Long reads

The Euro50 Q&A: Giles Wilson, Ericsson

As chief technology officer, solutions area TV, Giles Wilson has been instrumental in delivering Ericsson’s success in IPTV and across the TV business more generally. Coming from behind, Ericsson’s middleware now delivers services to over five million IPTV customers worldwide.

Age 42

Education I graduated from the Queen’s University of Belfast in 1994 with a PhD in robotics.

Previous positions Prior to my current role at Ericsson, I was senior VP of technology at Tandberg Television, having also previously held the position of chief architect, leading the development of solutions based on advanced video compression technologies. I joined Tandberg Television in 1995 when it was the Advanced Products Division of NTL. During my career, and since gaining my PhD, I have also spent periods lecturing to university students.

Last year’s highlights Our goal is to be a change agent for the future TV and we strive to make that a reality through innovating and delivering to customers the solutions that we believe will enable them to drive their businesses in a direction that will make them successful. We predicted some time ago that multi-screen and multi-platform TV solutions would be hugely important and invested in the research and development to enable this new landscape. Our teams have delivered on their commitments and it’s been particularly rewarding to see the content owners, broadcaster and operators select and deploy our solutions to enable their businesses. We now have over 2000 broadcasters and operators in more than 100 customers using our compression solutions, as well as 60% of the top 20 operators and content owners using our content management systems. Over 50% of VOD content across the globe is processed by our technology and we reached the milestone of enabling over 5 million IPTV subscribers with our middleware platforms, primarily on the back of our ability to deliver true multi-screen experiences. Ericsson was awarded its third technical Emmy award at CES in January, which we are obviously very proud of. This success, for our Active Format Description technology, adds to Emmys in 2007, for our pivotal role in driving the growth of VOD services, and in 2008 when our video compression group was commended for its pioneering development and deployment of MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding (AVC) systems for HDTV.

Last year’s most significant development This has been the year that we truly saw multi-screen experiences become a reality, enabling consumers to connect with content in new ways. The success can largely be attributed to the widespread adoption of portable devices with great video capabilities – smartphones and, perhaps more importantly, tablets. But it’s not just been about the devices. The pervasiveness of broadband connectivity, fixed and mobile, allowing content to delivered to those devices whenever and wherever required has also been a key factor. And of course the greater understanding and awareness from content owners as to how to purpose their content into this new TV paradigm. Multi-screen isn’t just about delivering video to multiple devices; it’s much, much more. It’s about blending the TV experience across multiple screens and multiple delivery platforms. This includes the video, the control and the interactivity. We’ve really seen these aspects of multi-screen being understood and adopted in the last 12 months.

Goals for 2012 We are unique as a supplier in the time and resource we dedicate to researching consumer behaviour and how we use these insights to drive the development of our solutions and innovation in our features. One of the goals for the next year is to continue to drive those innovations into real-world customer deployments. If it’s not implemented and deployed it’s not an innovation, it’s just an idea and that’s not success from my viewpoint. A bigger change that Ericsson sees on the horizon is the emergence of what we call the Networked Society. This is a natural result of the combination of mobility, broadband, the cloud, applications and services, and the next 12 months will truly see video become an integral part of that. With greater connectivity than ever before, and more video-enabled devices, significant new revenue opportunities are opening up for the monetization of high quality content. As a result we also have a goal to work with the studios, networks and broadcasters, to determine how they can maximise the potential of their content in the future.

Industry challenges and opportunities Live event television is going to be a big focus for obvious reasons. The Olympic Games are the biggest sporting occasion in the world, and a global audience will be tuned in to watch the best athletes in the world compete in London. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the Presidential Election in the USA will attract widespread attention from around the world. TV coverage of events such as these has to be reliable and of the highest quality. Broadcasters must ensure that they meet these demands. Major events really do drive the deployment of new technology, and act as a barometer for what will be popular with the consumer in the longer term. As eyes turn to London, there will be greater demand for more feeds than before, to more destinations around the world and at greater efficiency. 2012 will also be the first multi-screen Games, with fans watching on the TV at home, catching the action on their smartphones or tablets, or in digital cinemas, while sharing opinions and highlights via social media. It’s clear that even in a world where consumers can enjoy content whenever and wherever they like, live TV remains the lynchpin of the TV viewing experience, particularly as TV becomes more social. However, live TV coverage poses unique challenges. How can broadcasters reliably deliver these events without a chance of a second take and with the flexibility necessary to support High Definition, 3D television and 24/7 news broadcasting from a wide variety of locations? This is always a focus for the industry, but will be of particular focus in 2012. At the rate Usain Bolt runs, one momentary glitch could miss the entire race!

Alternative career choice I would probably have continued with my career in academia. I love researching new areas and it’s very rewarding to be able to share knowledge and experience with new generations of talented individuals. New talent and fresh thinking is what drives every industry forward, and encouraging the next generation of innovators is a passion of mine. When I left university I also briefly flirted with the idea of a career in merchant banking – I’m very glad now I didn’t take that option!

TV personality most identified with Hannibal from the A Team. Being part of the Ericsson team, we’re often called upon to help if there’s a problem that no-one else can help with, and I know I have strong characters around me that I can rely on. Plus, as Hannibal would say, I love it when a plan comes together!

Most admired personality Whatever people’s perception of him, the way in which Lord Alan Sugar has worked from relatively little to build the hugely successful businesses he has today is something I massively admire. He is evidence of the fact that whatever your background or upbringing, if you have some great ideas and strong belief in what you are doing, anything is achievable. However technology has changed over the last decades, Lord Sugar has always been a central figure.

Life outside work The majority of my free team is spent with a football club for local kids. I run coaching sessions for children as young as five and also manage and coach an under eights team that one of my three sons plays in. I have always played soccer, both growing up and as an adult, and it’s great to be able to give something back and introduce a new generation to the sport. I particularly like working with the younger age groups as they are so enthusiastic, progress so quickly and there are no league tables, which removes pressure on winning. It’s always great to win matches but our focus is really on making all of the players, regardless of ability, the best that they can be as well as showing them what can be achieved when they use teamwork rather than playing as individuals. That and simply having fun! I find it hugely rewarding – in fact going back to a preceding question, maybe I’d do this for a career if I wasn’t in the business I’m in.