Ready for their close-up

A Quebec company's HD television software wins big contracts--and front stage at the Winter Olympics.

François Savard won't make it to the podium in Turin. But the Quebec businessman figures he's already won gold at these Winter Olympics, thanks to American broadcast giant NBC's decision to use his company's image-enhancing integrated software and hardware products for its Olympic coverage. “This puts us on the world stage,” Savard, general director and co-founder of Broadcast Unifying Gears –better known as Bug.TV–told Canadian Business from his office in Lévis, near Quebec City.

Not bad for a company that started up just over two years ago with an idea and $180,000 raised from a half-dozen private investors. Savard and his partner Harold Pilote worked as hardware technicians and equipment testers, then started up a company to develop advanced decision-making software systems for the Canadian military. They sensed a market for control and monitoring systems for TV networks, and Bug.TV was born. “It's a huge market,” said Savard. “Our mission is to be a world leader in the television industry.”

In layman's terms, what Bug.TV developed were graphic and video servers (tools that Savard defines as “software building blocks”). These use basic, off-the-shelf hardware to permit broadcasters to overlay pictures, texts and logos (such as NBC's peacock) on live images.

“Overlays are a big part of workflow in TV stations,” Savard said, adding Bug.TV's software-based system is cheaper, faster, more adaptable and easier to use than the hardware-heavy systems that are the norm.

Even Savard was surprised, however, at the industry response. He said buyers swarmed his company's demo truck at the National Association of Broadcasters trade show–one of the TV industry's biggest–in Las Vegas in April 2004. “They were amazed we were building an off-the-shelf system,” said Savard. Bug.TV was filling orders within weeks. Among the company's first customers was NBA Entertainment, which does high-definition graphics for NBA games, and Current TV, a hip, San Francisco-based TV station co-founded by former U.S. vice-president Al Gore.

Then, last summer, NBC phoned. Both Savard and Pilote went to Manhattan to give a product demonstration at NBC's head office. Weeks later, they signed a deal to provide the official U.S. Olympic broadcaster with HD-capable software for the Torino Games. “That was fast. These things usually take several months to negotiate,” said Savard. “They said they had problems at the last Games and wanted more flexibility.”

Savard admits the deal wasn't the biggest (in financial terms) his firm has signed so far. But the exposure should be a huge boost. “We couldn't ask for more,” said Savard. “The Olympics is the biggest TV show in the world.”