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25-Seven Finds a New Home

Time management manufacturer is now part of Telos Alliance

Having acquired 25-Seven Systems, the Telos Alliance is now in the business of time management products and profanity delays. But Telos CEO Frank Foti and 25-Seven co-founder Geoff Steadman say broadcast customers should look for broader offerings, building on the interaction of engineers and ideas that the acquisition has brought about.

Cleveland-based Telos Alliance — parent of Telos Systems, Omnia Audio, Axia Audio and Linear Acoustic —announced the acquisition in January. Terms were not disclosed.

25-Seven Systems, maker of products like the Program Delay Manager and Audio Time Manager, is based in Boston. Its eight employees remain under the new ownership. Steadman becomes president of the new division; also staying are Chief Operating Officer Derek Pilkington, Chief Technology Officer Barry Blesser, Vice President of Sales Rick Sawyer and four members of its R&D department.

25-Seven was owned by those eight plus a small number of others no longer involved. Pilkington, Blesser and Steadman were the founders.

AKG roots

I recall when 25-Seven launched — it’s hard for me to believe that almost a decade has passed since Steadman was telling me excitedly about the first beta units of the Audio Time Manager — but its roots go further back and involve some other familiar broadcast equipment brands.

The core group had its roots at AKG. Digital audio innovator Barry Blesser — who earlier helped launch Lexicon — was consulting for the AKG Digital Products Division in the late 1980s. Derek Pilkington was a vice president of AKG; Steadman joined in 1990 as part of the DSE-7000 digital audio workstation project.

Around that time, AKG acquired Orban and dbx, and built a business center in San Leandro, Calif. When the Austria-based company later decided to move workstation development to Vienna, Pilkington and Blesser worked out a plan to continue U.S.-based development.

In 1994, when Harman in turn bought AKG, “the strategic decision was made to move the DSE-7000 to the Orban brand, since after all, it was a broadcast product primarily aimed at the ‘short-order cook’ style of radio production,” Steadman said.

Pilkington became Harman’s president of Orban while Blesser was director of engineering. In 1993, Steadman became product manager of the workstation line, renamed Orban Audicy. Another future 25-Seven exec, Rick Sawyer, joined Orban in 1995. Pilkington later was tasked to head a newly formed Harman Broadcast Group, running Studer in Switzerland and Orban in California; but that entity would be abandoned, and Harman decided to sell Orban in 2000.

The key players moved on to other ventures but kept in touch, Steadman said. “Driven to work together again, we started DSP Composers in 2002, which eventually morphed into 25-Seven.”

In 2003, Pilkington, Blesser and Steadman incorporated and started designing their first product, the Audio Time Manager, intended to help stations manage unexpected events in the broadcast day, avoid collisions with network feeds and create availabilities.

“The working title of the ATM was going to be 25-Seven, but we liked the name so much we appropriated it for the company.”

So you can see why Steadman described 25-Seven as “a delivery system for a team that preexisted the formation of the company” and talks about the human bond between its principals. Now this small startup becomes the fifth business within the Telos Alliance. Echoing Steadman, Foti suggested that this acquisition was as much about getting the people as the products; and he compared the expected knowledge transfer with a process that occurred after Telos acquired Linear Acoustic.

“I already see myself as a student of Dr. Blesser’s.”

Core competence

Asked to assess the state of the time management market, Steadman said, “Certainly there’s a real replacement market for profanity delay. You’ve got certain things that haven’t changed much in 15–20 years. We’ve been trying to put some new tricks to an old story.”

Beyond that, though, the company’s time compression products will benefit from the deeper resources of Telos and from technical trends such as the growth in processor power. “We can do things that are more embedded; there are all manner of possibilities for growth here.”

In the transmission arena, he said, time management products also have become more relevant. “In some ways, thanks to HD [Radio], there’s no such thing as real time. Delay management has gotten trickier and more specialized. That’s a core competence for 25-Seven. And that’s not all we’re limited to.”

Conversations about a possible acquisition started in late 2011. 25-Seven had been working with Telos as a Livewire partner. “A big takeaway is the cultural fit,” Steadman said. This sale, he said, “feels like a very natural progression.”

He expressed no regrets about selling the relatively young 25-Seven. “None whatsoever, because the vision survives it; and this baby gets to go to college.”