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Remembering Neal Page, Industry Pioneer

Even in an industry as young as ours, there are key moments that bear pause for reflection. Early this morning, as I got up to help send my family off on vacation, I received word that Neal Page, CEO at Inlet Technologies, Inc., had passed away during the night, at age 50, after a protracted battle with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

As I've known Neal for well over a decade, this brief article is as much my personal thoughts as it is a short news report.

Neal's contributions to the industry can't be overstated. As founder of Osprey Technologies in 1994, Neal and his team of co-founders created the critically acclaimed and commercially successful set of Osprey live encoding cards.

Neal's background, before Osprey, had been as an engineer and manager at Sun, where he worked on earlier versions of live capture cards; ever the engineer, Neal figured out ways to not only get video into the computer, as most capture cards were doing in those days as part of non-linear editing systems, but also how to tie that capture into streaming protocols for simultaneous capture and live streaming. The resulting products were great hardware with somewhat hard-to-decipher software that gave full access to the parameters of the codecs, a hallmark the Osprey cards became known for.

Shortly after Osprey was founded, the company was acquired by Dallas-based ViewCast Corporation, where Neal then served as corporate Vice President and General Manager of the Osprey Video Division from 1995 to March 2003, expanding the Osprey line into professional products that included Serial Digital Interface (SDI) that broadcasters needed to stream live video on the web.

Firm in his North Carolina roots, though, Neal stayed put in the Raleigh area and never moved to Dallas. When it came time to focus on High Definition encoding cards, Neal and a few of his Osprey co-founders, including Scott Labrozzi and John Bishop, set out on a mission to create another startup, Inlet Technologies.

One thing that impressed me early on about the business model for Inlet was the fact that Neal was plugged into the investor opportunities in the Raleigh-Durham-Cary area. One of the first investors in Inlet, back when HD was just becoming a possibility for broadcasters, was Jimmy Goodmon, Vice President & General Manager, Capitol Broadcasting Corporation, which includes the WRAL-TV station that was one of the first to broadcast in HD, and where a former university student of mine is now a reporter.

"We were able to find investors here that understood what we were doing," Neal told me at the time, obviously excited to be able to have initial funding close to home in a way that solidified the North Carolina roots of Inlet, where it remains even as it has picked up additional national funding and gained significant customers across Europe and Asia.

I used to poke fun at Neal and John, who was with Osprey but whom I met only a few years ago, about all the nautical references of Inlet products, from Armada to Semaphore, especially since Cary is hundreds of miles from the coast. I learned last month, though, that John Bishop is from Duck, North Carolina, a small town on the Outer Banks which I had the chance to visit for the first time last year, and that Neal and John shared a passion for sailing and the sea. Suddenly the Inlet name made complete sense.

In fact, I learned today that Neal had raced sailboats for several years to help raise money for leukemia research, partially because his father had also battled leukemia.

"Neal truly strived to live each day of his life to the fullest, both on a personal and professional level," said Bishop in a release the company put out today. "He was immensely proud of the team he built at Inlet, and we remain dedicated to fulfilling his vision of bringing technology to the market that fundamentally changes the way people consume media."

In 2003, Neal also took on responsibilities as a Director on the Board of Directors at Hauppauge Digital, a publicly traded company best known for its TV tuner cards. He was also honored in 2008 as a Streaming Media All-Star.

In recent weeks, Neal's Facebook postings touched lightly on the battle he was going through, but it took asking John and others point-blank questions to get the true sense of what was really going on, because Neal wasn't the type to complain about the situation. When I visited the company's offices back in April, I'd hoped to see Neal again, but wasn't able to. I did see, though, that the company was executing well, in that it had "cleared the decks" for Neal to face the battle without encumbrance, while also spreading his duties out over the other two co-founders and a few key employees.

Even before today's tragic announcement, John had been planning a benefit for Neal, in the form of a bike ride that he's been training for over the past few months.

"I would like to continue to plug the LIVESTRONG ride I am doing in honor and memory of Neal," John wrote to me a few minutes ago, adding that details of the LIVESTRONG ride can be found here.

Funeral arrangements and additional charity donation information will be announced shortly, and this article will be updated accordingly. Meanwhile, readers who have other anecdotes or assessments of Neal's impact on streaming media can share your comments using the link below. There are also personal remembrances of Neal here.

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