After serving for four years as the president of Sony Europe, Katsunori Yamanouchi finds himself in a unique position as the newly installed President of Sony Professional Solutions Americas. Mr. Yamanouchi is tasked with changing the perception of what Sony is as a company as well as what kind of products and offerings they’re able to provide their customers. With almost 30 years at Sony, all of them on the professional side, it’s a task he is uniquely qualified to handle.
We’ve previously explored the details around topics like the FS7 development process and how the company is looking to incorporate 4K technologies into their products, but in connecting with Mr. Yamanouchi, our goal was around something bigger. We wanted to focus on what transformation looked like in a practical sense, and how products that are both familiar and unfamiliar to Sony customers would drive it.
After seeing the variety of updates and announcements that Sony rolled out at NAB 2017, it was clear that the company is looking to build on what they’ve established while also forging an entirely new path. Find out what that path looks like via this exclusive interview with Mr. Yamanouchi and Robert Willox, Sony Director of Marketing.
ProVideo Coalition: Can you describe your role as president of Sony Professional Solutions America? What are some of your major goals and initiatives?
Katsunori Yamanouchi: My role here is to spearhead the transformation of Sony into a solution and service business provider. Of course, Sony has and will continue to be a technology innovator, so we are confident we have technology that can add value to the customers business. We’re not just focused on being a technology provider going forward though. We’ve listened to our customer’s daily business requirements and have talked about their pain points. That got us to ask questions around how Sony could transform these pain points by providing a solution. Doing so has been our challenge and also our mission within the media industry.
We are trying to diversify our business portfolio to focus more on solutions and services. So my role is to drive this direction here in the United States.
That kind of focus represents a significant initiative for the company. What can you tell us about the approach you’re taking to provide your customers with that solution?
Katsunori Yamanouchi: We’re not only focused on delivering a system as a solution, but also we try to support our customers after the sale as a service, and so we’ve started a managed services business which is not selling a product or system but instead providing value as a service. One of the typical examples is that we launched our content delivery service called PMM, which is a content distribution service within public broadcaster, PBS. Also, we have our media cloud services, which offer collaborative production and hosting in the cloud.
So in some ways, you’re looking to redefine what professionals think of when they hear the word, “Sony”, aren’t you?
Katsunori Yamanouchi: Yes, but we of course want to retain the position we’ve established when it comes to capturing images. At NAB, some of our most significant announcements are related to imaging. We will continue to demonstrate our breadth of solutions that bring value to image capturing.
We’ve spent a lot of time listening to our customers’ requirements. We are confident around our latest large format sensor camcorders, which are able to incorporate customer feedback.
The thing is, maintaining and building on this position isn’t just about specific camera products. We want to continue to engage our customer and set them up as strategic business partners. It’s about being able to develop workflows for our customers in terms of video codecs, and also gear to support our customers workflow. This is also our focus.
Is that feedback around workflows something your customers have identified as a major challenge?
Robert Willox: Workflow is really of prime importance. Developing codecs, especially ones that in a 4K world won’t cripple an infrastructure, is a major force behind X-OCN.
That sort of feedback has been critical for us though, and it’s something that really guided the development for products like the FS7 and FS5. Those cameras were really a direct result of a very long period of talking to end users of all types and from various industries to create that camera system and that lens system.
Everything that we do in the development cycle is heavily influenced by this kind of interaction and feedback, because we can’t really ivory tower any of this. We can’t just make determinations about what we think people need. We’re very reliant on the talks we have, whether it’s for live or production and get feedback or get new products or develop new services for our end users.
How does that feedback impact Sony’s desire to introduce or develop new cameras? I imagine it’s a delicate balance, since there are few products that light up the industry like a new camera, but at the same time, few professionals have the stomach or budget to upgrade on a frequent basis.
Robert Willox: At the high end, you have to respect the customers’ investment as well as the amount of time it takes to introduce an F5/F55-style camera into the marketplace. Unlike the lower-end business, where new features require new technologies, the F55 was built on a platform that could be expandable as we got more and more input from our end users both in Hollywood and worldwide.
Things like new codecs and new media prevent us from having to do “A” or “F60” versions of our products, and that’s an active consideration since it allows us to take that existing platform and provide our customers with an improved product. They all have a huge investment in the technology, and we realize the last thing they want to have to do is refresh those cameras every year or every couple years. This way they get a very long ROI on the camera systems.
And that leads us directly into some of the announcements that you rolled out at NAB. In what ways are the updates that you just announced geared toward improving your products in the way Rob mentioned?
Katsunori Yamanouchi: At NAB, we announced some new firmware for our F5 and F55 cameras. We know the customers are using these cameras for a number of years, which is why we want to provide them with options that allow them to create value. Being on v9 of the software for these cameras, you can see how much we value our customer’s input and put that feedback into practice. We’re not interested in upgrading just to upgrade, and we know our customers aren’t either. We want our customers to be able to continuously use these products for their business. That’s a concept we’re very focused on.
Is that one of the messages you’ve tried to showcase at this year’s NAB?
Katsunori Yamanouchi: Yes, and that ties into the first of four core areas that we want to highlight this year. These four areas form a pillar for our presence at NAB.
That first area is related to imaging. This aspect of the production process has obviously been a focus for us for a long time, and it will continue to be a priority in the short term and long term.
Next is IP. A number of different broadcast customers are adopting IP, and we see IP as a key enabler, which will allow the media content creator to change the way they produce or deliver the content.
HDR is another area where we’ll see a big push, as we continue to see a lot of interest and answer a lot of questions when it comes to HDR. A lot of people are trying to figure out the best way to deploy HDR on the workflow. There’s really not a single requirement though, and it varies from customer to customer. Because of these different requirements, at NAB we have proposed several approaches to HDR.
The last area of focus for Sony is media solutions, as our solution combines wireless to the cloud and file-transfer technology. It’s about showing off how our customers can efficiently produce, manage, deliver and archive content after capturing. It’s something we showed off in our media solution corner, and we’re showing many of these systems that will fit this purpose.
Can you talk a little bit about how you’re going to meet the requirements of customers that have those varied needs and expectations of HDR? How have you seen the technology being embraced by professionals?
Robert Willox: 4K HDR is at the top level, which can be used for premiere productions, but we’ve also proposed another HDR solution for professionals not at that level. This NAB, we’ve had several patterns of how to utilize this HDR workflow, depending on the customers and how much they can spend on the equipment, or how big their budget is. So from top to bottom, live production going down to using file based editing systems or also we are going to extend that to more everyday consumer level technology.
Our vision at NAB has been to show a live workflow from lens to living room, and HDR for both live and production. We’re showing the codecs on the F55 and the 16-bit raw. We also have a new flavor of recording for XAVC on our servers that are also optimized for HDR content.
Additionally, with the consumer TV capability for HDR, the outlet for corporate, faith and various other applications for HDR has widened considerably, but these areas just don’t have the budget of large features or documentaries or commercials. That’s why we’ve implemented a new concept that can embrace the lower end of the market.
With “Instant HDR”, you can record HDR footage internally on the camera but it will be a much easier workflow. Just cut and edit, playback and post on YouTube. That kind of workflow is efficient in the HOW, education and corporate kinds of customer perspective. We don’t want anyone to miss out on these kinds of opportunities to experience HDR at home. It’s going to help get people familiar with creating HDR content and really learn how that can work without having to tie up high cost equipment. Using something like Instant HDR is going to expose a wide base of imaging specialists to the technology.
Sounds like you’re creating some great options for people at various levels, but how do you see professionals in broadcast or more transitional environments dealing with challenges relating to HDR?
Robert Willox: Depending on their infrastructure, they may have a high desire to attract a new audience and put 4K HDR out there as soon as they can. OTT and satellite services don’t have as many pain points within their infrastructure and can engage in 4K HDR quickly. The more traditional broadcasters and cablecasters have infrastructure bottlenecks that make the implementation of 4K or 4K HDR difficult at best, and budget intensive. So the realistic path for some broadcasters is going to be to introduce 1080 60p and then 1080 60p with an HDR component to it. And 1080 60p converts very well to 4K so they might be able to satisfy program requirements.
In the sports world, which is a tremendous part of income for broadcasters, suddenly upgrading to 4K HDR would be an absolutely enormous undertaking, and would push the budgets of these events much higher, so they would become expensive and difficult. At some of the trials we’ve done with HDR, such as Pebble Beach, we’ve used a separate HDR truck and a separate HDR crew to be able to present these events. It’s difficult for an event like the Super Bowl that has in excess of 50 cameras to be able to suddenly transform that to 4K requirements. So it’s really a question of what the infrastructure looks like.
Can you talk a little bit about how these kinds of products and developments have been influenced by the feedback that you’ve mentioned you’ve heard and even solicited from your customers? How is that feedback driving the transformation of Sony as whole?
Katsunori Yamanouchi: Up to and since I assumed my new role, I’ve made it a point to meet with as many of our customers as possible by visiting their facilities. What so many of them said was they wanted and needed ways to make their workflow as efficient as possible. That’s their priority, and they’re willing to do just about anything to be able to gain those efficiencies. For the most part, they have no hesitation around adjusting their system if doing so will make them even more efficient.
It’s obviously a key topic and concern, and our customers are looking to technology and solution providers to work together to realize their vision around how their content preparation, distribution, workflow can be more efficient. Being able to effectively enable these efficiencies means we need to focus on being a solution and service business provider, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
It sounds like that the willingness of your customers to embrace something new and potentially different really stuck out to you.
Katsunori Yamanouchi: Yes, it did. After getting intimately familiar with the fragmented European marketplace, it was amazing to see how so many customers in the United States are so ready to adopt the newest technology and convert it into their business.
It makes sense though, because media professionals in this market have little choice. Unless they shape up their operation, they will get kicked out from the competition. It’s a reality that we’re very aware of, because we know we need to provide them with the tools and means to stay ahead of their competition.
This represents Sony’s greatest challenge but also our greatest opportunity, because we can contribute to their requirements in order to create these efficiencies in a very active manner.
What do professionals need to know about Sony Professional as an organization in terms of their commitment to media and production professionals in 2017 and beyond?
Katsunori Yamanouchi: We want to become strategic business partners with our customers in order to create a vision for the future of the media industry. Sony’s contribution is probably going to start with the technology, but we want to work with our customer to figure out how that core technology can be leveraged to make a professional’s operation more efficient or add value to their business.
Our task is to provide a product and solution today, but at the same time we want to work with them around this vision for the future. Great things have and will continue to come from these sorts of conversations, and they’re the sort that start, continue and culminate at events like NAB.