Odetics Airo Is Reborn

The approximately 200 stations using an Airo automation system will continue to get product support. Backed financially by CEO J. Merritt Belisle, head of Austin, Texas-based The Black Creek Group, former Odetics Broadcast engineers and other employees have acquired Odetics' Airo-related assets to form Digital Transaction Group.

The shutdown of Odetics Broadcast earlier this year meant that product support would have ended after 2004. Users of Odetics robotic systems won't be supported.

Belisle became interested in the acquisition once he began talking with Airo customers to get their sense of the system's strengths. A veteran of the cable-TV industry, he says he has been in the familiar position of buying software-based systems only to find that they didn't work as advertised.

That wasn't the case with Airo. "Customers told me how Airo worked well and only took two days of training before they were on-air with it," he says.

The Airo Automation System is in its ninth version, a feat Belisle finds impressive considering how Odetics (now called Iteris) cut back on R&D budgets in response to the market's downturn. The current version runs on the Microsoft Windows 2000 platform and uses a database to organize and manage media content. It includes a content-management module and a delivery-manager module, both which allow for drag-and-drop of content on the playlist.

John Price, Digital Transaction Group director of product management, was at Odetics Broadcast when the company fell apart earlier this year. "For a time, they were willing to put investment into product, but they weren't focused on a mission," he says. "They would change product lines frequently and focus on one product line and then on another."

One of the key strengths of the Airo system, he says, is its reliability and longevity. It first came to market when spot insertion became the norm and also was the first integrated video-server automation system to provide spot insertion.

Today, Price says, the challenge it needs to meet is helping broadcasters with a changing infrastructure that is preparing to give the viewer more control over content delivery. "As that future develops," he predicts, "there will be a demand to place hooks into the content so the consumer can streamline how they get it."

Belisle is happy that Airo customers won't face the difficulty of switching out an automation platform in a difficult capital-expenditure environment. "They won't have to spend money or retool their automation. With HD and the other challenges they face, that's the last thing they want to do."

Belisle's team right now comprises 10 employees, most of them engineers. He says the company will head to the SMPTE conference in New York next month to meet with existing and potential customers. For now, he's very happy he followed up on the referral of a friend who made him aware that the Airo assets were for sale. "Existing customers have support, and we're going to develop the product further."

Look for Airo version 10 to arrive sometime next year.