SVG@NAB Perspectives: PSSI’s Scalici on Demand for At-Home Production, Interest in Trending Technologies
While the NAB Show allows technology decision-makers to kick the tires on new gear, it also provides a forum for networks, leagues, and teams to catch up with the providers of mobile and satellite services. And, for those providers, the show is the perfect stage to discuss their latest projects and newest services while keeping an eye on industry trends like 4K and IP-based workflow. PSSI, set to embark on an ambitious summer covering both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions for WETA-TV Washington, took a breather during a busy NAB Show, when GM Matt Scalici sat down to speak with SVG about the trend toward at-home production in sports broadcasting, the shifting technology demands of its clientele, and why having a home base at the Las Vegas Convention Center is so important.
Why is it important for PSSI to have a presence at the NAB Show?
We get to see so many of our clients. As a service provider, we maintain a booth because it’s a home base and so many of our clients either make appointments or drop by to see us. And then, we spend a great deal of time here talking to our vendors. We’re a technology company primarily: we provide solutions to our clients and so [must keep up with the] rapidly changing demands of our clients. Satellite used to be one signal from one point to another point; now, with the advent of at-home production, we have half a dozen clients that are requiring us on a regular basis to do multiple-channel time feeds so that they can do remote switching.
[Major U.S. sports networks] and some international clients are all adopting this as an important part of a money-saving process; creatively, they’ve found that comfort zone. PSSI has been part of a pioneering team, along with our encoding partners, our modulation partners, and the satellite vendors, as well as our clients. We’ve spent countless hours testing and experimenting, and it takes every one of those players [to figure out], can we squeeze seven channels, nine channels, 12 channels into a transponder? We’ve done all of that development. Can we do it in perfect time? We’ve done all of that, in conjunction with our partner companies.
When a client trusts us with the entire responsibility for its transmission package, we are not just the satellite-transmission company. We’re a transmission-management company. In the case of the political conventions or in the case of our largest clients, PSSI is actually a fiber provider, and we will represent our client in creating double- and triple-redundant paths. At the conventions, we’ve got redundant fiber paths and redundant satellite paths all engaged, all flowing through PSSI and being managed by PSSI. We’re providing the technical infrastructure, but we’re providing the fiber to our clients like we’re providing satellite for them. If a client has a project that requires the highest level of reliability, we all understand that satellite alone may not be the perfect choice. Fiber alone certainly isn’t the perfect choice. But satellite plus fiber is very important, so this is something we’ve actually done for years, [and] we’re doing more and more of it.
We’re seeing the growth of at-home production, but, from your perspective, are you seeing more demand?
Absolutely, there’s no question, and our clients have told us with total certainty that the appetite for at-home productions will grow, and it will grow significantly year over year. 2015 seemed to have been the experimental year, where they all stuck their toe in the water. All of [the clients that we serviced] expressed that it was considered a success within their company and that they have intentions of growing that style of production significantly, primarily because of its budget-saving properties. I don’t speak for my clients, but I can just tell you that every client we did at-home–style productions for in 2015 has told us they intend to grow that end of the business significantly in 2016 and beyond. And we are building our new trucks and retrofitting our current fleet significantly in anticipation of that.
You mentioned clients’ changing demands. Can you elaborate on some of the technology trends you’re seeing and whether they are being adopted by PSSI?
A large percentage of the people that walk around this hall are engineers. Engineers, by nature, always want to go to the next best thing: what’s the next biggest thing, how can we make it better? It’s inherent in their DNA. That’s not always good business. Sometimes, you’ve gotta squeeze the value out of the R&D you’ve already done. In reference to 4K and IP, the things that are creating workflow efficiencies for our clients are the things that we’re most likely to adopt. [As for] the things that are just making television better for the sake of being better — 4K, for instance — I’d say our stance is, we already have 4K capability, we’ve already done 4K transmissions. If a client comes to us and needs 4K, we have a solution, but we’re not tooling our entire fleet toward 4K. We have a pathway there, but market demand would really have to show itself for us to commit ourselves to 4K, because we don’t believe it’s going to be broadly adopted by our clients any time soon.
Having said that, I’ll say we’ve already done some 4K. There’s budget money out there to experiment, just like there was with 3D, so, of course, we stay on top of it. Our closest partners are the encoding companies — which is really the key to 4K in our industry: can you get it back home? — so the encoders we buy today are all upgradable, all give us a pathway to 4K, and we already own some 4K.
You look around this hall and all the manufacturers that want to sell 4K, [and] most places are being built to be 4K-ready. We’re ready to strike, whenever it becomes a demand. If a customer asks for it, we’ve got it, and, if 10 customers ask for it, we’ll get more of it.
How about IP-based technology and workflows?
We are already prepared and equipped. If a client can produce a show in IP and wants to receive it in an IP transport stream, PSSI’s fleet is already prepared and has already provided pure pass-through of IP via satellite. Our role in that is, we’re just the link in the chain. If they hand us IP, we will deliver IP. I think IP [will be] important to all of our clients eventually; as their infrastructures become more and more IP-centric, they want their production trucks [to be] built with an IP infrastructure. The network-operations facilities are a little slower to follow because they’ve got such a huge legacy facility. You can’t just go in and toss it all out.
What are your goals for the show?
Number one is understanding industry trends. You can read all the books you want, but there’s nothing like face time with your clients and your manufacturing partners to really get a sense of where things are going. Everyone walking these halls is trying to make technology decisions, and we’re no different there. The other [goal] is being able to fit more in less. Since we’re a transmission company and we’re a pipeline, the demands of our clients are, can you do more? And so, to do more with less, you have to apply that to several things. Can you fit more transport down a single satellite transponder? Yes, we can, but not without the help of our manufacturing partners. They come to us and ask what we need; then we come to a show like this, and they’re delivering the product that we told them six months ago we were going to need.
Our truck has only so much rack space, so, if you’re going to do more, you have to do more with less space, too. … The manufacturing cycle is really accelerated on that. Not only are they able to give us products that let us fit more in less bandwidth, but it’s also more in less physical space because that’s critical. We build trucks. That’s what we do.