NEP Sets Its Sights on Centralized-Production Model With New Production Centers in L.A., NYC
The company envisions a globally connected ecosystem
As the demand for centralized-production solutions continues to increase at a breakneck pace, NEP is looking to serve the growing trend with the launch of production centers in Los Angeles and New York City. In addition, the production-services giant plans to launch a Dallas-based data center in 2022, providing a backbone network for production centers and remote operator facilities in the U.S.
The company already has centralized-production centers in Europe and Asia-Pacific (as well as at the recently acquired Vista Worldlink Production Center in Miami), and the new facilities will supplement NEP’s large fleet of production trucks and portfolio of production services in North America.
“Centralized production is a trend that we’ve seen growing in the industry globally – both for our company and overall,” says Steve Grigely, SVP, centralized production, Global Operations, NEP Group. “We are clear leaders in [centralized production] globally, so we’re already seeing the benefits pay off for our customers and just how much it can grow. From a big-picture standpoint, that’s why we’re excited about getting started here in the U.S.”
Eye on the Future: Centralized-Production Ecosystem
NEP Production Center–Los Angeles and NEP Production Center–New York are flexible and scalable facilities providing clients with technology and workflow options for live sports and entertainment productions.
NEP believes production centers in the two largest productions hubs in the country — Los Angeles and New York — will enable clients to increase utilization of their top talent and crews. In addition to enhancing productions with top talent behind and in front of the camera, the centralized production facilities offer the potential for saving on travel and expenses and supports teams with a higher quality of life by keeping them close to home. Having centralized facilities also provides a more sustainable solution by limiting the production’s carbon footprint.
“We’ve seen this wave [of centralized production] coming for a while in the U.S., and the pandemic only accelerated things,” says Howard Rosenthal, president, US Broadcast Services, NEP Group. “But the pandemic pushed a lot of people to come up with quick, one-off solutions, [such as] truck-to-cloud solutions for remote operators or remote commentary positions from home. But no one in the U.S. has created a complete ecosystem for centralized production. We see this as the platform that can offer that full ecosystem.”
NEP Production Center–Los Angeles and NEP Production Center–New York are already providing solutions to clients, including for alternative broadcasts of NFL games by a major streaming service. According to Grigely, NEP expects to open the Dallas data center by second quarter 2022. These facilities join NEP’s Vista Worldlink production center in Miami and facilities in London; Oslo; Zurich; Hilversum, Netherlands; Singapore; Sydney; and Melbourne.
“Once we build out the production-centers-to-a-data center platform,” says Rosenthal, “it opens up so many different possibilities where we are truly able to accommodate any possible client [request]. We can offer any number of models, including truck to our production center, truck to their production center, remote commentator at home to a truck, remote commentator to a broadcast center — really anything you can imagine. Once we have the platform built out, it doesn’t matter what a client wants to do, we’ll be able to accommodate it.”
Inside the Facilities: Top-Tier Gear on Each Coast
The Los Angeles and New York locations are essentially identical, except for their footprints: L.A. is roughly 13,000 sq. ft.; New York, 3,500 sq. ft. Each is equipped with two production-control rooms with corresponding audio and replay rooms, two flex spaces, a remote-commentary space, and dressing rooms and green rooms for talent. The L.A. facility also has two green-screen insert stages for shooting studio content.
NEP Production Center–Los Angeles is located in the company’s existing facility in Van Nuys, which also houses its Bexel equipment-rental business and AVS (Aerial Video Systems). Because of the pandemic, NEP has shifted a sizable segment of its workforce to work from home, opening up space at the Van Nuys facility for the new centralized-production center. The New York facility, meanwhile, is located in NEP’s existing Manhattan location.
Both facilities have been outfitted with top-of-the-line broadcast equipment, including Grass Valley K-Frame switchers, EVS XT-VIA production servers, and Calrec audio consoles.
“We are building these for tier-one sports broadcasts at the very highest level,” says Rosenthal, “so we want to ensure they have the highest-quality [equipment]. This allows us to use more of a utilization model as opposed to just building a truck and signing a multi-year contract [to amortize the investment].
“When that truck is driving down the road, those EVSs and that switcher are not available,” he continues. “But now, when a college basketball game ends at 2:00 on a Saturday, that gear can be repurposed for another show at 3:00. The more you utilize that product, the more cost-effective it becomes. We believe this will allow even more [clients] to use those top-tier products.”
Coming in 2022: The Dallas Data Center and 100-Gig Network
The Dallas-based data center opening in 2022 will serve as a backbone network to the production centers and remote operator facilities in the U.S. It is currently in the design and build phase. NEP has already secured the real estate at an Equinix Data Center in Dallas and will have roughly 40 equipment racks’ worth of space to work with.
In addition, NEP is currently in building a 100-Gbps WAN to connect the New York and L.A. facilities with the Dallas data center. NEP will also connect at a PoP in each city to extend the backbone network.
“There’s a myriad of things that we will be able to support,” notes Grigely, “and we can scale up and down extremely efficiently. Rather than having all equipment onsite, we would like to be able to provide a field acquisition unit with a smaller footprint that has cameras, audio, and video routing and then send all that back to the data center where the show would be integrated and cut. Then multiviewers can be sent anywhere — back to New York and L.A. PCRs or even to client control rooms if need be.
“Essentially,” he continues, “we are taking the core technology and centralizing it but decentralizing the control and operation of that gear.”
NEP’s goal, Grigely adds, is to be able to support larger shows than typically use the centralized production model: up to and including 1080p HDR production with 10-15 cameras.
“From an overall vision standpoint,” he says, “ultimately, we don’t want our clients to care where the equipment is — whether it’s in their studio, in one of our PCRs, in the client’s PCR, or in a truck. We want you to be able to connect to a data center and not see any difference in the quality of your production or the production experience for your team.”
NEP plans to connect Vista’s Miami facility into this ecosystem and expects to expand its facilities in the U.S. with more automated, non-traditional control rooms similar to Vista’s streamlined production model.
“Long term,” says Rosenthal, “in addition to tier-one control rooms, we will be looking to [launch] a variety of different types of control rooms, including the [model] Vista uses where they often have three or four people doing the entire show. Some clients don’t want 12 people in the control room to do the game because you don’t see the cost savings. We plan to offer different types of workflows depending on the client.”
Going Global: Centralized Production Centers Worldwide Connected
NEP plans to eventually connect all its global centralized-production facilities to enable collaboration across continents. Its U.S. team is currently working with NEP Connect (formerly SIS LIVE) in the UK on a transatlantic fiber circuit to connect the two ecosystems.
NEP also plans additional production centers across the U.S., Europe, Middle East, and Asia to speed deployment of new technologies across multiple geographies.
“Once this platform is up and running and the connectivity is there between all our facilities,” says Rosenthal, “the exciting bells and whistles are going to come [in the form of our] existing products. For example, our Mediabank media-asset–management product, the various cloud tools that we’re developing, and any new products coming in the next few years can be easily integrated into this ecosystem. Once you’re on our platform, triggering those bells and whistles will become as easy as flipping a switch.”
Existing Business: What Does This Mean for Trucks and the Future?
NEP sees this centralized-production ecosystem as a way to offer clients the extra flexibility to tap the resources they need —production center, mobile unit, studio, enabled location — with the ability to access additional services on demand, all backed by a team of engineering and security experts providing 24/7 monitoring.
Instead of replacing mobile units, Rosenthal sees this centralized-production effort as enhancing existing remote-production facilities. For example, instead of traveling with 10 EVS servers, a truck may have three servers on board and another seven available via the data center — reducing cost and increasing utilization.
“In my opinion,” he says, “this brings everything that NEP does together, not only in the U.S. but globally. Are we going to continue to build trucks? Absolutely. Are they going to look different in the future? Absolutely. I think we’re going to be able to build them more cost-effectively.
“I don’t think we’re necessarily going to decrease the number of mobile units we build,” he continues. “They might just be slightly smaller or built in a way where they can serve more as field acquisition units. We’re going to be sharing resources globally, and that’s going to allow us to better utilize our funds to build even more of these production facilities in the future.”