Bixby Firm Fills Needed Niche in HD Television

Just over three years ago, Mike Burk and Sheila Smith identified a niche market in the growing high-definition broadcast industry and created a company to fill the need.
Today, Bixby-based DTAGS LLC fills a critical link in the broadcast transmission business for more than 600 events a year.
The list of events they handle is more than impressive – it is phenomenal.
From the Super Bowl, U.S. Open and NBA finals to the Summer X-Games and Monday Night Football, DTAGS provides HD encoding solutions for the largest percent of major sporting events across the country, said Burk, president of DTAGS.
“We continue to grow,” said Burk. “As far as events go, we are doing 100 percent of the NFL Network regular season games, as well as the Texas Bowl, Insight Bowl, Senior Bowl and 2010 NFL Combines. We anticipate again doing all of the NBA season, the playoffs and the finals.”
Recently DTAGS provided HD encoding solutions for “America’s Got Talent” on NBC and is helping deliver cardiovascular surgery teleconferences to seven countries. The firm will encode the MLB World Series in October.
DTAGS has built a reputation for standardization and reliability that has made the two-person business the leading remote encoding solutions provider in the media and entertainment industry, Burk said.
“We are a small company that has made quite an enormous impact on the cable and broadcast network industry,” said Smith, vice president of marketing and operations.
Small Office, Big Job
Working out of a 1,200-SF office in a nondescript gray building at 11835-D S. Memorial Dr. in Bixby, Burk and Smith employ — or, perhaps more accurately, deploy — up to 20 HD engineers nationwide to operate their equipment.
The firm, which ships its equipment to locations nationally and internationally for use by its engineers or for rental, is capable of simultaneously encoding 14 events.
The Bixby office is the center for the firm’s scheduling, accounting and coordination of shipping duties as well as certification, testing, maintenance of equipment, sales, marketing and customer relations.
DTAGS, or Digital Transport Agnostic Gateway Solutions, is a mouthful way of saying the firm provides remote HD solutions for broadcasters and the sports leagues, as well as fiber and satellite companies.
The firm encodes the signal from the broadcaster’s on-site production facilities, usually a production truck, into compressed HD and transmits that signal, either by fiber optic or uplink, to satellite, to the broadcaster for distribution to the home.
“We provide a complete solution encompassing the encoding, monitoring and quality control on site,” said Burk. “Our equipment configuration literally set the standard for the industry in remote HD solutions. We are an extension of the broadcaster’s on-site production facilities.”
The firm’s reputation for reliability is a necessity in the industry.
“You are only as good as your last event,” Smith said. “That’s why we treat every event as if our business depends on it. We’ve worked hard to achieve a reputation that encompasses that level of focus and attention for each customer.”
That level of attention does not go unnoticed among their clients.
“The reason we use DTAGS, despite a myriad of choices, is for their quality of equipment and services and attention to detail,” said Glenn Adamo, vice president of media operations at NFL. “Our NFL Network remote production demands very high quality HD, and DTAGS gives us exactly what we need.”
Smith said producers note that when they see DTAGS’ distinctive red cases arrive on site, they have an added sense of security that the transmission will be flawless.
“It’s one less thing they have to be concerned about,” she said.
Tulsa Technology
Burk and Smith, who both grew up in the Tulsa area, took widely different routes to arrive at the Tulsa offices of Vyvx, which provides full-service video transmission solutions for news, sports, entertainment and special events. Vyvx, previously a unit of WilTel, is owned by Level 3.
Burk moved into an IT role at Williams Communications after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps as a nuclear, biological and chemical warfare defense specialist. He worked through positions with Williams and WilTel, ending up as product manager at Vyvx.
“I put my hands into as many things as I could when I was over at WilTel/Vyvyx, merging the Internet streaming world to the IT computer world to traditional television,” Burk said.
A graduate of John Brown University with a communications degree in journalism, Smith worked her way through television positions in Tulsa and St. Louis, where she won an Emmy and a Telly doing promotions for the Blues and Cardinals at independent station KPLR. After a stint as a freelance promotions producer for the Big Three in New York City, she returned to Tulsa to Fairview-AFX, Inc., an audio-visual integrator and provider of professional video systems, where she was introduced to Vyvx. Fairfax-AFX was acquired by what is now MCSi Inc., in 2000.
With a combined experience of 30 years in the broadcast industry, Burk and Smith “saw a niche market for this particular type of service and were willing to take a big risk,”.
“With these encoders, it’s almost like playing an instrument. There are multiple settings that can have multiple results — some good, some bad,” Burk said. “We identified that there was a need for consistency, for some type of standardization.”
When they started business in April 2006, ESPN was their biggest client.
“Their largest revenue-generating events, they have entrusted us with,” Burk said. “It is almost unheard of for a company to go into business and from day one take over every event that a company is doing.”
Growing Demand
As a result, the company continues to grow.
“Three years ago, we were able to do two simultanueous events the day we started,” Smith said. “Within three months, we had to grow to four simultaneous events. Six months after that it doubled. Now we are at 14 simultaneous events.”
“One of the amazing things is that we have grown despite the recession,” Burk said, explaining that broadcasters look to DTAGS to cut costs.
Instead of producing a show on-site and sending a single signal through DTAGS, the broadcasters are asking DTAGS to send all of the camera signals, eliminating the need for a production crew and truck, he said.
“Now they have saved a lot of money in the production area. Where we used to have one signal leaving, now we have up to eight signals leaving the stadium because they want to do the production back in New York,” Burk said. “That is something that a lot of people have talked about for a number of years, but nobody has taken that risk. When you see your budgets cut in half, things are looked at differently. We are doing more and more multichannel services than we have ever done before.”
In addition, DTAGS is seeing requests from other fields.
“We got a call from the State Department for the G20 summit, saying, ‘We need you to provide exclusive services for all the countries for the G20 summit,’” he said.
DTAGS is also getting more calls from niche sports like drag racing, IROC and monster truck rallies.
“We just had 11 monster truck rallies booked with us,” Burk said. “We are getting more and more because that fan base has gotten so big. They are saying, ‘What else can you give us? Can you give us an in car cam? Can you encode from every one of the cars?’”
Burk’s knowledge of the industry, the equipment that runs it and the infrastructures on which it operates has made him a sought-after consultant. He is called upon to consult for cable and network broadcasters and sports leagues on a daily basis.
The need to stay on top of the industry’s needs and developments, means Burk is constantly on the road personally working events.
But a job that keeps him on-site at the biggest sporting events and rubbing elbows with famous personalities has its perks.
“The other night we had finished the Bills-Patriots, and I got out of there at three in the morning and had a 6 a.m. flight. I was thinking, ‘This is horrible,’” he said. “Then I sat down and got to thinking, ‘How many people would kill to have this job? I have been out at the stadium since last Thursday. How many people would love to do that?’” ?

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