SVG Sit-Down: Program Productions’ Robert Carzoli Stresses Diversity, Education in Sports-Production Workforce

Crewing-company exec also sees alternative methods reshaping the broadcast industry

Few organizations are involved in more U.S. live sports productions than Program Productions. As the largest provider of broadcast-production labor services in the country, the crewing company plays a vital role in the live–sports-production ecosystem. In 2017, the company launched the ProCrewz App, a mobile version of its national enterprise resource-management system for its clients and freelancers in the live-event and broadcast-TV industry, and it is dramatically changing the way Program Productions does business.

However, like the rest of the industry, Program Productions faces its share of challenges, including adapting to the rise of “at-home” workflows and finding ways to increase diversity of and infuse new blood into an aging workforce.

SVG sat down with Program Productions President/CEO Robert Carzoli to discuss the current opportunities and challenges for his company, how technology and the popularity of the ProCrewz App play into his strategy, and what he sees in the industry’s future.

Program Productions’ Robert Carzoli: “The at-home production model makes it harder for the next generation of technicians to gain real-world, hands-on experience.”

What are the biggest labor- and crewing- related challenges facing the sports-production industry today?
There are certainly plenty of challenges that we face on the labor side of the broadcast business. There is a growing shortage of younger and highly skilled technicians. In addition, there is an ever-growing number of markets that have Paid Time Off statutes that create an undue economic hardship on clients. And there is a significant lack of diversity in the overall makeup of production crews.

What are the biggest opportunities for the future?
Every year, more and more [content creators] are coming on board, and each of them requires some complement of broadcast professionals. Despite a number of [productions] falling under the general heading of “at-home,” in total, the number of technicians required continues to rise.

How has technology — such as Program Productions’ launch of the ProCrewz App — enhanced the way you, your freelancers, and your clients do business?
For us, the development and release of our ProCrewz Management System and its sister mobile application is dramatically changing how our events are managed, how field data is collected, and how we communicate with our clients and field production employees.

For our clients, it is providing real-time crew and financial data that better allows them to manage and budget each of their individual shows.

For our field employees, it gives accurate and up-to-date event features and information, such as call times, a direct-dial feature to the onsite production managers/POCs, turn-by-turn directions to employee parking, electronic collection of expenses, geo-fenced punch-in/punch-out capabilities, pay and benefit estimates for each event, one-to-one and one-to-all communication features, and a self-directed calendar function.

How is the growth of at-home production impacting the crewing industry, with more and more live shows (or portions of live shows) produced back home at the broadcast center?
The biggest impact of the at-home production model is that it makes it harder for the next generation of technicians to gain the real-world, hands-on experience that is necessary in the development of their broadcast skills. The real impact and, potentially, the most dire outcomes are still unknown.

The biggest question becomes, as the workforce continues to age, how will the current technicians be replaced with trained, experienced broadcast professionals if the number of overall opportunities continues to migrate to a handful of broadcast in-take facilities? This is still a significant unknown.

How is Program Productions working to address this issue and cultivate the next generation of crews?
What we know is that our organization’s assets are its people. And, just like our equipment partners, [which] must continually invest in the maintenance of their physical assets, we are making huge investments in the training of the new flow of technicians into the broadcast-television industry.

Through our formal Program Productions Training Initiative and via partners like the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, we have established a paid-internship program, where we can not only direct the overall training of these newest employees but deploy them to the markets that require the most amount of “new blood.”

How are you looking to build diversity in the industry? Are your customers asking for more-diverse crews?
The single biggest way we can stave off the coming labor shortage in our industry is through building and supporting a substantially more diverse workforce. Look around the inside of any mobile unit or behind the camera. How diverse a workforce do you see? The truth is, our business is heavily, heavily weighted with middle-aged and older white men. Of course, there is a number of talented women and minority candidates, but how many of them do we actually see onsite on a regular basis? Not enough, that’s for sure.

So we are making a regular, concerted effort to spread our opportunities to a more diverse group of people and ensure that a broad number of the candidates in our training initiatives are as diverse as possible.

And yes, a number of our clients are specifically asking to see a far more diverse workforce, because they know that having a broader range of people and life experiences contributes positively to the overall and final product that makes air.

Do you see the significant consolidation in the media sector impacting Program Productions and the crewing business as a whole?
Of course, consolidation always creates an element of uncertainty, but the value we bring to our clients and the broadcast industry are applicable regardless of who we are working for or who the rightsholder might be. I’d like to believe that what we’ve built over the past three-plus decades is “client-agnostic” and benefits every organization we work for and every employee that works with us.

Any other major trends/changes that you’re seeing in the industry today?
Obviously, the alternative production methodologies continue to reshape the broadcast industry. I believe that things like 5G wireless, VR/AR, and artificial intelligence are going to be bigger and bigger drivers of how shows are produced. But, as I once heard Mike Davies [SVP, technical and field operations, Fox Sports] say at the SVG LiveTV:LA event a few years ago, “If we replace our technicians with robots, I’m pretty sure they will be Carzoli’s robots!”  I think I still owe Mike dinner for that one! Seriously, though, the skill sets our technicians are going to need in the next decade are probably going to be vastly different from what they are today. That being said, our clients are still going to need skilled technicians in the field and in their studios, and we’ll continue to work hard to ensure that we provide professional and cost-effective labor solutions to each of them.