UPI Scraps Pyxys

Here's a story by George Garneau from the June 11, 1988 Editor & Publisher:

New managers of United Press International have scrapped the much-heralded Pyxys system developed by their predecessors and returned to the drawing board for a digital picture system.

"We're saying we aren't sure it's the job we need done," Kevin Hipps, UPI's new senior vice president of telecommunications and data processing, said of the system developed for UPI by Digital AV of Knoxville, Tenn.

Hipps said "inconclusive" tests at the Memphis Commercial Appeal and Houston Post were "concluded" in May.

Digital AV abruptly removed Pyxys equipment after tests stagnated as UPI's fortunes declined and management changed hands.

Last month UPI sent to 80 vendors new specifications for a digital photo system, including equipment for converting film negatives to digital data and electronically transmitting, receiving, editing and preparing pictures for print.

The latest developments delay UPI's implementation of a new generation of photo transmission equipment it had promoted in ads in this magazine saying: "Pyxys -- UPI's revolutionary new digital phototransmission technology -- makes all other photo transmission systems obsolete."

Hipps said new plans call for UPI to choose vendors by July and to begin testing at newspapers by the end of this year.

Pyxys was initiated and financed by Mario Vazquez Rana, the Mexican publisher who bought UPI from bankruptcy in 1986. Vaquez was UPI and chairman and president until -- under pressure of management turmoil, soaring deficits and fleeing clients -- he turned over management in February to a newly formed company headed by Dr. Earl Brian and Paul Steinle, executives in a communication holding company called Infotechnology Inc.

Tom Sudman, Digital AV president, said the abrupt exit of Vazquez left the Pyxys development project in uncertainty as production was about to begin. His first official communication from the new management was the receipt of new specifications.

"We are obviously a victim of changes up there," Sudman said, referring to how UPI's new management at its Washington headquarters ignored Pyxys. He said Vazquez funded the research and development, but without a contract.

Sudman said his firm is studying new specifications and "evaluating" its relationship with UPI.

UPI was early among the wire services to announce plans to transmit pictures digitally. Associated Press and Reuters also have announced such plans and have been developing digital electronic darkrooms to process news photos. All seek to take advantage of faster transmission speeds, and higher quality and reliability of transmitting picture information in digital form as opposed to analog form used currently.

UPI plans to use the same system for transmitting digital news graphics, an approach unlike the Associated Press, which is developing separate systems for pictures and graphics. It is seeking proposals from vendors of off-the-shelf equipment available to UPI and its clients.

UPI is formulating specifications for a graphics production that will be compatible with the digital photo system.

The "biggest tragedy," according to Sudman was that the tests were effectively nullified by lack of cooperation and feedback.

A source at one test site said some pictures were published but Pyxys "never worked so hot." A key problem was the quality of the print.

"I know we have the only working all-digital system," Sudman said, adding that he has been approached by several newspaper groups and is "actively looking at providing technology directly to some of the major chains."

He declined to say how much had been spent developing the system except that it was "substantial" and payment was insufficient.

"It may have cost us money, but what we learned in helping us as a company," Sudman said, adding he is not bitter but is disappointed he was not contacted about how changes at UPI would affect Pyxys.

Martom, a company formed by Sudman and Vazquez to manufacture Pyxys systems, is "long dead," Sudman remarked.

A sticky question about the new electronic picture systems being developed for newspapers centers on the wire services emerging role as equipment vendors. Unlike the simple printers that have been receiving wire photos at newspapers for years, electronic picture desks can cost $100,000 or more depending on the size and sophistication.

Who will pay for picture systems and how they are going to fit into new pagination systems are issues yet to be resolved.