By Eric Peterson | Nov 09, 2021
Salt Lake City, Utah
Benson says he's had a "dual career" of on-air TV talent -- viewers might recognize him as the former chief meteorologist at KTSU Fox 13 in Salt Lake -- and technology sales. "I've worked on the TV side for 25 years," he says. "I also used to work for a company called Weather Central, where I sold technology to TV stations."
Benson has doubled down on the latter as he succeeds Utah Scientific CEO Dave Burland in the role in early 2022. He was named president in October 2021, about four years after he left KTSU.
Utah Scientific has been building its reputation in the broadcasting industry since Lyle Keys founded the company in the late 1970s. "Outside of this world, people probably haven't heard of Utah Scientific, but it's really well-known within the industry," says Benson. "While I love the broadcast industry and am still involved, I wanted to take the next step in my career, and I saw that more by going back into sales. I knew that Utah Scientific was a great opportunity."
It all goes back to Utah Scientific's industry-leading video-routing technology, says Benson. "It's like the plumbing in your house. It's not the coolest thing, but you would hate to live without it -- it's impossible to live without it."
Utah Scientific's video routers allow broadcasters and other customers to control video signals both internally as well as externally for broadcast. Depending on the number of inputs and outputs, the products range in price of $5,000 to $500,000, and have a 10-year warranty instead of the industry norm of two to three years.
"Just to give you an idea of the scale, our smallest routers are 10 inputs by 10 outputs," says Benson. "Any of those 10 inputs can be routed to any of those 10 outputs at any time. Our largest router is 1,056 inputs by 1,056 outputs. It has to be what's known as non-blocking: You have to be able to do any input to any output at all different times."
Customers include TV networks and other broadcasters, as well as companies like SpaceX and Walmart.
Benson describes Utah Scientific's manufacturing model as a hybrid. "We do all of the design and engineering," he explains. The company outsources the production of printed circuit boards and other components largely to local and regional vendors, then assembles the finished products and develops software for video routing in-house at its roughly 10,000-square-foot facility in Salt Lake City. "With a 45-year-old company, you can imagine things have changed. There was a time when we did our own metalwork, our own fabrication, everything, but that is now all outsourced."
As the industry advances, the big trend is a move towards compressed Internet protocol (IP) video signals. "All of these video signals, it's important to understand that they're all uncompressed," says Benson, noting that serial digital interface (SDI) signals are typically three to 12 gigabytes. "There's a move now in the industry to do it also over IP."
IP video is compressed, making for less data to transmit, but at the cost of quality and interoperability with legacy broadcasting equipment. "As far as managing [IP] and deploying it, it's actually much harder," says Benson. "The scalability's the big thing."
While many broadcasters will buy gear to convert SDI signals to IP -- and then convert some back to SDI to interface with legacy equipment -- Utah Scientific takes a different approach, says Benson. "What our system does, we have a new product known as a Gateway router that does both at the same time. You have the signals come in and it creates a copy of the signals, so everything is available and SCI and IP. It's not an either/or, it's both. It's truly a hybrid way of doing this, so our customers don't have to buy conversion gear on both ends."
Benson continues, "We can say to the customer, 'Here's the product that does both [SDI and IP], it's seamless, and this allows you to scale it at your pace.' So you can say, 'I want to do it all. I want every single input and output to have IP' or you can say, 'I want to have 12 that do this," and figure it out and learn how to do it, and then we can go from there."
He says an abrupt shift in broadcasting models with the advent of COVID-19 "was just forced on the industry immediately," says Benson. "To their credit, the broadcast engineers, the broadcast companies, they did it. They figured it out."
Beyond the pandemic, the move to IP is helping drive sales for Utah Scientific. After the best year since 2012, 2021 is "pacing ahead of that," says Benson. "Next year, we're just hoping to keep it going."
Challenges: "Supply chain is big and involving," says Benson, noting that some components now have lead times of more than 100 weeks, versus eight to 12 back in the halcyon days of 2019. "How do you plan for that?"
Opportunities: "New technology is a big one," says Benson. While the company is hardware-focused, it also develops routing software, and recently developed a browser-based solution.
An "expanding marketplace" is another opportunity for Utah Scientific, as the company's customer base has moved beyond broadcasters to include large companies, churches, and hospitals.
Needs: "Human capital," says Benson. "It's always getting talent, training talent, getting them up to speed, and holding onto talent."
Citing engineers and testers as key needs, he adds, "You've got your people who know broadcast and your people who know IP. To get the two together is a pretty valuable combination."