Inside Imagine Communications: The IC Selfie Files - Phil Grossman
The greatest resource of any innovative technology company is the human kind. Behind all of our cutting-edge technologies, patents, Emmy Awards and other industry accolades are some of the smartest and most dedicated people you’ll ever want to meet. That’s why we’re proud to bring you the Imagine Communications Selfie Files, an up-close-and-personal encounter with a few of the people who make our company hum. This week we visit with Phil Grossman, Director of Enterprise Solution Architecture and an internationally recognized documentary filmmaker who will make his debut in front of the camera in August, staring in the upcoming pilot of the Discovery Science Channel’s Mysteries of the Abandoned.
How did you get your start in the broadcast industry?
My engineering background has influenced what is probably a pretty unique career path. I specialized in illumination engineering at the University of Colorado, which led to me designing the lighting for the Hall of Flags at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. I also worked as a senior consultant in the telecom, entertainment and media group at Ernst & Young for several years, as well as at smaller consultancies. That’s where I really fell in love with the media industry. In 2012 I joined the Weather Channel as senior director for media technology and strategy. I was there about four years and that’s where I first got the opportunity to go deep into the guts of media industry technology.
What are some of the highlights of your time at Imagine, so far?
For starters, it’s the people. Jeff Snyder [Product Line Manager, Media Servers & Storage] and John Mailhot [CTO of Networking & Infrastructure and SMPTE Fellow], to single out two of my colleagues, are some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with. In terms of projects, it’s hard to put my finger on one thing. I lead a small team that’s tasked with solving customer problems — the bigger, the hairier and more complex, the better. This gets me involved with just about all of our products, from OTT to IP broadcast, including our advanced advertising systems. We’ve recently been focusing on advanced broadcast truck designs, where I’ve been working with some really cutting-edge technology, like our Selenio Network Processor. At the top of my highlight reel, though, I’d probably put the regional ad distribution solution I helped design for broadcasters based on our Unified Distribution architecture. I’m proud that I was able to make a contribution that helped us take a product and turn it into a solution environment.
You’ve seen a lot of change in the industry over the years. How would you describe the current technology climate?
In a word: frenetic. With the introduction of an additional cable — the Internet — there are now so many different ways to view content. As companies scramble to grab eyeballs, they are doing things they shouldn’t be doing, and that’s letting technology drive their business. Technology is an enabler. Figure out what you want to do from a business perspective and we will figure out how to make the technology allow you to do that. The industry seems to be divided now into one group that is fearful of trying anything new and another that will try anything, hoping something sticks. The best approach, which I’ve learned as an engineer, is to analyze the crap out of everything. Look at all vectors and figure out how those things align to form a solution. That’s what I’m about, architecting a solution. That means looking at your business, understanding what you want to do and how you can get there.
Broadcast and television technology isn’t just a vocation for you. You’re also a documentary filmmaker, best known for a project you’re doing on Chernobyl. You’ve spent more than 100 days at the accident site over 10 separate visits. You got married there. What’s the attraction?
I’m also the first person to fly a drone there. As an engineer, I was curious to understand what went wrong. I started taking photos and by the third trip I started thinking there was a real story there. I think most documentarians go into a project with a preconceived idea of the story they want to tell, which carries an inherent bias. For me, it’s sensing that there’s a story here and then waiting for that story to expose itself. My film is really focused on what had transpired between 2011 and 2016, the 30th anniversary of the disaster. How had the zone changed and what impact do those changes have on nuclear policy and the overall industry? The film isn’t quite done but I’ve put together several vignettes for various occasions, including a 30-year anniversary event at the United Nations. Overall, the small pieces I’ve done to date have garnered more than 2.5 million views on YouTube.
Lately, you’ve been spending some time in front of the camera. You star in the pilot for an upcoming Discovery Science Channel show called Mysteries of the Abandoned, which is scheduled to air on August 31. What’s that about?
I was in Los Angeles and met up with Casey Brumels, the co-founder of Ping Pong Productions. Casey has directed a bunch of commercials and TV shows, like 1,000 Places to See Before You Die for the Travel Channel. We chatted for a while and came up with the angle of analyzing engineering projects that have gone wrong. The pilot episode is “Mysteries of the Abandoned: Chernobyl’s Deadly Secrets.” As fun as it is to be in a TV show, the best part of the experience has been witnessing and participating in television production from an entirely new viewpoint. I like to say that Chernobyl provided my Master’s in filmmaking. Being involved in the production of an actual TV show, that’s my PhD. I’m really learning about story telling.
How does your aptitude and passion for filmmaking find its way into your job at Imagine?
I now have a much better understanding of our customers. I can now put on the customer’s hat. Being a filmmaker and working with a network to understand what their goals are helps to inform what the technology solution should be. It’s not about putting in technology for technology’s sake. I’ve gone to the other side of the camera and now much better understand the process. Storytelling is a creative process and what I do at Imagine is a creative process. We have to understand how to solve these problems creatively.
Where do you think the next big wave of innovation will be focused?
I don’t think it’s one specific thing. It will be about streamlining production and distribution. We’ve got so many outlets to view things now, from iPads to smartphones. I still think linear television rules. Traditional TV players just need to find a way to make the web, mobile and television all one universal implementation so it’s not distinct anymore. I think that’s the next big technology hurdle. We’ll go 4K, HDR — all these things that make television look better. But at the end the day, you still have to have a good story to tell, and that story needs to get out.
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