NewTek new era marked by acquisitions and technological changes


In 2005, San Antonio-based NewTek rolled out its flagship product, the TriCaster, a compact device used to produce video by mixing streams and adding special effects, among other tasks.

It has become quite common that the handiwork of the TriCaster can be seen on a TV newscast, at a high school football game, a town council meeting, or even in a college morning bulletin. NewTek now offers a range of devices priced from around $6,000 to $40,000 and beyond, said Will Waters, the company’s head of global product management.

“It’s about democratizing video,” he said. “It allows you to take specialized hardware with a computer and then some really fantastic software and it becomes a system that years ago you would need to have a full TV, a full setup, millions of dollars investment, in order to be able to distribute it to as many people as possible.”

Inventor Tim Jenison founded NewTek in 1985 in Topeka, Kansas when he discovered a way to stream video to an Amiga personal computer. The company moved to San Antonio in the late ’90s, Waters said.

In 2019, it entered a new chapter when it was acquired by Visrt, a Norwegian company that sells products for adding graphics to videos. Its graphics can be seen in broadcasts of football and basketball games in the United States

Waters, who grew up in the Detroit area, joined NewTek in 2010 as a sales engineer after working closely with the company on a separate job setting up sound and sound systems. lighting for schools, churches and businesses. He has a musical background, with a degree in music from the University of Rochester.

He recently gave an interview to the Express-News to discuss the history of the TriCaster, the company’s acquisition by Vizrt, and the future of video production. The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Will Waters is responsible for global product management for NewTek, a local company that manufactures video software.

Billy Calzada, staff member / staff photographer

Q: You have a background in music. Did you initially study to become a musician?

A: Not exactly. More along the lines of I’ve always had an interest in live sound, acoustics. There’s nothing quite like taking a good band and a good sound system in a high-energy room and bringing it all together. There is a certain mathematical property in music which is very elegant. It’s something I’ve always found interesting.

Q: How did NewTek come to develop the TriCaster?

A: Around 2005, people were starting to get interested in corporate video. You have all these messages coming out, and PowerPoint. Instead of having slide decks and overhead projectors and things like that, we can use the computer and show that on the screen. It’s kind of a point of convergence, isn’t it? Because you have internet and the video starts streaming. You have the corporate world, which does a lot of things with video or PowerPoint, and then you had the opportunity to take the video signal. What NewTek did – which at the time was a gamble – was say, “Hey, let’s take these three components from what we have here and put them together and create something called the TriCaster.”

Q: I’ve seen pictures of it. It looks like a big colorful keyboard, doesn’t it?

A: What you are describing here is the actual control service. And that’s very important because it allows you to have a certain set of buttons and a T-bar. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you know that T-bar is very important when you’re blowing up planets. But it’s actually a control for the product itself, which is really just a server with special connectors on the back to connect to video and which, of course, is running very powerful software to put it all together. But the truth is that all of this is done on commoditized computer components. That’s one of the great things about what NewTek has done because until very recently – and the pandemic pushed the industry even further in that direction – it was still proprietary parts and circuitry really technical to get a video signal from one place to another.

Q: Many video editing apps are now available. Do you see them as a threat?

A: It’s only a threat if you don’t grow with the company. It goes back to Tim Jenison. He made a statement in the late ’80s that read, “In the future, your favorite show will be made by you or someone you know.” I think we can tell we live in that world today when we look at social media, TikTok, YouTube Live, Instagram news, Snapchat.

Back to 2015: We actually looked at the fact that you had networks, you had computers, but it’s really about flexibility. Not only do you need a product that does cool and fun stuff from a video magic point of view, but you need to be able to get the video from place to place. With that, we developed a transport called NDI (or, Network device interface). I’m sure your home has an HDMI cable. Well, it doesn’t go that far, does it? I mean, it’s six feet, it’s 12 feet. This means that you have to tell your story, or put your studio in a particular configuration. But in today’s world where we have the network, the phone in my pocket is theoretically connected to every other device on the planet. So why can’t we use this transport method and use this camera on this phone so that we can have any studio anywhere capable of picking up this signal? That’s what NewTek did at the time, creating NDI.

NewTek's TriCaster TC1 video production system.

NewTek’s TriCaster TC1 video production system.

Q: What do you think of the evolution of video production over the next 10 or 20 years?

A: Right now, the thing everyone is talking about is the cloud. We’re in this technology cycle where we’re just working with peripheral devices attached to someone else’s computer in a data center somewhere. I think what we’re going to see is that ultimately flexibility is what people are looking for. Does it really matter where your (computing is done)? I mean, when you pick up your iPhone, do you care that Face ID happens on the phone but telemetry is sent somewhere to give you a result? The same thing happens in video production. We ultimately need to tell stories. With the proliferation of source devices, you have the opportunity to get new angles. Your eyes only ever look at one thing, usually you take different inputs. You know, you really get bored when you look at the same angle all the time. As a video consumer, you want to be compelled to see the interesting thing.

Q: Is it safe to say that a lot of this is integrating more with people’s phones?

A: It’s a track. But you know, the cell phone, that’s what we see and deal with now. In the world of video, the world of technology, there’s a lot of things that we’re seeing in the future that can be integrated into how we work with wearable devices – you know, integrating directly into head coverings.

Q: How is/was Vizrt’s goal different from NewTek’s?

A: Vizrt has a very interesting story in itself. What made this possible, really, with NewTek and Vizrt was that basically the companies mission was almost exactly aligned. NewTek gives voice to storytellers through video and Vizrt is about creating better stories through video.

Q: Has Vizrt steered Newtek in a new direction?

A: Every time you have a new owner you get a steering adjustment, but I would say overall it has been a very good thing. Often when businesses are bought, the acquired business feels kind of left out: “What’s going on here? What Vizrt was able to do for NewTek was that Vizrt had multiple offices across the planet. What it allows you to do from an international expansion perspective is really important, because when you have places where you can hire more staff, you can use offices as a logistics hub to be able to access more corners of the world.

Q: With the pandemic lifted, do you plan to relocate your local employees to the office?

A: We are studying for what we consider to be a modern way of working. San Antonio is definitely a hub for us, a collaboration hub, especially for our video mixing area, which is based here in San Antonio, with the NDI Group. Some professions and some employees strongly desire a dedicated space. I think others are more into a hybrid workflow. At the moment, we are a bit in this hybrid world.

Q: You just mentioned San Antonio as a “hub”, but that’s still Newtek’s headquarters, right?

A: Following (the purchase of NewTek by Vizrt), Vizrt restructured to form the Vizrt Group. Under the Vizrt Group corporate brand, there are three business units: there is the original Vizrt brand, there is the NewTek brand, and then there is a third company called NDI. The NewTek hub is centralized and based here in San Antonio. That’s gravity, if you will, for this whole thing.

Q: Has the acquisition of Vizrt resulted in a decrease in NewTek’s presence in San Antonio?

A: No, I wouldn’t say it subsided in San Antonio. I would say that we have enjoyed significant growth. We have increased our workforce in many places around the world, for example by expanding our European sales and support teams. We were able to add support staff in Southeast Asia and take advantage of a logistics center in Austria. But we haven’t really reduced our footprint here in San Antonio. If anything we added to that. The good thing about being a hybrid company is that we are no longer limited by certain geographical reasons for recruiting talent, for example. But it is still very important to be able to collaborate. So San Antonio is still our big goal.


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