NAB Perspectives: NEP’s Mike Fernander and Corplex’s Scott West

NEP Broadcasting continues to grow, with more remote production units on the road than any other vendor. Acquiring Corplex in November, the company added another three HD trucks to its arsenal. SVG sat down with NEP U.S. Mobile Unit President/GM Mike Fernander and Corplex President Scott West to chat about the state of the industry, the latest technological developments, and what they were most impressed with at NAB 2013.

How has the transition gone since NEP purchased Corplex a few months ago?
We had the benefit of announcing the deal in November, which was about a month prior to the actual close date. That gave us a good month where everything was already visible so that we were able to line up our priorities in advance.

From a Corplex perspective, it all went very smoothly. NEP has gone through this many times in the past, and I think they have learned many key improvements along the way. Since most of our guys had ever been to [NEP’s field office in Pittsburgh], most of them didn’t understand the company completely until they went to meet the people and see the depth or resources available. That was very beneficial for our guys, because they felt immediately that they were going to be supported.

As far as the integration, we are 90 days in now, and we are done. The processes are in place; payroll and HR have transitioned over. The inventory of the Corplex assets are now imported into NEP’s system. I think it’s been great.

Fernander: I agree totally. The cultural fit between the Corplex and NEP employees has made it so much more straightforward. Everyone has such similar values.

I knew there some great people in the Corplex organization like Scott and Dave [Greany, VP of operations and engineering], but I was surprised at the amazing depth of the talent in the organization. There are a lot of really smart people in the Corplex group. And the trucks have become highly desired across the entire NEP client base. We are now scheduling them seamlessly with the rest of the organization.

What was the most intriguing technology you saw on the floor?
The Sony 4K technology was interesting, but the biggest thing I saw was at the Grass Valley booth. The improvements in the cameras in the new series they are releasing with the different fiber and triax sides. Specifically, the CCUs were really interesting. They changed the entire design so they have both triax and SMPTE outputs on the same 2RU CCU. And they have also created a chassis frame that you interconnect everything except the SMPTE and triax. It’s a frame where you actually remove the CCU and leave the frame intact so all the interconnections for your intercom, tally, power, and everything else is all maintained in that chassis, but you can easily remove the CCUs and move them from slot to slot within the truck or from truck to truck. That is a real time saver.

That is very interesting and useful because, with all the trucks, you are constantly moving things around for different shows.

They also had something called GV Director, which is a small non-linear [editing] system and also a live switcher with multiviewer packs. That really looked interesting from a number of different perspectives.

Lastly, they had their K-frame, which is the new 10RU or 11RU frame for the Kayenne that is 9M/Es and up to about 190 inputs. That is a really small footprint for a massively powerful switcher.

Since it has been the most buzzed-about topic at NAB 2013, what is NEP’s future game plan for 4K?
I don’t know if we very close to having a 4K production anytime soon because there are so many missing elements. So much of it is still an experiment. But I do think we’ll see more of it as an enhancement [within an HD production]. I think, as there becomes more of a commercially usable product, then we will start down that road. That said, we are working with several partners already on 4K as an enhancement.

I can’t see anytime in the near future building a 4K truck. We are a long, long way from that. But certainly we will continue to support using it as an enhancement.

West: I view it as a specialty application right now. We’ve done some testing on Corplex tests with CBS. I’m not sure what the eventual workflow is going to be, but that is how the technology gets started — you have to just try it. It’s certainly on the radar, and we are very conscious of how those products are developing.

And what about 3D? Do you feel that market has leveled out, or is it still evolving?
I think it’s evolving. We will continue to support 3D in every way we can, but I definitely don’t see us building a new 3D truck anytime in the near future. We just aren’t getting the demand for that. But SS32 [NEP’s 3D truck dedicated to ESPN 3D productions] is still very busy, and it will be at the Masters this week.

Does NEP have any plans to roll out a new truck in the next 12 months?
Well, we have the Monday Night Football contract, so obviously we will be providing facilities for that. EN1 will roll out prior to football season. Beyond that, we will see.

Have either of you gotten a look at the new Evertz Dreamcatcher replay system? Any thoughts on where it fits into the remote-production landscape?
Obviously, we were involved in the CBS test at the Super Bowl. We got quite a look at it then. We are always evaluating alternative products and anything that drives the market to evolve. But we don’t have any orders or anything like that.

West: I saw a demo of it at the Super Bowl earlier this year. It certainly has a lot of potential. The way you can zoom in without losing resolution certainly changes the way the camera shots can be formatted, because you don’t necessarily have to be tight. It certainly is a very interesting technology, and Evertz has been a partner of ours on routers for years. Certainly, we look to continue to help them advance their technology and improve what we do.

Fernander: I love the fact that it pushes the market; it pushes the technology and the vendors to take it to the next step. I think it’s been great as they have done 4K — to be able to get 4K and Dreamcatcher out at the same time and integrate them together has been great. It’s obviously an alternative to EVS, but it will be interesting to see how it shakes out.

How would you characterize the health of the remote-production business right now compared with last year?
I think it’s very strong — better than last year. Now that we have labor peace in all the major leagues, I think we are a lot more comfortable and safe on that front. And we are seeing new networks and programming coming online like Fox Sports 1, and Big 10 Network and Pac-12 Networks doing more shows.

Fernander: Networks are continuing to grow. I think that Fox Sports 1 is going to put a lot more volume into the market and that will be very beneficial to all the truck vendors. With more regional networks coming out, they are looking to get cost-effective shows but still have the space and quality that come with an A-level show. So that is pushing us to do our jobs better.

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