that relationship with their vendors because we learn from them and they learn from us, and I think that’s going to continue, because it would actually be a very sad day if that that went away.
I also believe that as you know, and certainly if you have followed what I have done, there’s a huge new market for video, and I think those [new types of customers] maybe don’t need that same relationship.
I think the market is evolving, but I believe that a company like us here at Grass Valley needs to be working with our customers. That’s part of the relationship we have and that’s part of how we get great at what we do. You know, AMPP was not inspired because we sat in an ivory tower and came up with it. It’s because we listened to what our customers wanted and we learned from them, and that’s an important part of the process that we really don’t want to lose.
Devoncroft: On the subject of customer relationships, Grass Valley appears to have taken an enlightened approach, through some of its recently announced enterprise deals. It seems to us there has been this kind of ‘Hey, you guys are not going to switch away from us. We’re not going to switch off for you. So, let’s get together and let’s drive something home that works for both of us in these enterprise agreements that that gets rid of this, even going through the motions of sales, and let’s take that cost out and let’s get something that works for both of us.’
But how do you think about managing that type of enterprise relationship versus customers in some of the new areas, especially the areas that IP in general has opened up for broader use case?
Cross: I think that the way the way a company like Grass Valley needs to work with our customers needs to be what makes sense for the customers.
And I think that clearly [enterprise] deals like that are what makes sense for a large customer like NEP.
But if you think about a corporate enterprise customer, maybe they want something different. Maybe they want to pay per user, per [time period], or something else. Our goal has got to be to sell to customers in the way that makes sense for them [to buy it]. And I don’t think there’s going to be a one size fits all.
I mean, let’s face it, as more and more people in the world start to use video there is not just going to be one customer type, and the way that you might sell to a BBC or a CNN or a CBS just won’t be the same as how you sell to a Microsoft or Google. And you know, one of our great challenges is going to be exactly how do we do that?
And I’m sure that we’ve got a lot of learning to do there. Certainly, I do. But I think that it is good to understand that people are going to buy and use these products in different ways. The video world isn’t just broadcast anymore, is it? And that’s really what you’re saying, which is now there’s lots of people who need to be doing video in all sorts of different ways and using products and all sorts of different ways. And that is just great. That’s why it’s such an exciting market and there is so much opportunity for us. But, you know, we’ve got a lot of learning as this world changes, too.
Devoncroft: One of the things about that future is there isn’t a business school class or textbook that’s going to give the answer for what that pricing model looks like, which is a good segue to ask about how you think abour attracting and retaining customers. Pre-2020 that meant tradeshows, and I remember NewTek and Vizrt with big virtual sets, lots of people, big dealer parties afterwards. I remember Grass Valley’s big booth in the south hall. Where do you feel is the best place to have that dialog with customers and figure out those really important things/ Because it’s not going to look like the past? Or maybe you disagree, and it should look like the past. How do you see the nature of that trade show and that engagement?
Cross: So, is something that I think every CMO in the world is trying to actually ask themselves. But here’s the way I see it. Trade shows have been around for 50 years, longer probably, and the biggest reason for them was because large companies didn’t have a way to speak directly to customers. We could advertise in the trade press, but that’s probably about it. So you had to go to these trade shows because it was how you got to meet customers, and that’s how you got to meet the press and it’s how you got your message out.
Now that world has completely changed. And with it, the role that trade shows play has changed, and I don’t think that that world is quite caught up to the reality.
I think if we look at trade shows as a great way to meet customers and communicate directly with them in one place — and for customers to come and get a lot of information from a lot of different vendors, that makes some sense. But that’s not what trade shows were in the past.
So, the way I think this ends up looking is going to be interesting. And, you know, Covid obviously did a big reset on all of this. So, I don’t know that anybody knows quite how this works out. But the great thing I think both for us as vendors and for customers is that it is much easier to maintain a direct relationship with customers than it ever was when trade shows were created. And that’s a really great thing for all of us.
And so we need to work out this kind of new balance. And I think that that’s what’s going to happen over the next few years, and it’ll be interesting to see if it goes back to normal. I suspect it won’t. And I think that’s probably good because I think that this was largely needed and would have happened anyway, but just would have taken 10 years to happen.
Devoncroft: In your former life, people called you the “father of NDI.” When Josh spoke at the SVG Summit in December 2021, he showed a chart from Devoncroft’s annual Big Broadcast Survey (BBS) that asked end users who have deployed NDI, SRT, RIST, SMPTE 2110, “would they recommend their choice to a professional colleague?”
The real takeaway from that slide, as we saw it was: it was very kind to NDI and it was very unkind to ST-2110. Digging into that, I suspect some customers are frustrated… maybe there’s been some over promises… maybe it happened more slowly than it should have, etc. What I’m driving to a question with this is, more interesting than that chart will be the future of that chart. I say this because there is a company, if you’re having an issue with NDI, that you can call. That doesn’t really exist for 2110, right? What’s the opportunity for a vendor like Grass Valley to go in and solve that frustration for your customers? What does that look like? Is that a service? Is that product? Is that galvanizing the community? How do you see that  ecosystem getting taken care of?
Cross: I think this is this is difficult, so I’ll be completely 100 percent honest about your chart. Obviously, I loved the chart, it showed that my baby has done very well.
But the users of 2110 aren’t quite the same as the users of NDI, and that’s a little bit hidden by that chart. And as much as NDI has done really well, the real answer to this is far more complicated. I think the real revolution is kind of being a little bit lost in in three letter acronyms, and four in the case of 2110.
This is something I’ve been saying for years, including when I when I created NDI, the real revolution was never a particular solution. It was the fact that we all decided to go and use IP. It’s that IP cable, that’s the revolution.
There are different formats that can go down [the IP cable], which in itself is it’s kind of amazing to think that as an industry, we’ve now standardized on IP, which means you can put 2110 and NDI onto the same network, and it works together, [but] I think they serve different needs. What we did with NDI was really to focus on being the software solution to IP video. And I continue to believe that’s very important. And at Grass Valley, we believe that software plays a huge role in the future. There are multiple parts of this. 2110 plays a role. I think SDI continues to play a role for years.
There shouldn’t be religion around any of this.
I think 2110 is complex. When you want to solve complicated problems, you often need complex solutions, and that complexity is just a manifestation that [2110 is solving] complicated things. Maybe sometimes we [as an industry] have not always communicated ‘you know this is really complicated.’ So maybe people don’t always see the really difficult problems that are being solved here.
But [comparing ST-2110 and NDI] is like arguing whether JPEG or PNG should win. They both play a role, they’re both very important, and they’re both amazing at what they do.
Grass Valley products work really, really well with NDI — and you obviously know that that’s not going to go away given that I am at Grass Valley now – and they also work really, really well with 2110, and SRT, and others. To me, as long as it all moves in the direction of IP, that that’s good for everybody. That’s got to be the right answer for the customers at the end of the day, doesn’t it?
Devoncroft: Sticking with the IP discussion, this is clearly an area of focus for Grass Valley. As you mentioned, Grass Valley has integrated NDI into its products. What’s your experience actually working on deep integrations with the team(s) company that you’re now running?
Cross: I’ve been working with Grass Valley for years, and getting great API integration with AMPP, which fully supports NDI. And you know, now I’m putting my previous hat on, but Grass Valley was always one of the vendors that frankly understood the NDI SDK inside and out and were fully engaged in it. Grass Valley has always been right up there with real support for NDI that’s not like a little side effort. I think that Grass Valley are completely committed to supporting what our customers need no matter the protocol, and I think Grass Valley has taken that maybe more seriously than most vendors.
Devoncroft: You’re taking the helm of Grass Valley during what’s arguably an inflection point for the industry. Talk us through your vision for GV and what the company is going to like in 3-5 years.
Cross: I want to be the biggest player in moving to the cloud.
But three years isn’t that far away. There’s an expression that everybody overestimates the progress in five years and underestimates the progress in 10 years and three years really isn’t that far out.
Change within our industry often takes much longer than people think.
I think we are building the TV station of the future by making it so that it can run on-prem, and also use that same technology can run in the cloud. That’s what makes Grass Valley truly unique. That is what’s going to allow people to move from software-based solutions that start on-prem and then they can grow them into the cloud as and when needed. That’s something that I am very lucky to be part of because I think that that has got to be the answer of how we actually get there in practical terms.
So to answer your question, I think that we will be halfway down that path in three to five years. And I think in 10 years, the TV station will look very, very different. But I think three to five years out, you’re going to start to see everything based on very flexible, software-based approaches, just like the one that we’re doing. I think we’ll still be a mix of traditional hardware, and I don’t think traditional hardware maybe ever is going to completely go away because there’s places for everything. But I think that the software gives you flexibility and we’re going to just see these broadcasters, whatever the definition of broadcaster is, which is a whole long question in itself, but they’re going to start using pieces of technology that get pulled together in ways that are totally different from how they are today, where it is all on prem connected by SDI cables or, you know, or even 2110 now.
Devoncroft: Your answer to that question brings up two additional questions that we have about your vision for Grass Valley, one is internally facing, and one is externally facing.
Internal first. Thinking about product development and engineering culture: During the time we’ve known Grass Valley, the company has grown both organically and inorganically and now has R&D teams spread out across the globe – in the US, Canada, UK, Netherlands, Poland, the list goes on. And some of these development teams serve different parts of the market – for example tier-1 live production versus playout – and now the company has a major push to the cloud via the AMPP platform. Given the nature of the different use cases, I suspect the approach to R&D for tier-1 live production systems like a cameras or K-Frames is more conservative or incremental versus what you just talked about. which may be perceived as more disruptive
So, we’re wondering, as a guy who spent most of your time at NewTek as CTO before you were CEO of NewTek, what’s your R&D philosophy for all these different use cases of Grass Valley products now and in the future? And frankly, does the develop product development side of the company need a shot in the arm to get it out of the last generation and into the next generation?
Cross: So here, I can’t take any credit. I look at what GV have done over the last two or three years and what they have done to position us technologically. It’s just been nothing short of amazing, and I know that probably a lot of people out there have thought, ‘Gosh, what a GV doing? They’re making all these changes. They’re changing the size and locations of the company….’ But GV has had the foresight to set themselves up for the new revolution in a way that honestly, when you look at this and look at what we have done, it’s been just remarkable. I can’t take any credit for that, of course. I’m very lucky to be inheriting that, but I think my hat is off to GV for seeing this and making the change because that is very hard to do. We could not be better set up for this revolution than anybody? I’m very lucky.
Devoncroft: Do you think people are not aware of that?
Cross: Probably not.
Devoncroft: Can you talk about some specifics that would highlight the changes that have happened and how it prepares the GV that you’re now inheriting, as you said, to get into that exciting future.
Cross: I’d probably better not go into specifics, but as you know, I think a lot of people know where I’m coming from, and I feel very lucky and very happy with the work that’s been done.
Devoncroft: OK, so it’s a bit of a non-answer, unfortunately.
Cross: I’m sorry.
Devoncroft: The externally facing question is about go-to-market and the difference where GV has been historically and the future that you described earlier. Does the business model need to change? Because the business model is the big issue that we see everybody struggling with. You talked about a 10-year time horizon, products being much more flexible, a lot more software with maybe still some hardware, etc. How does go-to-market change for GV and other folks in this industry, especially when you’re talking about the customers like NEP versus the explosion of creators that GV may have aspirations to target?
Cross: Quite honestly, I need to say I don’t want to give a definitive answer on that. Not because I’m trying to be misleading, but just because I’m on day number four at Grass Valley.
I think it’s a complicated question that I don’t want to get wrong. I think that it’s really tempting to say it’s all going to change, but I don’t think it will.
I think TV stations need the relationship they have with their key vendors, of which we are clearly one of them. I think there are new sets of customers who need a different relationship, and I think that we and they will learn how to make that work.
But I think it would be kind of foolish of me to pretend that I think I know how completely this is going to work out because I think that we’re in a very rapidly evolving video space. And I think that we have a lot to learn. And I think our customers have a lot to learn. And we will enjoy learning that.
But I think that almost anything I say now will be almost certainly wrong.
Devoncroft: What if we were to recast the question in terms of your views of the industry? Because implicit in what you said was the move to the cloud. And this is maybe I’m just giving my own opinion here, and I know if you’ll see a little maybe disagreement develop between the two of us. Josh thinks the cloud grows the size of the industry for tech suppliers and Joe is more skeptical depending on the application area. Josh says he’s the optimist that thinks that the business models that are going to come into existence are a giant second bite at the apple for a lot of technology suppliers to maybe get back some of the value that’s just drifted away from them. And maybe you even in your own experience, Andrew, when you first started pricing the TriCaster it was probably in relation to existing solutions, or in relation to kind of the cost of components. And when we move into the cloud, don’t we have this wonderful opportunity, maybe to reimagine what pricing should look like based on, say, the value to an individual or that individual’s commercial efforts?
Cross: I totally agree. And I think there is a huge trend, for instance, towards from capex to opex, which is driven by lots of reasons. And so, the whole way customers are working with their vendors is different. And when [customers start] running services the vendor stays involved, whether they want it or not, in operations every day because the customer is running on their services. So the world and technology are clearly changing and this relationship will change. And I don’t know that it’s completely clear where it ends up, but it clearly will change and will move more that way than not. But I think we’re going to find out what that looks like by seeing what works economically for customers, what works economically for the vendors. And I think that we will find some new norm in five to ten years’ time. But I know that that it’s tempting to predict radical change on these things. And then it tends to take a lot longer because there’s a lot of inertia in the industry and we all need to stay on the air and produce great shows, and things don’t change that fast. But it’s certainly an exciting time.
And to me, there’s been these two big phases that have come before this: the software revolution and then the IP revolution. And now there’s the move to the cloud and this is probably the biggest one. And you know, we’re right heading into that. It’s going to be a very interesting time for our industry.
Devoncroft: If you start to think about live production in the cloud, and start with the various components involved, I would argue that, as an industry, we will never spend more on connectivity than we do today, because the new alternatives that are coming in that are replacing things like satellite or big fiber connects are so much cheaper that even though the volumes are growing, I think we’re going to kind of be in the same place. But then I think about what are the areas of the market that are going to become more important, more valued in the dividing line? So my question to you is: when I start to think of what Grass Valley will be packaging and delivering for live production in the cloud, do you think there’s going to be a world where it’s going to look just like a service or it’s going to look like something that’s exposed in an AWS marketplace? What are the bubbles of functionality? Or is my question inherently flawed because it’s just too dynamic of an environment and what we need to just see it shake out over two, three or four years?
Cross: This is a market specific question because I think that big broadcasters — and let’s use a broad definition of “broadcasters” — are building workflows that tend to be quite unique to them. They’re not just using off-the-shelf products, although off-the-shelf products become part of these workflows. There’s been this interesting trend that a lot of the big players in the broadcast market have almost become development companies of their own because they’re building their own workflows, which often involves a lot of custom work now. So that seems to make [live production in the cloud] being purely in a marketplace where you can just buy something and go and click the ‘I’m going to buy a TV station’ checkbox… that probably is unrealistic. But, I think that the video space is growing so fast and there’s so many new players in the market – now they might very much be able to do that. And I think all indications are that that some of these new users, including ones that that are coming from markets where I obviously have quite a lot of experience are moving that direction. But, you know, some of the big ones won’t. So it’s probably going to end up with a bit of both, to be honest.
Devoncroft: Where you see enthusiasm from coming from this side, it’s because it seemed like there was a real trauma that the Grass Valley team had to go through during the divestiture out of Belden, and frankly, and I’ve said this publicly, I couldn’t believe the price that was put on the Grass Valley. So, I guess that’s giving a compliment to the Black Dragon team, because for every person that’s disadvantaged, there’s someone that’s advantaged. So I just where I’m enthusiastic is just going to hear a lot of the energy that you’re talking about, Andrew and your excitement for the cloud, because I think it’s just great to see the Grass Valley team get out of an environment again.
Cross: So let me tell you something. Before I started my first day on the job – and by the way, the first day my job was deliberately chosen to be my birthday, the first of March is my birthday and I chose that for psychological reasons — I spent a lot of time trying to learn everything I can think about the company. And doing that from the outside is always one thing, isn’t it? And I got it very excited about the opportunity. But you’re interviewing me on day four of my new role, and I just I feel so optimistic. To look at a company that’s been around for 50 years, and to look and realize what we have got in terms of the cloud direction, the pieces that we have to put together.
And it’s honestly, I feel so lucky. And you know, I’m genuinely excited about this. I really feel confident that I’m going to get to say that I was part of the three big revolutions that happened in this industry. And I think this one’s going to be the biggest one, to be honest. So I’m excited about it.
Devoncroft: What about ‘Grass Valley as a business?’ Are you as excited about that as you are about the technology at the company?
Cross: When I say I’m excited about stuff, I’m not just talking about the tech. There are a million companies in the industry that have great technology. Every startup [may have] great technology, but then probably don’t make it. What you need to be a successful business is to have great technology, great marketing, great support, and you need to put it all together into something that works. And I so when I get excited, I’m excited about all of those pieces at Grass Valley.
Of course, there are probably a million things that we can improve because, and life would be boring when there aren’t. But I think we’ve got all the ingredients at Grass Valley. I think that we have great tech. I think we’ve got a great team. We’ve got amazing brand. We’ve got worldwide presence. Gosh, those are going to be the ingredients of something and pretty cool. So I think it’s more that tech. It all comes together to drive what the next generation is. And who wants to bet against us? Because I don’t want to and I haven’t, obviously.
Devoncroft: Your bet is clear.
Devoncroft: So I agree with your positioning. I think this is the next epoch of our industry. But I really think most of the innovation and feel free to pushback, I’m not trying to say the tech’s easy, but I think a lot of the innovation is going to happen on the business side – crafting these business models, is figuring out these new go to markets in these trade shows versus just the technology?
Cross: I do genuinely agree with that we get forced into the business model change because of the technology. The two things kind of go hand in hand, don’t they?
So, one question is how does a modern technology company communicate and engage with its customers? That actually changed quite some time ago. I think that if anything, as a broadcast industry, we are behind the curve on that. So I kind of feel like that’s like slightly a solved problem in a lot of industries. I suppose I shouldn’t say this solved because I do think that it’s been changed yet further by Covid, but most modern marketing has tools to go out and create and maintain real relationships with your customers, and that that doesn’t need a trade show to achieve it, and I think that we all get to build on that.
So, I genuinely do agree about the business, but I but I think that all of that’s going to happen. And I think that companies like Grass Valley, as we move to things like AMPP and cloud-based [product and service] offerings, the way in which we charge and sell them has got to change because the technologies are different. And they will.
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