FutureSPORT: Investing in the Truck of the Future is All About Timing

It takes a surgical eye when contracting the build of a new fleet of trucks. With the bevy of exciting new technologies in the market — as demonstrated at SVG’s FutureSPORT conference this week at CBS Studios — making the right investment takes precise timing, accurate decision-making, and maybe even a little luck.

Various factors can impact when to invest in the next wave of production technology, and, for CBS, the decision can be affected by something as simple as a milestone date on the calendar: the 2016 Super Bowl.

“We all want new trucks, just like when you drive a car for a few years and you want a new car. But is it the right time to jump in with today’s technology?” asked John McCrae, director of field operations for CBS Sports, at the session on “the truck of the future.” “It takes a contract of five to six years to justify a brand-new truck, to keep the dollars within the realm in which we operate today. Most of our contracts are renewing in 2014, and they’re all long-term contracts, taking us to 2022. If I contract to have eight new trucks built in 2014, am I jumping the gun? Am I going to find myself in 2016 or 2017 with obsolete trucks?”

With today’s rapidly developing technologies, it’s increasingly difficult to know when is the best time and what is the best technology to invest in.

“We’re all looking for the next big, killer technology for the consumer,” said Tom Sahara, senior director, IT and remote operations/VP of operations and technology, Turner Sports. “The reality is that everything ties back to the dollar: we have to look at how I’m going to pay for this. Is it something that the consumer is going to have to pay more for? Everyone is looking for that magic bullet. It’s really a tough call to say what is going to be the next technology. 1080p gives us a stepping stone; a 3G backbone gives us a stepping stone. I think it’s smart for us to do that and look at it and really consider it. How we going to pay for it? Again, that’s the big question. Everything comes down to the ROI.”

According to McCrae, the leap into the “third generation” of mobile-production units is proving to be much trickier than the previous jump.

“The last time that the truck contracts came up, it was a no-brainer,” he explained. “We were moving from the SD world to the HD world, and we knew where we had to get. There were a couple toys that weren’t quite there yet, but we kind of knew what we wanted when we went there and kind of jumped in with both feet. This time around, we are really looking at a lot of emerging technologies.

“There’s a great tendency on the larger shows with DIRECTV feeds and .com feeds to add more trucks,” McCrae continued. “We need to tie all these together and share all of the information between six, eight, sometimes 10 trucks and make them all play nice together from a signal-routing standpoint to moving replay content around. Also on the horizon, we’re a little unsure where we’re going and how fast we’re going vis-à-vis 1080p and 4K.”

Despite the complexity of the decisions that need to be made, the truck companies need to go about their business of staying at the forefront of technological advances and keeping up with their competition. That means trying their best to “future-proof” their newest truck builds.

“The reality is that we are forced to forge ahead today with new trucks,” said Jason Taubman, VP of design and new technology at Game Creek Video. “What we’re doing now, and what we have been doing for a couple of years, is making sure that we’re 3G end-to-end all the way through our trucks for whatever 3G winds up being used for. On the network side, we are making sure that we are 10 gig-compatible throughout, so we can interface with Signiant and interface with EVS as the connected truck becomes a reality and we start moving files back and forth to our clients’ infrastructures, wherever that may be. We have the ability now, basically, to just plug-and-play with them at a high bitrate.”

That file-sharing capability is critical not only to having multiple trucks in a compound work together but also in helping talent at a broadcaster’s home facility have a greater, more efficient impact on the live production.

“I think that’s one of the most important things we’re focusing on now in the next three or four years: establishing that bidirectional file workflow from the facility to the remote operation,” said Jay Deutsch, director of projects and system architecture at EVS. “Utilizing an at-home type of effort, utilizing local resources, utilizing the talent pool that you have contributing directly to the remote production over a file-based methodology [is what we want to accomplish]. Using editors that are familiar with the tools, familiar with the day-to-day workflow comes down to the file conventions and so forth.

“Having that ability from the broadcast center delivering into the truck on a file-delivery type of mechanism is key,” he added. “But also the opposite side of that [is key]: taking content that exists on the truck and delivering that content back to the facility or back to an affiliate. Giving access to tap into a file on an Ethernet level or on a LAN level and to be able to connect and see proxy and see metadata and see these actual cameras during action helps [the users] make decisions based on what their needs are to create a particular package or rollout. Accessing all the assets and the metadata of the truck is key, and it doesn’t necessarily get narrowed down to being a one-way street.”

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