SVG Europe Sit-Down: NEP’s Rob Newton on end-user readiness for IP and ongoing training initiative
Over the last year or so NEP Visions has made considerable investments in both trucks and flypack kits – all as a result of a very healthy order book. As Rob Newton, engineering and technical director of NEP UK and Ireland, explains, an upcoming move to a new permanent facility will consolidate the company’s position and allow it to meet the challenges that face the OB industry with regard to IP, HDR, UHD and training.
Have the demands of sports broadcasters changed over the past few years?
The very reason why this industry is so great also raises our biggest challenge, and that is one of the constant progression in the technology we use. The challenge is always finding the right balance between new technologies and ensuring that all broadcast formats are still supported. Currently, we are seeing the demand for 4K, HDR and IP rocket. That means for NEP UK to continue to provide the stellar service for which it is famous, we have to address these technologies and ensure we are pioneers in our sector. Our newest trucks in the fleet are UHD ready due to the sports channels broadcasting in ultra high definition. And I think that is the most noticeable change for which broadcasters are asking – to be in line with the way technology is moving, and that is image quality. Both broadcasters and consumers want the most pixels or widest colour gamut, either to tell or to be told the best story possible.
What do you see as your biggest challenges for 2017?
Our challenges are positive ones. As previously mentioned, to provide the best service possible, we have to stay one step ahead of technology – future-proofing our services so they don’t become obsolete. We recently deployed four UHD outside broadcast trucks in answer to the launch of UHD sports production. We have worked on over 100 UHD events from August 2016 to the present time. The move to UHD has meant that our technical teams have had to undertake training to ensure they remain experts in their specialism and educate themselves in the new workflows and technology involved in delivering the footage. In addition to the need for NEP UK to remain technologically advanced, with both kit and staff, we will be relocating in a brand-new state of the art facility, which will house the UK OB fleet and fly-pack facilities. Finally, we will be continuing work on Major Projects which has already seen 3 new fly-packs, the travelling and delivery of the Major Project live events and the detailed technical planning of the 2018 events.
NEP The Netherlands has progressed significantly when it comes to remote live production. How do you assess the future of remote production with regards your business?
We are very proud of what [NEP in the] Netherlands have achieved. There is no doubt that there is a need to embrace remote production. Broadcasters are continually trying to find ways of streamlining programme budgets and with technical advances in remote production, this is an area of keen interest to them.
What do you anticipate will be the next innovation when it comes to IP technology?
The IP technology is there – but the question arises ‘is the end user?’ It is easier to deploy IP in a truck than a building. After all, trucks don’t have the legacy technology a building has to contend with – and are easier to send to maintenance. For many companies, SDI is still the most reliable and safe option. To implement an SDI workflow is a more economically viable option – infrastructure is already in place and experts are already trained to work with it. IP means investing a lot of money, it is admittedly more expensive than SDI to set up and then there is training, but where longevity comes in to play, IP wins. The fact of the matter is, whether you are pro, against, agnostic, it is the very nature of our industry to stay on the cutting edge and therefore important to consider every option.
We are already seeing a keen interest in moving away from large routers in multi right holders sporting events, but there are many possibilities as the IP technology continues to progress.
Are you able to discuss plans surrounding your moves in the area of 4K?
In 2016, we launched the impressive Pacific OB truck. Pacific along with its peers Aurora, Caspian and Sargasso, are all state of the art UHD trucks, which have been fitted with Sony’s HDC-4300 4K system cameras. As well as our trucks, all upcoming flypack procurement is future proofed for any 4K projects that may arise. The demand is increasing and it makes business sense to invest in 4K now, as it is a trend that is not going away. That being said, some parts of the world are still watching standard definition 4 x 3 content – so as well as future proofing we do have to continue to be equipped to serve all our clients.
With the continuing integration of IT and broadcast technologies, are the colleges producing engineers with the right knowledge base that will benefit OB providers like NEP UK?
Similar to the rest of the broadcast industry, the outside broadcasting world is struggling to hire junior positions due to a small pool of talent. To combat this, we are launching an NEP apprenticeship scheme, which offers budding engineers the chance to start their career on the job and gather real world experience. Where previously we would have approached students from universities and colleges known for their technical engineering courses, we are also starting to look at IT based colleges because of the continued convergence in the role. The apprenticeship scheme is supported by NEP UK’s annual student open day, which sees around 300 students both hear from leaders in the industry and get hands on with kit.
As well as investing heavily in training and educating students in the different roles available in the OB and broadcast services sector, our current staff are constantly updating and expanding their knowledge, to keep in line with their role. This is a whole new form of working and it is integral to the successful running of our business to expand our skillset, and for us we see that as investing in training so we can hone an engineer with the ideal skillset.
Where do you think we will be with HDR by the end of this year? Or should we be looking further ahead for significant take-up?
HDR is undeniably beautiful, although shooting in it in a live environment as opposed to films does raise some concerns. There is definitely some interest. The wider colour gamut creates realness for the viewer, propelling them further in to the action, which ultimately is what we strive to do. So, my answer is…watch this space!