SVG Sit-Down: Grass Valley’s Robert Erickson Plots New Course for Company’s Venue Efforts

Priorities are streamlined workflows amid a more complex control room

In-venue production is on the cusp of a new era. Highly debated topics like HDR and IP are causing in-venue production teams to reconsider habits that are deeply rooted in the past. Many have launched the difficult effort to make their control room compatible with the new practices.

One of the most active technology vendors in the sports-video–production industry, Grass Valley has appointed Robert Erickson to lead its initiatives as the new strategic account manager for sports and venues. Since joining the company in 2008, he has served in a variety of roles, including advanced technology director. Overall, Erickson has more than 21 years of experience in the broadcast and IT markets and is committed to designing solutions based on new and emerging technologies for production facilities.

At Grass Valley since 2008, Erickson will now lead the company’s efforts in the sports-venue side of the business.

SVG had the chance to speak with Erickson about his new role with the company, what he’s seeing in in-venue production, how the company’s recent acquisition by Black Dragon fits into the equation, how Grass Valley’s line of products can better serve the community, potential applications coming down the pipeline, and more.

What industry trends are currently happening in the venue space?
We’re seeing that the customer experience is driving more-complex facility designs with more-complex graphics packages. These complexities are pushing the quality of the in-venue production higher. That current trend, which is fantastic for the people working inside of the venue, is also driving operations and is significantly changing the details of their roles. In the past, sports-video professionals had to worry about creating only one video feed for the entire facility, but now they have to create multiple feeds: some for the suites, some for multiple banners, some for the main board, and some for other things. It has become a very complicated environment.

What are some solutions that Grass Valley is developing to better serve these needs?
As a vendor, we need to ask how we can develop workflows that allow the staff to create improved content that better engages the fan. We also need to ask how we can create tools that will allow users to pull graphics, switchers, replays, and things of that nature into one simplified, easy-to-use interface. The discussion went from “I’m going to buy this switcher or this graphics package because it’s the most powerful in the world” to “How do I obtain a holistic solution that takes all of the equipment and puts it into a user-friendly interface that people can learn while still delivering very high-quality and flexible content?”

One of our biggest goals is to streamline these workflows. We’re creating software just for stadiums and venue spaces, and we’ll be showing some of it at NAB this year.

Is the company interested in playing a role in building an “entertainment district” that surrounds a venue?
That’s something we absolutely want to be involved and actively engaged in. I think one of the most important parts about Grass Valley is that we are an engineering company at our core. It is our job to listen to what our customers want to be able to do and deliver solutions.

We’ve got 500 engineers working at our company, so a lot of the job of myself and our sales teams is to work with the customers and say, “Hey, we get you and understand that you want to bring your fans in earlier and you want them to stay later. What can we do to help create the solutions that you think you need?” At the root of it all, that’s what we have to be doing.

How does the recent Black Dragon acquisition impact business in Grass Valley’s venue sector?
Black Dragon’s experience leading companies through digital transition will accelerate the next step in Grass Valley’s evolution, enabling us to bring more innovative products to market faster in all of the verticals we serve, including venues.

While the development of new solutions will be accelerated, there will be no reduced focus on existing platforms, which customers have counted on for years for their reliability, dependability, and high performance.

What specific technologies do you foresee happening to in-venue production in the next 12-24 months?
You’re going to see a lot with the push of 5G and a lot of higher-quality Wi-Fi being installed into stadiums since what was considered a traditional second-screen experience could very much become a [primary] player now. They’re adding more bandwidth for [cellular] capacity and the ability to interact in real time at the facility. For example, we are involved in real-time polling at this one stadium, where they will put up a graphic and ask a trivia question. It’s about users texting this service, and then, in real time, we can pull that data and put it back on the screen.

With the addition of LED science and its role on videoboards, the need for higher-quality video, in terms of HDR and UHD, has become very popular. We’ll need to help with giving them cameras and image processors in their facility that can capture higher-quality video with better dynamic range, colors, and so forth. It’s really important to us because that comes back to being able to deliver a better experience for the fans.