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Transmitting the Olympics: Scopus Network Technologies
by Douglas Dixon
Scopus North America
NBC - Olympics
Looking for a high-profile challenge for your company? How about having your
equipment responsible for transmitting the video feed for NBC's 24-hour
continuous coverage from the 2004 Olympic Games in August 2004? That's the
assignment for Princeton-based Scopus Network Technologies, which is providing
digital video transmission systems to carry two high-definition and up to 25
standard-definition channels for NBC, and for Spanish-language U.S. broadcast on
"It's a very high profile event," says Carlo Basile, president of Scopus
Network Technologies (www.scopus.net).
"It will be an exciting summer." And for other reasons as well:
"We're big in the news-gathering environment, and this is an election
year." says Basile. "We'll play a pretty good role with a couple
broadcasters at both conventions."
Scopus helps to design these video networks, install the equipment, and
provides on-site service for such high-profile events. "It's a very mission
critical thing," says Mario Rainville, associate vice president of product
marketing at Scopus. "So you have to do everything you can and more to make
sure. It's like practicing for a sport: You ask 'Have I practiced enough?' But
sometimes enough is never enough. You always use all the time that you have to
make sure it's going to be perfect when it's on the air."
Carlo Basile founded the North American headquarters of Scopus in July 2003,
as the Israeli company expanded its worldwide presence, by also adding offices
in the UK, Scandinavia, and Singapore. The Princeton office has since expanded
to 13 people, and occupies approximately 3300 square feet.
Scopus has over 200 employees worldwide, with offices in New Jersey and San
Diego in the U.S., Beijing, China, Mexico City, Mexico, San Paolo, Brazil,
Mumbai, India, Moscow, Russia, Frankfurt, Germany, Scandinavia, the U.K.,
Singapore, and the corporate headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel. Most of the
satellite offices are sales oriented, with Princeton and Beijing staffed for
sales and marketing, and also technical support and system integration.
Scopus chose Princeton for the new office even though it already had a U.S.
office in San Diego, since, with the headquarters in Israel, "the 10 hour
time difference to the west coast is difficult," says Basile. "The
company had its sights on someplace close to New York City," he says, since
"a lot of our customer base is here on the east coast."
But, "doing business in Manhattan itself is expensive and has its own
difficulties," he says. "I live not far from here, and this is a great
building. And right here on the Route 1 corridor is a good place to find people.
There's a talent pool that likes to work in this area, and the cost of doing
business is reasonable. We haven't had to relocate people; we've been doing fine
with the employee base in this area."
Subsequently, the Princeton office has become the Americas headquarters for
Scopus, "basically Canada down to Chile," says Basile. "We
started out with one person. Now we have 12 people here, and growing."
Both Basile and Rainville are actually trained as electrical engineers. They
were previously with Morecom, Inc., an interactive TV (ITV) software company in
Horsham Pennsylvania that Rainville co-founded in 1997 to develop interactive
software for Internet-enabled cable set-top boxes. Basile joined Rainville at
Morecom as COO in 1999.
While ahead of its time in consumer adoption of digital television, Morecom
was a success and was sold to Liberate Technologies in March 2000 for $561
million. When Liberate closed the Horsham site in 2002, Basile left the company,
while Rainville remained in product marketing, and later joined Basile at Scopus
in July 2003.
"I'm an engineer by trade," says Basile. "I've been in the
video business my whole career, all different aspects of it. I've been with CBS,
a broadcaster, to a consumer electronics company, Philips, then working on
software for set-tops with Morecom, and now professional equipment
Basile graduated from Polytechnic University in New York in 1979 with a
master's degree in electrical engineering. He then joined the CBS research and
development facility in Stanford Connecticut. "At that time CBS was a very
different company than it is today," says Basile. "It owned Columbia
Records, did R&D on television and audio recording for records, and had
people working on musical instruments for Steinway Piano and Fender. I was
working on video disc recording for Columbia Records."
In 1984, Basile joined the Philips research facility in Briarcliff Manor, New
York, working on high definition television and then digital communications.
"I spent a lot of years working in television and video compression,"
says Basile. "For a few years I worked very closely with the people at
Sarnoff on high definition television and the digital television standard. I
spent a lot of time in the field lab there."
Then from 1997 to 1999, Basile moved to Silicon Valley to work with Philips
consumer electronics in Palo Alto, where he was responsible for worldwide
development of digital television products. "Then I wound up back
here," he says, as CTO at Princeton Video Image, Inc., joining another
former Sarnoff person, Brown Williams, who founded the company. Basile also
played a role in the development of the Digital Television Standard, for which
he earned an Emmy award in 1997.
Basile joined Morecom at the end of 1999, through a Philips connection.
"The CEO and co-founder of Morecom, who Mario was working with, was a
former Philips guy who was actually my boss for a time."
Mario Rainville received his electrical engineering degree in 1987 from Laval
University in Quebec, where he was born. Rainville then joined Matrox
Electronics Systems in Montreal to design high-performance image processing and
"I spent five to six years in design," he says, "designing
hardware accelerators, to find image features in real time doing pattern
recognition." This equipment was used for various applications, including
In 1992, says Rainville, "I got into telecom," with a start-up in
Montreal, ABL (Advanced Broadband Links), "doing transport for voice and
data over fiber optic links. I was in charge of technical product
Then in 1995, Rainville was recruited by General Instrument Corporation (now
Motorola) to develop broadband equipment in San Diego. "The cable companies
were looking to offer telephone services," he says, "and were looking
for guys with telco backgrounds, and I had video too."
However, Rainville did not want to move to the west coast, but conveniently
GI's headquarters was in the Philadelphia area, so he joined as director of
interactive set-top terminals. "I was in charge of digital set-top
development," he says, "a new generation for digital cable."
Morecom "started out in early 1997," says Rainville. "The idea
was to build an interactive television platform based on Internet
standards," so the platform could provide Web-like interactivity combined
with streaming video and video on demand (VOD).
On key differentiator for Morecom was using a broadband connection. "The
stuff that was going on at that time were things like WebTV that used a
telephony connection," says Basile. "We let you use a broadband
The other difference was to not require a new, high-performance set-top
platform. "This idea had not been done before," says Rainville.
"The WebTV was a very powerful box. The idea at Morecom was to run software
on the existing deployed base of set-top boxes. We put together a platform that
runs on the low-end boxes that allows us to do a lot of cool things, without
having to deploy it; it was just a software download."
Unfortunately, the whole idea of interactive television services just has not
caught on with consumers. "What you see today, what got into the field was
VOD," says Rainville. "The E-commerce part of it did not take off
Even so, Morecom had a good run from 1997 to 2000. "It took us six
months to raise money," says Rainville, "and then at the end of 1997
we were ready to get the team in place and develop the technology. We did quite
a bit of good things in Europe, in Germany, and things were running pretty
Then the competition arrived, including OpenTV, Liberate, ACTV, and others.
"All those companies got into the field in 1999 and 2000," says
Rainville. "It was really time for consolidation."
And the consolidation of interactive television software companies arrived in
March 2000. Liberate Technologies acquired Morecom for $561 million, and
"the same night we announced the deal," says Rainville, "OpenTV
announced they acquired Spyglass. We had 60 employees in Horsham," he says.
"Liberate was in San Carlos, California. It was a pretty high profile
acquisition by the standards of the time."
"In a start-up you end up doing a lot of things," says Rainville,
"you do whatever it takes. You go to a trade show and roll up your sleeves.
The resources are limited. Even after three years, you are always stretched, and
do more than you can."
"That's a great environment to be in," says Basile, "It's a
really fun environment. There's no such thing as 'It's not my job' -- whatever
it is, it's your job."
"It was very dynamic," says Rainville. "That's one of the
reasons the acquisition took place, because the team was very strong."
However, "Liberate went though a lot of restructuring," says Basile,
"and now they are Chapter 11." Liberate consolidated to the California
office, and "we unfortunately had to close the doors in Horsham in
Rainville stayed with Liberate after the acquisition until late 2002. "I
worked out of my home office," he says. "but most of the time I was
traveling." Meanwhile, Basile left with the office closing. "I turned
out the lights," he says.
"The companies are still in competition today in terms of a middleware
platform for cable set-top boxes," says Rainville. "Liberate was very
well positioned because it was backed by Oracle. So the big battle was between
Oracle and Microsoft, because Microsoft bought WebTV."
"The interactive TV space changed a lot." he says. "It really
stated being focused on VOD (video on demand) and PVR (personal video
recorders), video-based services. Buying a pizza on TV is not there, at least on
the consumer side."
"It's not clear from a business standpoint how a subscriber will want to
do all those interactive things," says Rainville. "Television has to
be simple, has to remain simple."
Joining Scopus moved Basile and Rainville further away from consumer set-top
boxes to transmission and video compression equipment. Instead of needing to
sell products to cable companies, which then have to deploy boxes into homes,
Scopus sells professional equipment directly to the broadcasters, that they use
directly within their studios and networks. "The video you see is
transported using our equipment," says Rainville.
Scopus is focused on the delivery of digital TV and data over broadband
networks. This turns out to be a non-trivial problem in today's world because of
the profusion of formats and standards for storing video and transmitting
through data networks. You shoot some video at a remote site in any one of a
number of "standard" video formats, analog or digital, and then you
want to transmit it over some arbitrary links of high-speed networks, and then
deliver it in some other arbitrary mix of formats. And you want this end-to-end
process to be rock-solid reliable.
This is Scopus' bread and butter: products that encode, aggregate, convert,
transmit, route, monitor, receive, decode, and distribute digital video. Scopus
calls this the "Intelligent Video Network" architecture, components
for end-to-end networked distribution of compressed digital video. This
equipment is used by customers including global satellite broadcasters and cable
television and telco operators such as BBC, CBS Newspath, Hughes, FOX News,
Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, Korea Telecom, SKY Italia, and others.
Intelligent Video Network diagram
For broadcasters, Scopus products are used for applications including direct
to home distribution over satellite, cable TV, and DSL. Scopus equipment is also
used for video distribution for digital satellite / Electronic News Gathering
(ENG) and distance learning and business users, over satellite and terrestrial
telecommunications links, as well as wireless cable, and microwave links.
While Scopus is well-known and successful overseas, "we had a small
presence in the U.S.," says Rainville. "The market for our product in
North America is quite large. By the end of this year at least half the cable
subscribers in the U.S. will be able to get VOD if they want it."
"It's a perception issue, he says, "people don't know the company,
we need to build the brand. We're not a start-up. The company has been around
for a long time." Scopus began as a spin-off of Tadiran, "which was
basically the GE of Israel, a widely diversified company." As a result,
"Scopus benefits from over 20 years of video compression work." Scopus
is privately held, and raised $15.5 million of second round financing in August
Scopus built its reputation for major events like the Olympics with the 2002
World Cup. "It's not very well known in North America, says Basile,
"but in the rest of the world soccer is king. There were billions of
eyeballs watching it. That was 200 channels of compressed video, all of which
was handled by our equipment. We demonstrated that we could handle such an
For the Olympics, NBC's main transmission path is between the International
Broadcast Center in Athens and its New York and New Jersey sites in the U.S.
This will use Scopus MPEG DVB Encoders to transmit six channels via satellite
and fiber optic links to Scopus Integrated Receiver Decoders. These Digital
Video Broadcasting (DVB) boxes compress the various video inputs into the MPEG
compressed digital video format (also used on DVDs and for digital satellite and
cable TV), transmit it over the various network links, and then decompress and
convert it back into the formats. Scopus is also equipping two digital satellite
news gathering vans with video encoders for as many as four transmissions per
But Scopus' involvement with its customers is much deeper than just selling
products. "We are very close to customers", says Rainville. "It's
not enough to have the right thing on the shelf, but when they call with a
problem or they want to add features you have to be responsive and listen to
what they need. Our team works really well with R&D to add different types
of interfaces to our products."
"You can imagine this kind of customer," says Basile. "The
business that they're in is not a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, kind of business.
It's 24/7, 365; when you're working with them you have to be prepared to support
"We have a wide range of video products installed," says Rainville,
"some are at fixed locations in nice air-conditioned systems, but there are
also encoders that fit in news trucks that are carried, moved, and can be
dropped on the floor. It's important that when they call we are there."
Similarly, when there's a possible problem in a broadcast, "you need to
troubleshoot in real time to monitor what the problem is," he says.
"You need a specialist on site to look at the configuration and status of
the encoder to troubleshoot before the problem gets worse. Mission-critical
stuff like this happens quite a bit."
For the Olympics, Scopus is deploying teams from around the world. "The
people here in Princeton are handling the receive side of it," says Basile,
"for redistribution using the NBC network in North America. Other Scopus
people are more convenient to Athens."
The Princeton office is half professional services, and half sales and
marketing. "We identify customer needs, what they want," says
Rainville. "We gain an understanding of their needs in the next six months.
This is a moving target, so you have to shoot and lead the target. We can
develop it so it's ready for the market. You cannot just react; you need to
predict a little bit where it is going to be."
The future also includes a transition to new, more efficient digital video
formats. "MPEG-2 encoding is stretched to the limit in terms of what you
can do to stretch the bandwidth," says Rainville, "so now you are
looking at alternate methods." Scopus has announced a new universal
platform to support next-generation technologies including MPEG-4 and Windows
Media Video 9.
However, "commercialization is in its infancy," says Basile.
"Infrastructure for digital video connectivity worldwide started to be
built about 10 years ago, and now is widely deployed. Billions have been spent
building that infrastructure, so the companies that have built it are not eager
to abandon it."
One driver of newer technology is high definition television, "since HD
is a bandwidth hog and needs all the help it can get," says Basile.
Similarly, "satellite operators are always at the top in terms of data
conservation, always pushing the limit" to squeeze more channels into the
Another open field is video delivered over DSL. "DirectTV has tens of
millions of set-tops boxes out there," says Rainville. "You can't tell
everybody to buy a new one." But video for DSL is a new field, with more
difficult challenges. "Because of bandwidth constraints, DSL needs to see
better performance in video encoding to be more widely deployed. The limit today
is two video steams per copper wire pair, but most homes have more than two
"The direction that the industry will take is not entirely clear,"
says Basile. There are unresolved licensing issues with MPEG-4, and the adoption
of two competing standards could significantly reduce the economy of scale in
moving to a new digital video infrastructure. There will come a time when the
economic case is made, and the customer will choose. We see customers migrating
in the next few years."
Scopus has completed the transition for Basile and Rainville from the
original training in engineering and development to roles focused on business
"At a start-up, you become more marketing and business
development," says Rainville. "You start to sell on day one because
you sell investors. It's a transition to a more marketing role from the
technical side." Even at Morecom, "It was a mix for the first year
until we got the team in place, then it was more focused on technical marketing.
I actually wrote quite a bit of code for the graphics engine."
"Twenty years ago it would be different," says Basile,
"engineers were much more pigeon holed."
"Now, in today's world it's good to have the [technical]
background," says Rainville. "You develop the products, and then it's
much easier to have discussions with technical guys at the customer. It's an
advantage to understand that; it's obvious you need to have the business
"People with those skills can be very successful," says Basile,
"in many ways."
Scopus Network Technologies