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Company innovations or customer requests How are the best broadcast products born? by Phil Aspden, SIS LIVE P roduct designers and manufacturers in the broadcast industry occupy an increasingly crowded and fiercely competitive marketplace. New broadcast hardware products are launched every day and the criteria for success are many and complex. One interesting factor worthy of further discussion involves the genesis of an idea, namely, how the most useful, innovative and commercially lucrative products are first conceived. Are the most successful products typically developed by product design teams and then pushed to the market, or are they produced in reaction to requests coming from the market? In other words, do customers know what they want, or is it that product developers know what to offer them? One such company, SIS LIVE, has experience from both sides of the fence. Although best known for its work in the outside broadcasting and uplink arenas, the company has moved further into product design and manufacturing over the last few years, partially due to cross-pollination between the various arms of its business. As well as selling hardware and services to external clients, it also develops products to suit its own needs, giving it a good perspective on this particular debate. This move into product design first came when the company wanted a flexible, portable, automated SNG antenna system that could be mounted onto a vehicle and also disassembled and flown as standard baggage on an airplane. Searching the market SIS LIVE discovered that there were no products that satisfied their requirement, so decided to design and manufacture their own unit, uPod. Despite the subsequent design and development programme, this uplink terminal is an example of a product initially developed for a specific need. Since its inception uPod has been further improved 72 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE and has spawned a range of compact VSAT products aimed at first response satellite newsgathering clients. SIS LIVE has now taken this portable uplink technology even further, developing a new system, ManPak, which is being demonstrated at NAB 2012. There is no doubt that operating a wide- ranging business can open up additional paths for discovery. Crews and operators are able to identify specific technical needs whilst working on events in the field and can report back to engineering teams, making suggestions for new products or improvements to existing ones. This internal dialogue is core to the growth of businesses and can lead to significant developments in product ranges. Conversely, designers and engineers are often capable operators themselves and so, having designed and built specialist equipment, they can be closely involved in its operation during events. This in-depth understanding of the practical uses of products can lead on to modifications and innovations. Clients often approach product developers or service providers with a challenge – a problem that needs solving, or a vague idea of what they want to achieve but requiring outside help to achieve it. An example of this came in the spring of 2011 when SIS LIVE won the contract to provide HD agile cameras and digital RF microwave links for the America’s Cup yachting events, which included the design and build of all the onboard systems. In this case the customer knew what shots they wanted, but it was up to the SIS LIVE team to figure out how to achieve them. They set about designing their own 360 degree pan and tilt HD Pod Cam which was mounted to a mast on the boat. As they couldn’t find anything on the market to suit the exacting specification for a robust and waterproof 5.1 surround microphone they designed one especially for this contract. So, what are we to deduce from these brief examples? It can be said that there usually needs to be some perceived demand for a