After Four Decades, Ross Video Maintains Commitment to Quality, Customer Satisfaction
In January 1974, John Ross sold his plane to start a company out of his home in Montreal. The objective? To design, market, and sell an analog production switcher he had built. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Ross — as employees past and present respectfully call him — moved company headquarters to Iroquois, ON, and R&D to Ottawa, and the rest is history.
Now headed by John Ross’s son David, Ross Video is one of the most recognizable names in broadcast technology. The company is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a new corporate logo, new tagline (Production Technology Experts), and plans to make this year’s NAB Show its best yet.
Last week, Ross Video opened its doors to SVG for a behind-the-scenes tour of its Ottawa campus, which comprises three buildings that house R&D, demo and training rooms, IT, and other facilities. Lining the walls are framed pictures, signed jerseys, and more from the various teams, networks, and sports venues using Ross gear.
Steve Romain, director, global sports marketing and business development, led the tour and explained how Ross software and hardware evolves from vision to reality. In addition to its bread-and-butter production switchers, Ross Video has made inroads in graphics systems, automation, control systems, infrastructure products, robotic camera systems, social-media management, and much more.
In addition to building gear for broadcast-control rooms, Ross Video devotes a great deal of its R&D to software development: adding functionality to existing products and getting gear to work more efficiently. A large room of the campus, resembling a brightly lit storage facility, is entirely devoted to R&D.
“This is sort of the proving ground, or the kitchen, for R&D,” said Romain. “I always like to equate it to making a stew, writing software for products. Each one of the developers, or groups of developers, has a feature set or a unique area of the product that they’re writing for. So they write their portion of it, they bring it down to one of these various areas, they load it to the product, and they test it and taste the flavor of their stew. It tastes terrible the first time, and they go back upstairs and change it, and they bring it back down and do it again and do it over and over and over.”
When the developers deem the software ready to go, it’s passed along to a team that integrates the software into existing products. After every issue is resolved, developers send their “release candidate” to Ross Video’s manufacturing plant in Iroquois for another test (all manufacturing is done in-house).
At the same time, marketing and technical product managers work in tandem with developers and manual writers to ensure that all are on the same page. Once every group in the process has signed off on the new software, it is posted to the site and installed in new products.
As Ross Video’s developers work to create software upgrades for existing product lines, they test their signature openGear line of rack-mount video and audio terminal equipment with the latest switcher frames from Grass Valley, Sony, and more.
“We came up with the concept, let’s have an open format and we’ll offer it to anyone that wants to build to that standard,” said Romain. “We have 60+ partners now using it; we have a common control program called DashBoard. … We’re at the center of sort of an international ecosystem of that product, and it’s been very successful.”
Another area of the campus is devoted to product demos and training. Configured like a standard broadcast-control room, the space houses a Vision production switcher, BlackStorm video server, and XPression character generator and graphics system controlled through Ross’s OverDrive automated production-control system and DashBoard control and monitoring system.
“[We] set it up to try to emulate a typical control room,” Romain explained, “so, if people were coming in for demonstrations and that sort of thing, [it would] look and feel like what they were used to.”
Since 1991, Ross Video has grown from 25 employees to nearly 500, with offices not only in Ontario but in the U.S., UK, Germany, China, Singapore, Thailand, and Brazil. The company continues to be privately owned by David Ross, with 10% belonging to employees through an employee stock-ownership program.
Recently, Ross Video made waves when it acquired Mobile Content Providers and effectively entered the mobile-production market. Ross Video’s openTruck Sprinter van will be on display (along with a number of surprises) at next month’s NAB Show in Las Vegas, and the company plans to launch its openCrew training initiative for freelancers.
According to Romain, Ross Video boasts the most stadium installs in North America — nearly 300 — of any production-switcher manufacturer. More than 10,000 Ross switchers are currently in use worldwide. That first switcher, however, is safely secured in Ross Video’s Ottawa campus, on display for all to see.
“This is the switcher that started it all,” reads a notice posted in front of the switcher. “It was built in the basement in the Ross family house in Montreal and was in service in Sherbrooke, Quebec, for 17 years before it was retired and traded in. … Revolutionary in its day.”