Executive Perspectives: Remote-Production Leaders on the Current State, Future of the Industry, Part 1
Few would question that remote sports production is a booming business. As sports media rights skyrocket, live sports content becomes increasingly valuable to broadcasters and streamers. With more shows — especially regional and college — produced than ever, truck and facilities providers that cater to sports-content owners face major challenges. From rising fuel and travel costs to tighter budgets and rapidly evolving technology, remote-production providers are under constant pressure to deliver top-flight facilities that satisfy their clients’ bottom line. To discuss the current state of the industry and, more important, where it’s headed in the coming years, SVG sat down with more than a dozen industry leaders: Mary Ellen Carlyle, SVP/GM, Dome Productions; Len Chase, president, CSP Mobile; Craig Farrell, president, Alliance Productions; Philip Garvin, GM/founder, MTVG; Robby Greene, president/COO, IMS Productions; George Hoover, CTO, NEP; Peter Kimball, senior account manager, NEP Trio Video; Glen Levine, co-president, U.S. Mobile Units, NEP Broadcasting; Spruce McRee, president/CEO, Crosscreek TV; George Orgera, founder/president/CEO, F&F Productions; Chad Snyder, account manager/GM, Lyon Video; Pat Sullivan, president, Game Creek Video; Jason Taubman, VP, design and new technology, Game Creek Video; Frank Taylor, senior advisor, U.S. Mobile Units, NEP Broadcasting (formerly GM, MIRA Mobile); Mike Werteen, co-president, U.S. Mobile Units, NEP Broadcasting.
Do you consider the current state of the remote-production business healthy? Why?
Mary Ellen Carlyle: For [Toronto-based] Dome Productions, we consider the current state quite healthy. One of our owners has signed a huge hockey contract for 12 years, and our other owner now has TSN 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. We still continue to have many requests for facilities from our friends south of the border.
Len Chase: Even though it is an ever changing business, it is always growing. With the addition of new channels every year, the demand for programming keeps increasing. The increase is on both ends of the spectrum, from streaming to network shows.
Craig Farrell: There are more events being done today than ever before. Technology is enabling our clients to tell their stories better, while also enabling more events to be covered. Campuses that used to see a television truck only once a month, if they were lucky, now have nights where multiple events are being covered.
Spruce McRee: Anytime you see mobile-unit vendors building new trucks at the current rate, I think we can all agree that business is improving. But at what cost? Building more production trucks creates a cycle where larger mobile units built just a few years ago are forced to chase events at lower dollars.
George Orgera: There is some turmoil in the business due to the fact that one competitor is acquiring a majority of the existing mobile-unit vendors across the country.
Pat Sullivan: I believe the industry is healthy. There is a dramatic increase in the number of events being [carried on] broadcast and cable or streamed, and all of those have required some form of remote-production support.
Mike Werteen: We’re fortunate to work during a time when live content is considered the most compelling programming, which, of course, is the cornerstone of our industry. With the added channels that continue to come online, there is more and more need for qualified providers.
In what sector are you seeing the most growth: college, streaming, RSNs, etc.?
Farrell: The college sector has definitely seen the most growth in the last couple of years. The growth of several collegiate networks has been well-documented, but many stadiums are also increasing the game-day experience, which often includes technology upgrades and improvements.
Robby Greene: We’ve had growth in live sports events in everything from auto racing to stick-and-ball sports. I think that will continue. We also know that we can’t continue to operate the same way and maintain the same result, so we are always working on innovations, ideas, and solutions to help our clients control costs and accomplish their goals.
McRee: Streaming events and secondary/shoulder programming. Soccer also seems to have picked up some steam from the World Cup.
Sullivan: College-conference networks is the most explosive area for our industry right now.
Frank Taylor: In the last few years, MIRA has had some of its most dramatic revenue growth, driven primarily by the dramatic growth in the regional-sports marketplace. I include in that marketplace our pro-team deals, where we are doing business directly with the team rather than through one of our RSN partners.
Outside of technological challenges, what are your biggest concerns today in relation to fuel costs, going green, travel costs, government legislation, etc.?
Farrell: Our biggest concern continues to be the cost of travel. In a marketplace where we are traveling farther away from our home bases, controlling these costs can significantly impact the bottom line.
Greene: We have outstanding talent at our company and working in the industry in general, so, for me, it’s always about people. We need to create a great feeder system — the next generation of engineers, if you will — to advance our products and services. I love it when someone on my staff comes to me with their latest idea or discovery and finds a way to innovate. We are only as good as our talent.
Peter Kimball: NEP is constantly striving to save on fuel costs, engage in responsible recycling, and, most important, provide top-quality working conditions and benefits for our employees, as well as ensuring safe working conditions for freelancers who work on our trucks and in our studios.
Glen Levine: Fuel and travel costs continue to be a fluid situation. As much as you’d like to have engineers and field staff available in every market to lower travel costs, we concentrate on making sure we have the right personnel for the job with a sensibility to cost. Green initiatives are also a shared responsibility for all of us and, frankly, the right thing to do.
Sullivan: Regulations from federal and state governments regarding hours of service, emissions, and the aerodynamic properties of the trailers could change the deployment of the trailers and the weight of the trailers. Both developments may result in increased costs.
The larger-scale events, such as tennis grand slams and golf majors, are dedicating more resources to live-streaming feeds. Do you see this expanding into more sports and events?
Carlyle: Dome started researching and testing in this space four years ago and opened Dome Digital Services. With the paradigm shifting in North America’s younger audience, this space will definitely grow. Both of our owners are streaming their events, and you will see a big push for digital and second screen on Rogers Sportsnet NHL, in which Dome is heavily involved from a facilities and engineering standpoint.
Philip Garvin: We’re seeing a lot of live streaming, and sometimes we have to dedicate some router and router-control resources. In general, we are seeing an increase in the number and varieties of feeds we have to supply at regional sports events, not just at larger-scale events.
Werteen: Streaming will continue to be more prevalent, whether that means primary productions to tablets and phones or secondary feeds to give consumers specific content. Having the ability to watch Amen Corner as a secondary component to the primary Masters feed is compelling entertainment in my house.
Has the increased live production of college athletics events affected your business?
Chase: College sports is one of our core areas. We have just signed a multiyear deal with Fox for college football, which was our reason to build CSP HD-B1.
Garvin: There is more work for college basketball games, but smaller events are getting covered by non-traditional means, such as [NewTek] TriCasters.
Levine: It has made us look at smaller, less expensive solutions for non-revenue college sports. It is a growing segment of the business but needs the right solution from both a technical and financial standpoint.
McRee: There has been a significant increase in collegiate production over the last two years, [partly] at the expense of the mobile-unit providers. Becoming involved in the new networks, the schools have invested in equipment and are now producing smaller events themselves, taking business away from mobile-unit vendors. On a positive note, there should be a well-prepared crop of young, capable operators after graduation.
What impact do you believe recent industry consolidation has had on the business?
Garvin: Every show has a ton of details and requires a tremendous amount of personal attention. The bigger the company, the harder it is for the chief executive to give personal attention. At Mobile TV Group, it’s all about personal attention — from me to the director of operations to the event coordinators.
McRee: Being bigger does not always equate to being better. We pride ourselves on providing great facilities and personal attention. We think being small and agile in this business is a plus.
Orgera: IT has created growth opportunities for those remote vendors still vested in the industry. I anticipate that rightsholders will begin to diversify their purchasing practices on contract negotiations in the years ahead. I feel that a competitive remote industry is a healthy environment to excel as a business owner.
Sullivan: Our industry’s consolidation is not a new phenomenon. The acquisitions in the mid 1990s did not have a long-term impact on the remote-production business, and I don’t believe the most recent will have a long-term impact. The companies that engage remote-production facilities have paid ever increasing rights fees. They still require technical and logistical excellence.
Taylor: Every mature industry goes through consolidation. I don’t believe this consolidation will be the demise of smaller, independent mobile-facilities companies. There will be fewer of those companies in the future, but I believe, as has been the history in this industry, there will always be a niche for the small well-run company.
Werteen: It has been an exciting time for NEP over the last six years: NCP, Trio, Corplex, and MIRA have all become part of the NEP family. Although it gives us added nationwide scale, the most important component for us has been the investment in top individuals in our industry.