SVG Summit: A Healthy Remote-Production Industry Rides Wave of Consolidation
With more than 200 sports-production trucks on the road, the North American remote production business appears healthier than ever. But a surge of consolidation over the past few years means fewer companies are in control.
On Monday, the SVG Summit kicked off two days of general sessions with a discussion on the current state of the sports-production market. Industry leaders representing both vendors and end-users debated the advantages of consolidation before touching on at-home workflows, the transition to 4K, and more.
“We’re seeing a lot of consolidation in the market and that is reducing the competition, or at least slimming the choices down a little bit, which, for a company that subscribes a lot of these mobile units, is a bit concerning,” says Michael Davies, SVP, Technical and Field Operations, Fox Sports. “But, what we’re seeing is – with the maturing of HD and the oncoming of things like 3G and IP routing – very robust and reliable trucks. So it’s an exciting time.”
As the market consolidates, the number of companies from which to choose will continue to shrink. However, for the vendors responsible for the consolidation, bringing those competing voices in-house can only be a good thing.
“In 2014, we did have two companies that have become part of our fold and I always welcome that integration process that we go through because there’s a lot of smart people that are involved in these organizations,” says Mike Werteen, President, U.S. Mobile Units, NEP Broadcasting. “It helps to look at unique business opportunities, unique workflows, unique operational components, [and] unique engineering.
“There’s a lot of people that are designing trucks that are part of our world now that have felt very passionate about the way that [their trucks were] designed,” he continues. “I’d rather have those voices within our company and have the internal debate on what’s going to be the best thing moving forward.”
The explosion of regional sports networks and collegiate conference networks continues to boost the remote-production business, driving innovation at every level.
“We’re very fortunate in that we’ve got two groups of distinct clients that are very forward thinking and have really pushed us to think differently about how we approach things,” says Pat Sullivan, President, Game Creek Video. “We have our big national clients like ESPN, Fox, NBC, and CBS, and then we have our regional group who also want to enhance their productions and, at the same time, make them more efficient.”
Of course, one way of boosting efficiency (particularly as it relates to the production’s budget) is keeping an increasing number of staffers at home. As the “at-home production” conversation gains traction, Davies weighed in on the potential advantages for smaller productions.
“Not every sport might necessitate a 53-ft. truck but, moreover, there’s other sports out there that aren’t being covered because they don’t have the revenue model to bring one,” says Davies. “By the nature of at-home productions, they’re just not as expensive to get into. You’re using less expensive equipment, so I think that that would create some opportunity for sure.”
However, for large-scale productions, having the majority of the crew on site will continue to be the norm for the foreseeable future. And remote-production vendors will continue to outfit their trucks with the latest gear and build an infrastructure to accommodate future needs.
“These mega events – US Open, Super Bowl, NBA Finals, Final Four – those are getting bigger,” says Sullivan. “Every truck that we’ve ever built, we have created a lot of head room so that our customers can grow their show as time goes on. We’ve always found that people will grow a show, whether it’s using specialty cameras or additional graphics, and our biggest fear was we’re going to spend all this money building this truck and these guys are going to come back to us and say, hey, by the way we have some new technology that we’re going to try and we don’t have the infrastructure to handle that. That’s another thing that drove us in this.”
Speaking of new technology, Mobile TV Group made recent headlines by announcing the industry’s first 4K mobile production unit featuring a full complement of 4K-capable equipment including cameras, replay, graphics, and switcher. Unlike the alternative viewing experience of 3D, Mobile TV Group GM/Co-Owner Philip Garvin predicts that HD will naturally transition to 4K and wants his company to be ready.
“I think the business is quite healthy, quite stable,” says Garvin. “I think we really do stand for the ideals of free enterprise and competition, and I’m proud to be part of that. I think we’re back to 2003 where we ushered in a new format — we’re about to usher in a new format, and that’s going to create a lot of challenges.”