The spring NAB Show is approaching. Between now and then Radio World will conduct several short Q&As with manufacturers about their plans and offerings, to help you get the most out of the big annual trade show. Bruce D. Swail is chief executive officer of GatesAir.
Radio World: How has business been for the company since last year’s NAB Show?
Bruce Swail: The television spectrum repack initiative has been the primary business driver for GatesAir since last NAB. GatesAir is proud to be the market leader in repack. We’ve shipped the largest number of repack transmitters and the most power. We enjoy terrific relationships and exclusive deals with several of the industry’s largest station groups.
This doesn’t discount the strength of our radio business. We are seeing increased convergence with IP networks for program audio transport as more broadcasters transition from TDM systems. That is a healthy situation for our Intraplex business, which has been very aggressive on the product development side over the past several years. Demand for our FM products has also been consistent.
Overall, GatesAir doubled revenues from 2017 to 2018, and we are up again in 2019. We have an aggressive strategy in place with higher goals for the coming year, so it’s safe to say that our business is very healthy.
RW: What makes GatesAir stand out from competitive suppliers in today’s business landscape?
Swail: We remain a U.S.-based company that does all of its design and manufacturing for global markets here in the USA. We’ve been doing it for close to 100 years, and we fully expect to be doing it for the next 100 years. We are specialized in broadcast: that’s all we do, and we’re very good at it.
RW: What are you hearing from your customers about their business outlook this year? In what areas should we expect growth or the most interesting projects?
Swail: The larger station groups report positive financial health, and many are looking to invest in and modernize their networks. We anticipate greater growth internationally, particularly with DAB radio adoption, and there continues to be a steady demand for FM radio systems globally. AM projects have been fewer, but we have seen some large project-driven AM business in recent months.
RW: Within the last year or so the two largest station ownership groups have filed for bankruptcy while there’s also been serious consolidation as other groups leave the market. Stepping away from your particular segment, what is your feeling for the overall health of the radio industry?
Swail: The radio industry remains healthy globally. Radio stations continue to make investments in modernizing infrastructure. Fundamentally, the financial challenges were driven more by impaired balance sheets and problematic debt levels than pure cashflow. These broadcasters have very viable businesses that generate healthy cashflow. Those that have been through the bankruptcy process have had a chance to reset capital structures. With these challenges in the rearview mirror, they are turning their attention to modernizing infrastructure and moving their business forward.
RW: You’ve been active in the broadcast equipment market (AoIP, transmitters, etc.) for decades. What’s the biggest problem or challenge facing users in this segment right now?
Swail: The media delivery landscape continues to blur across terrestrial, satellite, streaming and podcasting. These are many choices for the consumer, but terrestrial radio remains important. Consumers still fundamentally use radio as their go-to delivery of real-time audio content, and we don’t see that going away.
RW: What new goodies will your company be showing? Why should attendees visit booth N3303?
Swail: We’ll be showing more energy-efficient DAB radio transmitters from our Maxiva line, particularly at lower power levels, and a new 7.5 kW FM and HD Radio transmitter from our Flexiva line. In both cases, we have optimized our transmitters at these new power levels, with improved energy-efficiency and a smaller footprint.
We’re also aggressively integrating into the IT network infrastructure. Our FMXi 4g importer/exporter solution, introduced last year, is now shipping and will be available in three configurations. It’s a modern approach to becoming a functional block on the network, leveraging an embedded, self-contained system that sidesteps all the issues that come with PC operating systems. It also includes real-time, dynamic time and audio correction. The early results and feedback on this product are very favorable.
Intraplex Ascent follows this same model: an embedded audio over IP solution that integrates into the IT network infrastructure. We see this going a step further toward cloud space implementation, following a direction that the telecom industry has successfully managed for several years. We see tremendous opportunity with Ascent moving forward. This NAB marks its official debut.
RW: What do you anticipate will be the most significant technology trend at the 2019 NAB Show?
Swail: Consolidation of the digital radio infrastructure. There is a thirst to simplify workflows and adopt software tools to manage and deliver content. We think that is the broader industry trend taking shape. In the transmission business, it’s about continuing to reduce footprint and increase power density and energy efficiency, while strengthening performance. We will continue to push forward and innovate on those fronts.
RW: Will you be attending any sessions or looking forward to any events?
Swail: NAB does an excellent job on the educational front, and I keep my eye on who is presenting on what topics. I look most forward to meeting with our customers, learning about their needs and helping to solve their problems. We do host a customer and partner event every year on Sunday that I very much look forward to, and we have more than 200 confirmed attendees at this time. It’s a way for us to share expert insight and learn about our customers’ experiences both through presentations and direct conversations. It’s an ideal mix of networking and education that fosters new ideas and strengthens relationships, and it’s a free event with open registration.
RW: You’re a show veteran, how has the show changed since your first visit?
Swail: This is only my second NAB, but the parallels with the wireless and telecom industry are very clear. I spent years attending tradeshows in that industry, and I see the same consolidation of network operators, content providers and suppliers taking shape in the broadcast industry.