PPI’s Amy Scheller, Jessica Kowatch Discuss Crewing Amidst a Pandemic; Headset Program Launched

Program Productions (PPI), North America’s largest remote broadcast crew provider, faces challenges on a typical day managing crews in every market in the US and Canada.  Add a Pandemic and those challenges multiply tenfold. “Thankfully the recent growth as a company and our efforts to create a structural foundation to withstand an ever-changing industry gave us the footing, we needed continue to support our employees and clients during this crisis,” says Amy Scheller, PPI, SVP, strategy and development. “When events shut down, we immediately moved to action on being ready to come back. We wanted to be ready on day one.”

Jessica Kowatch of PPI says getting in sync with various COVID-19 protocols has been key to crewing efforts.

Program Productions has instituted new procedures and protocols in an effort to create the safest workplace possible. Jessica Kowatch, PPI, vice president, national crewing, says the new requirements were part of a process to make sure thousands of technicians were as committed to the protocols as PPI, leagues, and networks are.

“This includes acknowledgement from technicians of safe work behavior guidelines and submission of a health screening questionnaire,” she explains. “From there we are vigilant in syncing with clients, leagues, facilities, and venues to also implement their procedures.”

PPI has also launched a program to allow for crew to purchase their own headset. Via a partnership with GS Headset (distributor of Dalcom Tech and Markertek Supply as well as RTS and Sennheiser products, technicians and support staff can purchase their own headset at a discounted price. For more information contact Dave Brickson at [email protected].

Some of the challenges include finding qualified crews that only weren’t interested in a given job but, potentially, being home from family, friends, and home for upwards of four months (like at the NBA playoff bubble in Orlando). And last-minute additions and replacements also had to be on standby for certain events (others, like working with the USGA for the U.S. Open benefitted from being in a large market with plenty of replacement crew).

Contact tracing is also a challenge, but protocols have been drawn up for any and all scenarios like positive tests, those who are simply symptomatic, and more.

Amy Scheller says PPI has had to raise the level of its services to ensure clients and freelancers are comfortable in the current COVID-19 environment.

Scheller says that as events came back crews also looked different.  Productions were being asked to operate with a smaller workforce, crews were being required to quarantine and operate in isolated groups and wear masks in rain and 100-degree heat.

“From the first golf events to the NBA bubble to MLB’s home team world feed productions, remote worksites are different, and crews are different,” she adds.

Adds Kowatch: “Putting crew together today involves a different kind of attention to new details. We’re not just making sure we get the right operator in the right position on a particular event. PPI and our technicians are tasked with managing personal details of health, including detailed conversations regarding symptoms and we’re focused on how all of our daily actions may impact eligibility to be on site. We are staying on our toes, ready for the next development that will impact how we operate.”

It is clear that crewing of events will be entering a new phase once some of the leagues complete their bubble-based operations. A complete 2021 season will not be bubble-friendly given the length of a full slate of games (as well as the need to bring back revenue from ticket sales).

“Our clients need another level of service and we take that very seriously,” says Scheller. “Our standard is to be available 24/7 but, responding to Covid-19 issues and mitigating impact of new eligibility requirements, managing health screenings and contact tracing has, in effect, taken our client services well beyond standard.”

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