Venue Q&A: Bexel ESS’s Scott Nardelli
By Rick Price, president, MOEBAM! Venue Media Services, and committee chair, SVG Venue Technology Initiative
Scott Nardelli formed an alliance with Bexel in September 2002 in response to a growing need for fiber-optic solutions in the broadcast market. He has been a pioneer and at the forefront of the deployment and integration of optical technology in broadcasting.
In 2008, Nardelli joined Bexel as chief business development officer to capitalize on the increasing need for alliances and partnerships. He also retained management responsibility of BBS Fiber Optic Solutions and is responsible for Bexel’s rental operations. In 2009, he was named as SVP, sales and business development, and his responsibilities were expanded to include executive management of sales and strategic business initiatives.
Nardelli has been involved in the broadcast-cabling design and installation for more than 100 stadiums, arenas, and entertainment venues. During that time, he has expanded Bexel’s breadth and scope to include specialty integration projects, specialty vehicles for broadcast optical equipment, ESU, data storage, and broadcast Internet solutions.
In late 2012, Nardelli took the helm of a new division and is SVP/GM of Bexel Engineered Systems and Solutions (ESS).
Tell us a little about Scott Nardelli. How did you get started?
I’ve been with Bexel since 2002. Prior to that, I had my own company, Broadcast Fiber Resources. And before that, I was in the telecommunications industry. That’s really where I got started in fiber optics. I managed a construction company that built networks for stadiums and arenas as well as office towers, office buildings, campuses, and similar projects.
How I got started with fiber optics in broadcasting was a World Cup skiing event that was going to happen at Breckenridge (Ski Resort in Colorado). This was back in ’95 or ’96. … Breckenridge was a client of ours, and we put in a large, permanent, fiber-optic infrastructure for World Cup skiing for ESPN. It was right around the time of the switch from SD to HD. You know how they say business is 30% preparation, 30% perspiration, and 40% luck? For me, it was rather fortuitous to have knowledge about fiber optics in an industry that was somewhat new to fiber optics: television.
For the first few years, that was what Bexel predominantly did: fiber-optics support for broadcasters. This included everything from temporary installations to fiber-optic equipment to testing and certifying networks and building up fiber-optic cables when there wasn’t a lot of the product standards that are available today. We were kind of on the forefront in those early days of being innovative and creative, trying to come up with solutions to temporary applications for fiber optics, specifically for broadcasting.
I assume it was through that work that the need for permanent fiber installs in venues became apparent?
[In the] earlier days at the venues, there wasn’t really a standardized specification for what type of fiber should be installed or how many strands should be provided. In addition, there was a lot of confusion about the cost of fiber optics. Everybody thought fiber was expensive, that it was cost-prohibitive. And, specifically, in the broadcast market, it had this reputation of being unreliable.
Over the years, we basically proved that wrong. We proved that optical fiber was reliable, that it was robust, and that it was a cost-effective technology to use. Now we see facilities moving further and further away from copper to all-optical infrastructures. The only downside, really, to the optical infrastructures is the simple fact that it doesn’t typically provide power and a lot of the devices that are deployed on the end of the cables require power. SMPTE Hybrid cable solved that issue for the cameras, but it still exists for other equipment.
Last time SVG spoke with you was about a year ago with the launch of the ESS business unit of Bexel that you lead. Tell us about ESS and your vision for it.
ESS was the formalization of Bexel as a systems and solutions provider for permanent installations. Bexel, for a long time, has been known as a rental company. From 2002 through 2008 all the way up until 2012, we did a lot of integration and product sales quietly at Bexel, and we typically did it for specific clients. But it wasn’t a formal market initiative for us. In 2012, we decided to capitalize on two things we do really well: one is infrastructure build-outs, and the second is the implementation of technology: building flypacks, building control rooms, building Internet studios, and other special systems. We decided to formalize the initiative, and that is one of the primary drivers behind ESS.
ESS is basically three groups at Bexel: it’s the systems and solutions side, which is specialty integration; there is the infrastructure-construction side of it; and then there’s what we call expanded services, which is where we work with major event producers to manage the infrastructure — both permanent and temporary — at a facility.
The expanded-services group accesses the best of all that Bexel does and rolls it up into one very large package: if you want to be able to rent equipment from us, build out a control room, use temporary infrastructure, potentially have some permanent infrastructure put in, and then have on-site production services throughout the entire event, that’s what the expanded-services side of ESS offers.
What percentage of business for the Bexel ESS division is sports/entertainment venues?
Sports/entertainment venues are probably 70% of what we do on the infrastructure side of business, and the balance is more diverse (educational, hospitals, and corporate). The systems and solutions side of our business now represents approximately 50% of ESS’s total revenue, a big increase from earlier years, where infrastructure was the primary revenue source.
We’re mostly at the network and the league level, and we’re building out special systems for them: usually, unique applications that require a fair amount of knowledge of infrastructure and construction as well as of integration, equipment specifications, and technical solutions.
Give us the one-year report card on ESS.
After one year, the bottom-line report card for management is that we’ve achieved our financial goals for the first year. We’re adding personnel, mostly in the engineering and project-management ranks, and we’ve accomplished a number of different and interesting projects. For example, we are providing fiber-optic installation and terminations for the Olympics, so we’re going to have a crew in Sochi, Russia, for four months.
We also completed 16 analyst systems for Fox Sports 1 for the launch of the new network, and these are pretty slick compact packages. Each is a small single-camera studio in a 48-in. portable rack. Each system is furnished with a Panasonic robotic camera mounted on top of the unit, a complement of Litepanels LED lighting, Fox backdrop, encoders, transmission devices, power monitoring, and audio. The systems are deployed in the analysts’ homes to allow Fox Sports 1 access to an analyst on very short notice without having to bring the analyst into the studio.
You were involved with the Dodger Stadium project as well as other venues. Tell us about some of your recent sports-venue projects.
I’m going to go outside the norm [and] talk about outdoor venues; we have two now that we are working on. One, we’re a consultant to the City of New York and [Oslo-based architectural firm] Snohetta, which is the Times Square Redevelopment project. It’s an entertainment venue, not necessarily a sports venue, but, this year, it’s going to be used by the NFL and Fox Sports as a part of the Super Bowl events.
We have designed a permanent outdoor stadium-style infrastructure in Times Square. NYC has decided to permanently close Broadway to traffic in Times Square and create a large plaza environment. Each of the islands that exist between Broadway and Seventh Avenue will have a permanent broadcast optical panel and power. The goal is to reduce the need to bring in generators or have a lot of equipment and cables out on the street, which presents a hazard to the pedestrians. As a part of the redevelopment, large granite benches are being installed, and there’s actually going to be broadcast panels located in each of the benches; not only is there 72 strands of single-mode fiber and six SMPTE [cables] in each panel, but there’s also three-phase, 400-amp power. There are five of them, one located on each of the plazas.
The Times Square Event Infrastructure Project is part of a larger redevelopment project that involves tearing up the streets, a lot of conduit and allocating spaces within basements of buildings to put in transformers for the broadcast power. In the end, we will have a main broadcast interconnect on the south end of Times Square around 42ndStreet connecting to each of the plazas. From there, production trucks can park on either the north or south end of Times Square and be able to get anywhere in Times Square using the optical infrastructure.
Another relevant [project], which is different from a standard stadium, is what we’re doing for the World Championships of Skiing in 2015. We’re installing a large stadium-style broadcast infrastructure permanently in Beaver Creek Resort [in Colorado]; we’re providing between 24 and 48 strands of fiber in a fully redundant path, so we have basically a ring on the mountain for the broadcast. This allows them to have a reliable infrastructure that can be plug-and-play on the mountain. Not only is it reliable, it will drastically reduce the setup time needed to temporarily run cable on the mountain through the snow. In addition, we also have power at every broadcast panel on the mountain, which isn’t typical. Power eliminates the need to bring in and place external generators, so it streamlines the production plan. Hopefully, in a few short years, we will have reduced the cost of setup and production, improved reliability in a harsh environment, and offset the cost of the installation.
Based on your experience in the sports/entertainment market, what is your crystal-ball projection of the technology changes in the next five years?
From a technology standpoint, I’m not really the guy who looks out five years and analyzes what’s coming, I look at the infrastructure and make sure it will be sufficient to handle the changes in technology and mission. Although I’m intrigued by the technology of the future, I focus more on the here and now.
That being said, I think we are going to see a continuation of the convergence of broadcast topologies into data-networking topologies. So we’re going see a lot more digital data, which means, once that digital content is sitting on a server, that content is going to be continually repurposed for many uses well beyond the second and third screen. A lot of the projects we’re involved with are exactly that: we’re capturing all this content as data, storing it on a server, [and determining] how other folks can get access to and benefit from it. I think that’s going on now and will continue in the future.
I also think the proliferation of WiFi is going to continue to add additional services to the venues, whether it’s for the teams or spectators and fans.
The other technology trend I see is remote broadcasting. Trucks aren’t going away any time soon, but there are a lot of services now that are getting done at the league or network level that aren’t being done on-site. That, I think, is a trend that’s going to continue as people try to control costs that go into a major production. We can better allocate and utilize the resources in a central facility and use optical and communications technology back to a central facility; I think that’s going to continue to grow.
Describe your most memorable moment or accomplishment in your career.
One of the most challenging and most exciting was the 2007 deployment of instant replay for the NFL, not only because of what it was or bringing HD to replay but more due to the fact that we had to get 31 stadiums done in a very short time and we had to coordinate with a vast number of people across the U.S. It was a great challenge, and therefore it was probably one of the most rewarding experiences, completed on time and under budget.
What is your vision for ESS for the next five years?
We’re going to grow as a specialty integrator, provide the Bexel experience to a new set of customers, and deliver outstanding solutions for our clients. We’re going to focus in the areas of robotics, fast-track construction, and specialized systems for broadcasters. We will continue to build on the Bexel legacy of industry knowledge and expertise, and, obviously, fiber optics is always going to be a key part of it.