LTS 2011: OB-Service Providers Look at Present, Future of the Truck Industry

Although many attending SVG’s League Technology Summit this week were affected by the NBA lockout, perhaps no group was stymied by the work stoppage more than truck vendors. Forced into a holding pattern while labor negotiations stretched from weeks to months and unable to rebook dates lest the season resume, truck companies are breathing a huge sigh of relief as they frantically prepare for Christmas Day.

Executives representing CAMERON-PACE Group, Euro Media Group, F&F Productions, Game Creek Video, Mobile TV Group, and NEP Broadcasting were on hand in a panel titled “Truck Tales” to discuss this and other challenges currently faced by OB-service providers and offer a forecast for the industry.

Phil Garvin

Preparing To Be Locked Out
Having nearly lost part of the NFL season and the entire NBA season, panelists kicked off the conversation by discussing preparation for future lockouts and contingency plans for when they occur.

“I think you prepare for it by having a lot of cash in the bank,” offered Phil Garvin, co-founder/GM of Mobile TV Group. “That’s what it’s going to take to get through it. You can’t lay off; you don’t want to lay off, [because] you [have to] get ready for everything else you’re doing [this season] and next season.”

For Mike Werteen, SVP of sales/client services, NEP Broadcasting, the biggest concern was finding work for his fleet.

“When you have 29 HD trucks, you need to make sure that they’re going to be out there working,” he said. “You have this commitment that there’s going to be the NBA, and that’s tough to fill up that revenue gap. So we were looking to see how it was going to be, picking up other shows [and] trying to figure out other ways to utilize those assets. When the NBA [came] back, then it [became] an unwinding process.”

Barry Johnstone

However, Garvin offered a positive spin on a situation over which mobile vendors have no control.

“It seems like it’s going to be an every-six-year-or-so phenomenon [that] there’s going to be some degree of labor stoppage, and it’s just going to be part of the business,” he observed. “Even though it would have been really bad if [the NBA lockout continued for] the whole season, we’re pretty lucky to be at the bottom of the totem pole of an amazing business, the sports-television business.”

The Truck of the Future
As the conversation switched to truck design — and the buzz phrase of the LTS — Barry Johnstone, international director/managing director, CTVOB, Euro Media Group, offered the European point of view, reflecting that the European truck of the future is not so different from its American counterpart. On both sides of the Atlantic, mobile vendors are concerned with rising fuel costs, going green, and the need to go smaller. However, he stressed that the European truck of the future is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Pat Sullivan

“The UK is virtually 100% HD and going into second-generation HD,” he pointed out. “Europe is completely different. Our headquarters are in France, [and] probably half of the facilities in France are HD, so [we’re] trying to get them up to speed. The UK has to worry about 3G, 1080p, and it costs a lot of money to plan for that. Europe is a little bit behind: the major sports are in HD, but a lot of the smaller sports are still in SD.”

Similarly, there is no cookie-cutter American truck of the future. The panelists representing stateside OB-service providers stressed the need for future-proofing through flexibility.

“We tend to build our trucks in such a way that we have more than enough facilities to meet the needs of our customers,” said Game Creek Video President Pat Sullivan. “And when you start moving [content] in and out [of the truck], it’s almost always a recipe for failure. People want to be able to move files around effortlessly from their home [base], utilize the assets of the truck but also utilize the assets that they’ve built into their physical plant at home so they can use those assets as part of their production.”

Mike Werteen

In addition to seamlessly connecting with the home base, mobile vendors need to build trucks that enable customization based on client needs.

“There’s so many things that are unique to each one of [our] customers that you can’t build a truck anymore that’s going to be for one purpose,” stressed Werteen. “We’re going to have to have the infrastructure in there to accommodate a lot of different shows. It’s got to be a Swiss Army knife that can be customized to whatever the show’s going to be that day.”

For Garvin, the truck of the future is simply an updated version of the truck of today.

“Our clients don’t want to be in trucks that are even three, four, five years old,” he said. “They want to see trucks that are very new, so our truck of the future is to build as many new trucks as fast as we can. There isn’t a lot of demand for the trucks to be that different than they were 15 years ago, just all the newest version of the equipment.”

Vince Pace

Solving the 3D Problem With 5D
Though not the predominant focus of the day, the topic of 3D was very much a part of the Truck Tales discussion. CAMERON-PACE Co-Chairman Vince Pace described his company’s foray into providing trucks for sports production.

“We’re certainly concentrating on the 5D model because I think everybody has now come to terms with the fact that a 3D production is not going to coexist with a 2D production, especially when there’s no eyeballs or revenue associated with the 3D guys,” he said. “ESPN has been doing a great job of understanding where they can place a side-by-side camera in place of a 2D camera and extract the single eye for 2D production and dual eyes for the 3D production.”

Certain sports, notably tennis and golf, lend themselves more to 3D and open the door for mainstream 3D sports production. However, not all truck vendors are eager to pursue it.

“I’m not going to jump in there until things slow down more,” said George Orgera, president/CEO of F&F Productions. “We’re going to wait and see, wait until the technology gets there and works for all of us. Right now, it’s not cost-effective for us.”

George Orgera

A Truckless Future?
A recurring question was whether the panelists foresee a truckless future. Werteen questioned the benefits.

“There’s been talk of everything getting piped back [from a remote site to a home base], and it’s hard for me to believe,” he said. “I know it can be done, and, in a pinch, I understand where it makes sense, but there is some element to having the people on-site to be able to capture what takes place at each one of these events. I understand the efficiencies that would come out of it. I wonder if the storytelling would stay at the premium value.”

Sullivan offered his take: “You’re actually asking us to speculate on our own survival? What a question! We’re all truck guys up here, remember?”

Click here for SVG’s comprehensive coverage of the 2011 League Technology Summit!

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