SVG Sit-Down: BMG’s Todd Mason and Sean Wybourn on the Shift to Centralized Technology and Decentralized Staffing
Over the past decade, REMI/remote-production workflows have dramatically transformed the industry and this shift was only accelerated by the pandemic. In the case of Broadcast Management Group (BMG), the company is leveraging its proprietary and decentralized workflow to help deal with the shortage of production talent many in the industry are facing.
As a full-service media production company, BMG serves a variety of roles for its customers in live production, systems integration, broadcast consulting, production staffing, creative development, and event management. In recent years, BMG has continued to grow its portfolio with the launch a REMI Broadcast Hub in Las Vegas and several REMI mobile units, as well as a growing role in the sports-packaging sector.
SVG sate down with BMG CEO Todd Mason and SVP of Engineering Sean Wybourn to discuss the company’s growing sports-production packaging business, its expanded creative services division, the continued expansion of its REMI offerings, it Broadcast Hub facility in Las Vegas, the impact of centralized technology and decentralized staffing, and what’s ahead in 2023 for both BMG and the industry at large.
BMG has become a significant packager of sports. How has this area grown in the last year?
Mason: This was a natural expansion area for us. For years, BMG has been producing major news events and entertainment shows. As we entered the sports world a couple of years ago, becoming a packager was the next logical step. In the last year, we hired Graham Taylor as our executive producer leading our full-time staff and contractor sports creative team. We had successfully worked with Graham on several events before bringing him on full-time. He is not only a talented producer and decisive leader, but he also embraced the decentralized workflow. Graham has been great working with our above-the-line team of staff and contractors, helping them excel in working remotely. He has also been helpful to our technical team, providing feedback as we continue to refine supporting the remote workforce. Our packaging team produces REMI events as well as on-location events.
How does BMG plan to expand creative services in the coming year?
Mason: We will continue to expand our full-time creative team and network of above-line talent globally. In addition to packaging, BMG will develop original sports programming, studio shows, pregame shows and post-game shows. Our goal is to be a natural extension of our clients, working closely with them to meet and exceed their goals. There are advantages of a smaller organization working with large networks. We can execute more quickly and cost-effectively than sometimes they can, makes for a great partnership.
How has BMG expanded its services with the growth of REMI?
Mason: It has been a very busy year of an expanding client base, expanding our full-time staff and an increase in the volume of work. To meet this demand, in the last year, we have doubled the capacity of our Broadcast Operations Center, which we opened in January of 2021. We have also expanded our mobile fleet with plans to add additional REMI mobile units in 2023. BMG has also created some partnerships with other REMI truck providers to augment our fleet. As we expanded our facilities, we laid the groundwork for the next phase of expansion so that we could respond quickly to client demands. BMG has also opened what we call a “spoke” facility at our New York, Times Square location. A “spoke” facility consists of the front-end surfaces of a control room connecting to our Broadcast Operations Center. For example, in NYC, we have an audio mix room, multiple replay systems, director, producer, playback, graphics, virtual set, prompting, and master control workstations. The spoke facilities allow us to tap into talent in the spoke market as well as have a place in that market that clients can come to as if they are in the control room that is 3,000 miles away. We also have small studios in Manhattan and Las Vegas that can be used for commentators using our virtual set system.
Wybourn: We have developed technology to make the spoke control rooms the same as traditional ones. The users expect a seamless interaction with control surfaces, and that’s what they get. We have prioritized reliability and redundancy with load balancing and automatic failover at these sites.
What is the latest update on BMG’s Broadcast Hub facility?
Mason: In addition to the expansion of our Broadcast Hub and Mobile Units, we have been constantly updating the robustness of our REMI workflow to accommodate the larger-scale events we are producing. This has required a significant investment in technology and staffing.
Wybourn: Since BMG is a systems integrator and a production company, this combination places BMG in a unique position to partner with manufacturers in the development of technology that supports REMI and our decentralized production teams. We can see where the market is going and start working with vendors ahead of product release to perfect what we and the industry need. One of the significant things that impacted REMI in the past was audio and video delay. We knew that for us to be successful, we had to reduce this. For the past few years, have been stressing the importance of this on vendors and we are slowly getting to near zero delay.
How has the growth of centralized technology and decentralized staffing impacted BMG’s business?
Mason: The demand for sports programming is outpacing the availability of production talent, which has become a significant challenge. Our decentralized workforce is critical to meeting our labor needs. It is not all about the cost. It is about utilization. For example, a director who travels to a game is limited to directing one game in 3 days. Conversely, a director who works remotely can direct between 3 and 6 games in that same period. Even a predominantly all-on-location event can be augmented by having some positions working remotely with BMG’s technology.
Wybourn: During the last year, we have upgraded to improve the technology around centralized technology and decentralized staffing at the BOC. First, the communication system supports three large shows simultaneously and added software. We can now have any comms panel in the world talk with any comms panel anywhere. This allows any deployed truck or spoke control room to talk with any remote user as they would expect to if everyone was local in a truck. We have also expanded the use of BMG’s own multi-view for remote users. When operators are doing any remote function, they need to see specific feeds. With the evolved Multiview solution, we now can customize for any position.
In your experience, what impact has REMI had on sports-production packagers, and how is BMG serving this sector?
Mason: REMI production is only increasing. No longer are their limits based on the complexity or the importance of an event. REMI provides cost savings, but a larger benefit is the access to quality production talent and the efficiencies of production talent being able to work on more events. BMG is a packager, but we also work with other packagers providing production support. We are happy to work with any other packager on REMI productions. The more people trained on this workflow, the better it will be for the entire industry. There is enough business to go around for all quality packagers.
Wybourn: Remi production is changing sports packaging by allowing events that could not be covered in the past to get coverage but also improve the efficiency in more extensive deployment of games. With large tournaments, REMI is the ideal workflow. We can change out staff between games, you can have multiple users connected, and you don’t deal with the expense of a large crew at the venue. You can leverage multiple BMG spoke control rooms and or technology that would not be cost-effective in a production truck.
How has BMG’s systems integration division been impacted by REMI?
Mason: Our Systems Integration division focuses exclusively on strategic projects, long-term relationships, and projects that can capitalize fully on what BMG can offer the client. We don’t pursue one-off projects. REMI and specifically centralized technology and decentralized workforce are providing clients additional options when it comes to upgrading and building new broadcast facilities. Clients can hire an integrator to go the traditional route of creating a turn-key broadcast facility with studios, control rooms and postproduction facilities, or BMG clients can consider building a studio facility where their talent is located and leverage BMG’s Broadcast Operations Center for control rooms, technical facilities, and staff on a pay as you go basis. The advantage is lower capital expenditures, reduced real estate needs, and lower headcount. BMG is happy to work with clients in whatever direction they feel is best for them. We see clients increasingly embracing this hybrid model. Several of our clients have contracted to have full-time bidirectional links to our Broadcast Operations Center so they can leverage our facilities for disaster recovery and augmenting their staff to cover absences, additional staff for larger projects and additional transmissions, and specialty services like virtual sets on an as-needed basis.
Wybourn: We have found clients wanting to leverage the BMG Broadcast Operations Center for control rooms and only deploying a studio for talent at the client site. This allows clients with small spaces to still get the advantage of a complete network with few requirements. Another reason we find this, is that we can bring in their talent or staff from anywhere, so location is no longer a factor.
Who are some key sports clients you are working with these days, and how have their requests evolved over the past few years?
Mason: Our clients include multiple sports networks, regional networks, leagues, and team OTT networks. Two years ago, REMI was primarily used for lower-tier games; now, there is no limit to the complexity of REMI games. REMI workflow, specifically BMG’s proprietary centralized technology and decentralized workforce, provides many benefits to production beyond just cost savings from reduced travel. Our decentralized production teams allow a director to be located anywhere in the world. That director can direct more events than possible with the requirement of being on-site. I believe the top drivers for decentralized technology and decentralized workflow will increasingly be quality of talent, flexibility, quality of production and then cost savings.
Wybourn: At the end of the day, the technology we are deploying to support remote staff is optimizing users to have the exact setup they want. You are no longer limited to the space of the truck and what monitors fit or location of monitors. With our technology and partners, you can have a seamless connection to the control room controlling Xpression, Brainstorm, score bugs and even replay with the flexibility of the keyboard and mouse users have gotten used to while working from home.
What’s ahead in 2023 for BMG in terms of continued growth and how is your strategy continuing to evolve?
Mason: First and foremost, producing quality events and original programming supported by our proprietary turn-key technology. We believe that owning every part of the production process of an event helps ensure its success. We welcome the opportunity to partner with networks on the industry’s evolution. Every day we are working on strengthening our centralized technology and decentralized production teams’ system. This is an ongoing effort, working with various manufacturers. We will continue to expand the capacity of our broadcast center, and mobile fleet based on client demand. We will continue to develop links to client facilities and will create additional spoke facilities which will not be limited to only the United States. In addition to increasing the number of major packaged events, we will expand our managed services division, which provides outsourced production services, including long-term staffing, master control, commercial integration, disaster recovery, and outsourced facilities. We are also looking to connect to large film studios across the country offering multi-camera production services.
Wybourn: As we continue to push the evolution, we have the unique position to have developed the best process for REMI production as a user and integrator and continue to work with vendors in testing and development to support the technology we need in a much smaller and flexible footprint. We want to be open to the thinking of production in the past and the technology to be flexible to whatever show the client requires.