Legends Behind the Lens: Barry Johnstone

The European juggernaut brought together a global sports broadcasting community

The story of American sports television is engrained in the history of this nation, rising on the achievements of countless incredible men and women who never once appeared on our screens. During this pause in live sports, SVG is proud to present a celebration of this great industry. Legends Behind the Lens is a look at how we got here seen through the people who willed it to be. Each weekday, we will share with you the story of a person whose impact on the sports-television industry is indelible.

Legends Behind the Lens is presented in association with the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the SVG Sports Broadcasting Fund. In these trying times — with so many video-production professionals out of work — we hope that you will consider (if you are able) donating to the Sports Broadcasting Fund. Do so by visiting sportsbroadcastfund.org.

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By Ken Kerschbaumer & Carolyn Braff

In a 40-year career, Barry Johnstone has had just three jobs. After a 10-year stint in the record business, the perennial salesman has spent 33 years as managing director of CTV Outside Broadcasts, one of Europe’s leading mobile-production-truck providers. Since beginning work at age 15, Johnstone has had some remarkable adventures, but OB trucks have long been his love and have kept him focused through three decades at CTV.

Since the 1980s, he has been a mainstay in sports and music production in Europe and has also developed a reputation among U.S. and world broadcasters as someone who can be relied on year after year. For example, for 25 years, CTV OB has played a key role in helping ABC Sports and ESPN deliver the British Open to viewers. And during the London Olympics, CTV OB was at the center of the TV production of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, one of the most complex ceremony productions ever.

“He is a very good leader,” says Bill Lacy, SVP of production, IMG Media, who has worked on the Open with Johnstone for 25 years. “Witness the duration of the employment by his engineering staff. And he keeps the company at the forefront of technology and makes it an interesting place to work.”

“Barry Johnstone is a leader of great people. We always know and always can trust that he’s going to provide us with the best people [in Europe]. That’s why we all come to Barry every time.” – former CBS Sports executive Ken Aagaard

Johnstone has been making companies interesting since the mid 1980s, when he was working for Carlton in the UK. Tasked with developing Carlton’s mobile-production-unit business, he soon found that mobile units were to become the love of his life.

“I got the opportunity to join a group of people that wanted to build a mobile-edit suite,” he says. “It was quite unique. One-inch–tape machines had just been introduced into England. We decided that, if we bought these machines and put them into a truck, we could go around to all the network television stations and edit 10 times faster on 1-inch as opposed to what they did on 2-inch.”

As Carlton grew, opportunity again knocked. Carlton agreed to sell Johnstone the editing studio and postproduction assets but not the OB vans, so, when Johnstone started his new company — Corinthian Television (CTV) — in 1995, he had a company with postproduction and a studio but no mobile-production units.

“Within a year, that all changed,” he says, “and my life changed with it.”

The success at the Open 25 years ago created a domino effect that made CTV OB the primary force in golf coverage in Europe. In 1990, the company took over technical facilities for the Senior Open, another TWI event. Then, in 1992, European Tour Productions was launched as a joint venture between the European Tour and TWI. CTV OB was again involved in a major European golf production and, in 1997, was awarded a five-year contract for ETP, allowing a fleet of OB units to be built specifically for golf coverage.

Over the years, CTV OB has accomplished many impressive technical feats as part of its technical contract for the Open. Going all digital, going all HD, and expanding the coverage to fully unilateral production are just a few of the notable milestones. But Johnstone says this year’s show stands out for Open-related accomplishments as ESPN’s facility expanded to the point where it needed to be housed in large cabins.

“You can see how far we have come since the launch as we have moved away from trucks and into a purpose-built environment,” he says. “It would have been hard to imagine in 1988 that our truck and support vehicle would fit inside the production facility we have built this year.”

The video in this profile was originally produced in 2014. For more on the life and career of this industry legend, visit their profile at the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.