We were visiting a potential customer earlier this summer — pitching the idea of retiring their Comstream platform for a new, digital platform with all the bells and whistles — when the subject of the extravagant cost of certain proprietary broadcast software came up.
Like so many of the other ministries we serve, our new client is an amazing steward of the finances they gain through share offerings and underwriters. They had installed their Comstream platform back in 1992, and — for nearly 30 years — made it work. Like so many other radio networks, they chose the Comstream receiver back in the day because — well, it was the best.
COMSTREAM: A QUICK HISTORY OF PROPRIETARY EQUIPMENT
A workhorse in the field, Comstream was originally designed in the 1980’s for Kmart to deliver their store-wide audio system. By the 1990’s, Comstream receivers were being sold to broadcasters across the globe. In fact, millions of these receivers were sold until the unit’s end-of-life in 2013.
Yet, if the Comstream had one flaw, it was that the line was proprietary, meaning the design was unique to a particular vendor or manufacturer.
In a proprietary network, you are committed to a technology that relies on the success of a single vendor or a single design. The product is only considered viable as long as the product line is a good business decision for the manufacturer.
The Comstream line of receivers is just one example of a number of digital satellite solutions from the 1990s and 2000s that were proprietary. Yet, none of the other platforms had the decades of longevity as Comstream.
For other lines of proprietary broadcast equipment, as long as the manufacturer wanted to maintain the line, it was viable. Yet, it was not uncommon for a proprietary line to be scrapped instead of upgrading the platform in question.
Perhaps it was the frustration of dealing with the fickle nature of proprietary equipment that led to DVB-S, (or Digital Video Broadcast – Satellite) open source satellite equipment for broadcasters.
WHAT IS DVB-S?
DVB-S has been standard since 1994. In 2009 DVB-S2 was introduced. DVB-S and DVB-S2 (Second Generation) are interoperability standards, meaning that modems, modulators and receivers that embrace these standards are capable of operating within the greater satellite industry.
For example, receivers from company A and B can receive a signal that is transmitted using a modem or modulator from company C.
THE BENEFITS OF DVB-S AND DVB-S2
The best thing about a network that has interoperability? It gives managers and technicians a level of confidence that multiple vendors and manufacturers can serve to provide products within the network for years to come.
Open source is also a plus for broadcasters’ pockets. With proprietary hardware or software, the manufacturer with a corner on the marketplace can increase prices at any time, based on the value THEY place on their product. But with DVB-S and DVB-S2, the very nature of competition between manufacturers for your business keeps pricing within a similar range.
DVB-S and DVB-S2 both serve the cable, broadcast television and broadcast radio communities. This makes the marketplace greater and more attractive long-term for the dozens of vendors who make modems, modulators and IRDs (Integrated Receiver Decoders).
DVB-S2 is compatible with MPEG-2 and MPEG-4, which also increases the source manufacturers for encoders and decoders.
WHY WE’RE FANS
With the success of open source, interoperable hardware, why anyone would choose the limits of proprietary equipment is hard to comprehend.
For us, having the ability to work with multiple manufacturers allows us to provide the best solutions for our clients, and the confidence to serve them for years after the sale.
Here’s the deal: we want to serve our customers long-term. (We have one or two clients, in fact, that we have been in partnership with for nearly 20 years. Imagine that!) Open source, DVB-S and DVB-S2 equipment allows us to be responsive to the needs of our customers with hardware and software suggestions that we can unequivocally recommend.
There are some products — especially platform-specific software — that will likely always be proprietary. But, by steering folks towards the use of interoperable products, we are saved from the heartburn of having to tell someone that their entire content delivery platform — the one that they invested precious resources toward — has now been deemed obsolete by the manufacturer.
And no one wants to have that conversation.