SVG Europe Sit-Down: SIS LIVE’s David Meynell discusses connectivity transition, sports production potential…and Luton Town’s triumph
The closure of SIS LIVE’s OB division in 2013 was undoubtedly a challenging chapter in the UK-based broadcast services provider’s history. But as it turns out, it presaged an exciting new phase in which SIS LIVE pursued a remit to supply a broad cross-section of cutting edge streaming, fibre and satellite services for use at large live events, broadcasts and media news streams.
With a recent starring role in the 2015 UK General Election, upcoming participation in the Rugby World Cup as ITV Sport’s connectivity provider, and addition to the growing ranks of SVG Europe Gold sponsors, SIS LIVE is evidently riding high once more – making it an ideal time to talk corporate transitions, connectivity challenges and personal sports highlights with managing director David Meynell.
Appointed as MD in 2006, Meynell has played a fundamental role in securing long-term contracts with the likes of Sky Sports, ITV and ITN. Seeking to drive new revenues in fibre connectivity, satellite terminal sales, teleport and Direct to Home (DTH) services, Meynell is emphatic about his desire for SIS LIVE to be the UK’s leading media connectivity business. Prior to working at SIS LIVE, David was a successful communications officer and senior systems engineer, overseeing communications centre builds on new ships and working in various management positions within the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
Meynell’s conversation with SVG Europe commenced with the historic events of 2013…
We are approaching the two-year mark since SIS LIVE lost its BBC OB contract work. How would you describe progress made by the company since then?
The last two years have been extremely successful for SIS LIVE as the company has focused on a newly defined vision of becoming the connectivity provider of choice for critical media content.
In what areas have you focused your energies in seeking to address this particular loss? Was it immediately clear how you would progress the company… or was it some time before this took shape?
The decision to close the OB division was difficult but it allowed us to focus on our key strengths, unrivalled infrastructure and to deliver growth in an area where we can really differentiate ourselves. OB’s is very much a commodity business, where differentiation from competitors is difficult. Our focus on offering both satellite and fibre services on the most resilient network in the UK has been very successful and SIS LIVE is now well positioned for significant future growth in this sector.
Organisationally and practically, what have been the most important changes at SIS LIVE during this time? Is the company now more flexible and easy to adapt as a result?
Separating SIS LIVE from SIS Betting and creating an independent new company, SIS LIVE Ltd, has allowed us to focus on each area of the business to identify real value to SIS LIVE and our customers. At the same time, we have significantly improved our sales and operational teams, with an emphasis on the three areas of connectivity: occasional use services; fixed services; and the sale of satellite products. We have excellent, experienced teams, which we continue to strengthen, as well as constantly improving facilities. Together they ensure we remain flexible, adaptable, and in a position to grow our business to offer new and exciting services to our customers.
In 2015, how vital to SIS LIVE’s overall business is sports production? And in which areas of sports do you anticipate the greatest growth?
Sports production is less relevant to SIS LIVE than it used to be and our focus is very much on our connectivity services. Having said that, sports production is key to our sister company SIS Betting and to most of our customers. We can help enhance their production by improving connected sports venues, increasing bandwidth, offering full and unrivalled resilience, reducing latency and facilitating the delivery of productions from site and/or providing individual feeds for remote production back at the SIS facilities or to our customers. Although football will lead the way, it may not be the first to fully embrace remote production. This is due to specific onsite demands, the amount of cameras for the major games and the potential reticence of some production teams to take the main production off site. Smaller, minority sports will probably benefit the soonest and the most from the ability to deliver a fully remote production.
With IP and other new remote production techniques on the rise, how do you see the long-term future for sports production connectivity?
I see this sector growing dramatically, although there is still a significant role for large OBs and we will continue to support our OB partners to deliver major sports events for years to come. We have carried out trials with SIS Betting to fully remote horse racing and this is a real option for the future. Horse racing lends itself to remote production as there are three or four meetings a day but no clashes of race times, which allows a remote crew to potentially produce every meeting from one location. But there are many sports events where remote production doesn’t really reduce the number of crew required, which poses challenges on a cost and reward basis. Even racing has some issues as the cameras are difficult to remote due to the size of the lenses, and the course set-up can be complicated. The additional complication to remote production is Ultra High Definition (UHD), which will have a dramatic effect on the bandwidth requirements from site and potentially the latency of feeds as and when it is adopted.
In what ways will imminent events such as the RWC 2015 help to progress your overall standing in sports?
The RWC emphasises what SIS LIVE can offer the market place and allows us to immediately increase our connected fibre venues by nine sites. The amount of connectivity and resilience that SIS LIVE will offer for this event really is second to none and reflects our unique position in the market. It also highlights our vision of being the connectivity provider of choice for critical media content. I don’t believe any other provider would offer the scope and abilities that we do. The robustness of our service will be unparalleled, with fibre, backed up by microwave, backed up by satellite – all delivered in-house by SIS LIVE. Whatever happens, you will be able to see every second of every game for the entire world cup, delivered by SIS LIVE teams and facilities.
Can you give a few hints regarding other areas in which you expect to grow the overall SIS LIVE organisation in the next few years?
We are working very hard to increase our standing for teleport services, and our occasional use and fixed service sales and operational teams are pulling out all the stops to deliver growth. We have an exceptionally capable teleport at MediaCity, backed up by our teleport in Milton Keynes, with two Network Operations Centres and resilient connectivity to all sites. This has allowed us already to secure new distribution services and we are also looking at the Direct to Home market, and considering how we can differentiate ourselves here and further grow our business. Expect some announcements at the IBC exhibition in September.
Finally, please nominate a few personal sporting highlight from the recent past…what in particular really made an impact on you?
My personal highlight would be Luton Town winning the Milk Cup in 1988, with Andy Dibble saving a penalty and Brian Stein scoring two goals against the mighty Arsenal! What a triumph. I was a very, very young radio officer at the time, on my first trip, in the mid-Atlantic, and had managed to tune my long wave radio to the World Service. The only communications I delivered that day were updates on the score to my fellow crew mates. I suppose that was the first time I combined my technical skills to deliver sport to an audience, albeit on a very small and low-end basis. It was worth it – although the jealousy of knowing my father and younger brother were at Wembley watching the game has never left me!
Something more recent that impacted me was the rights battle between BT Sport and Sky Sports, the result of which is the unprecedented amount that the broadcasters pay for each Premier League match. This works in our favour as we can walk the talk when it comes to our vision of being able to offer critical media content with absolute surety of service. Our reputation and ever-increasing infrastructure backs this up.
I am looking forward to the future for sports broadcasting, as I believe there will be more positive changes over the next five years for the viewer than ever before. Most notable will be the interactive way we will watch and be involved in major sports events. UHD will allow us to be fully immersed in the big picture, whilst IP will offer all sorts of different viewing options so everyone has a unique experience for each event. I am confident that SIS LIVE will be there as the connectivity provider of choice from each venue.