SVG Sit-Down: Joseph Electronics’ Hahamy on the Age of Fiber in Live Sports Production

Over the past decade, Joseph Electronics has transformed itself into one of North America’s leading fiber-solutions providers, catering to mobile-unit providers like Alliance Productions, F&F Productions, Game Creek Video, Lyon Video, and NEP and to broadcasters CBS Sports, ESPN, NBC Sports, and Fox Sports — just to name a few.

At NAB 2015, Joseph Electronics launched its latest fiber-related products — Kick Box and Shadow Box — to positive reviews from the live–sports-production industry. Kick Boxes are designed to be rugged throwdown “quick fixes” for managing and maximizing fiber-cable runs. The Shadow Box, meanwhile, is an addition to the Caddie line of fiber-optic interfaces. Featuring multiple channels of 3G video, IFB, intercom, and audio, it box can be powered via hybrid copper/fiber cable or operated with ST fibers and locally powered. With installed options, the Shadow Box can also power a SMPTE-equipped HD camera.

Yohay Hahamy, president/CEO, Joseph Electronics

Yohay Hahamy, president/CEO, Joseph Electronics

SVG sat down with President/CEO Yohay Hahamy at the company’s Niles, IL, facility to discuss Joseph Electronics’ place in live sports production, the rise of fiber over copper, and how the company is serving broadcasters’ connectivity needs in increasingly complex truck compounds.

How was the response to the launch of your Kick Box and Shadow Box fiber products at the NAB Show last month?
It seems that the industry really embraced it; the response was nothing short of stellar. All the big [industry leaders] came by [the booth] and had very good things to say and already had their wheels working regarding how they can use it. We actually walked away with orders [from NAB 2015]. So NAB to us was probably one of the best NABs ever.

The Kick Box line is very simple: it’s basically box solutions to cable assemblies. So these are small throwdown boxes that can give you fiber solutions gender to gender.

Shadowbox is a little more sophisticated and pretty cool. That gives you the ability to take a SMPTE run from a CCU to [an existing] camera and put more audio and video infrastructure by the camera, while the camera [is] active. The whole thing is also powered by the [existing] SMPTE [fiber] line. It’s a pretty brilliant design on our director of engineering’s part, and the industry embraced it. It’s priced right, ruggedly packaged.

How has the dramatic rise in the use of fiber over the past few years impacted your business?
About 10 years ago, we [realized] that we needed to learn how to spell F-I-B-E-R and that this is where it’s going — just by the virtue of high definition being a big payload. The shows are not getting smaller, and the distances of golf courses are not going to get smaller. So it seems that we came in at the right time.

The resistance to making the investment dissipated fairly quickly when we realized that we have to own everything, we have to do everything in-house, we have to be very spontaneous and reliable. What we send out of here, plain and simple, is industry-tailored, 100% custom to the application, and it works. We reinvented ourselves big time from being just another glue distributor that provides boxes to an actual solution provider. Our ability to provide high-quality fiber solutions is unmatched by the industry, there’s no question in my mind.

Can you cite some specific examples of how your fiber solutions have helped live sports productions in the field?
Absolutely. [Game Creek Video’s] Paul [Bonner] and Jason [Taubman] came to us a few years back and said, “We built our [FX] trucks for Fox with five trailers, and it takes two engineers two days just to hook up the trucks. This thing needs to get quicker.” So we sat down, and we designed a system for them, and now they do all that in about four minutes. We basically took that design and refined it over five years, and now it’s really instantaneous. And we’ve done that for Mobile TV Group and F&F and others and been very successfully with it.

I can also tell you that, a while back, I got a call from [CBS Sports Director of Technology, Workflow, and Systems Engineering] Michael Drazin on a Friday at 12:30 in the afternoon and he said, “I’m going to fly a 4K camera over the Army-Navy game next weekend, and we put together a concoction as a science project to make it happen. Can you get me something that will fly with a camera and will be one fiber and get powered from the same power source?” I chuckled a couple times at first, but, by Wednesday, he got a box.

And where is copper triax cable’s place in a live production that increasingly relies on fiber?
Copper is not going to go away. There’s a balance of cost, because, at the end of the day, it’s not the cost of the fiber that is expensive; it’s the equipment on both sides of it. That equipment is not cheap. But, that said, anybody with vision sees that fiber is the way to go. But then, you have the budget constraints that we all have, and you create a balance. So you see that NEP still is buying triax and triax assemblies from us and then buying big fiber systems at the same time. Game Creek is no different, and all the rest of the guys are no different. They are all realizing that, if they want to move tonnage, fiber is the way to go. We helped evolve the technology. We are at the leading edge in terms of what it takes to crunch a lot of stuff down one human-hair[–width] strand and move it reliably over a great distance and have it work just by plug-and-play. That’s what we mastered, and our engineers are just incredible when it comes to that.

Copper is not going to go away, though. You are looking at stadiums right now, and they are all wired with triax. It is still cheaper to go with triax. And then you’re talking about the repair situation [for triax]: it’s a $15 retro kit, and you fix it in 10 minutes. That’s not necessarily the case with SMPTE fiber. So there are the people who are committed to the fiber solution and the people who are saying, We’ll do a hybrid usage; and there are people who are saying, We are going to use copper only. It depends on their budget and their needs. And we can cater to all of that.

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