SVG Europe Sit-Down: The Collectv’s Chris Sarson reflects on recent company successes and Winter Paralympics role

Chris Sarson, managing director, The Collectv

The Collectv is a team that designs, builds and manages technical systems and operations used in multiple different scenarios, including fixed rig on location, live outside broadcast, studio and post production. The award-winning company supplies crew and equipment, delivering broadcast solutions and workflows that are technically competent and well executed. And it is that range of services that prompted our first question to managing director Chris Sarson…

You offer a diversity of solutions. What are the current demands from sports broadcasters and production companies?

Our sports clients are probably more diverse in their demands than we have ever seen. The larger sport broadcasters with whom we work, are pushing for numerous ideas and solutions – often technically complex and advanced to offer them cost savings, without impacting their on-screen presence but, if anything, improving it. The larger broadcasters have the inside expertise to really push us to keep thinking outside the box and they are responsive when we come up with potential ideas or solutions – even if they’re at the early stages. The pace that some remote productions has evolved has been nothing short of intense. This would have barely been possible if it wasn’t for the broadcasters having some key exceptional staff as stakeholders, who work closely with service providers like ourselves. 

We also see new production companies coming to us, with their own developing online platforms, without any linear broadcast knowledge, who want to produce a high-quality output. There is now such a crossover between certain areas of professional, prosumer and consumer hardware, but often what can actually make the difference is our experience and understanding of what can occasionally go wrong. Our clients trust us to recommend or specify certain equipment, which may not be the cheapest, but can cost them less in the long-run, through reliability. As it always has done, no matter what the scenario, good communication is central to this. Our other sports clients are sticking with their tried-and-tested workflows. The appetite for remote production isn’t there for every sports production, but that doesn’t mean they’re not evolving. Efficiency has been more prevalent than ever before. Everyone is trying to make their budget go further; we do as much workflow advising as we do sales, hire and other services. This helps ensure all our clients get what they need out of their budget, even if they don’t know exactly how it will yet develop. 

You reported that 2017 was a very successful year. To what do you ascribe the success?

Reputation. For us as a relatively young company, we had a sound reputation as individuals when the company began so we’ve ensured that this culture filters across the company and through to our staff. We saw large, continued growth through 2017. We kept looking after our long-term clients and organically grew, but our reputation is now reaching a wider audience. The more jobs we do and do well, the more people hear about us and want us to be involved in their project. 2017 saw us build a fitness TV studio from the cameras to delivery, provide complete post production solutions for large entertainment shows [and] begin reinvesting large amounts into Avid solutions, having in recent years been largely EVS- and Adobe-based. 

Through our continued expansion we also took on a new warehouse and offices in Kingston. Although taking on premises itself takes investment, it has enabled us to better serve our clients and improve our own efficiencies.

What are the challenges facing you for the second half of 2018?

Developing more efficient 4K workflows, while simultaneously dealing with production efficiencies and lower spending.

You recently worked on coverage of the 2018 Winter Paralympics. What did you supply for these events and are there any interesting stories to tell?

It was a privilege for us to be working alongside one of our long-term production partners Whisper Films at our first Paralympics. We have numerous Olympic games under our belt, but this was our first Paralympics. We provided media management services out on location at the IBC in South Korea. We are fortunate to have some highly experienced and super dedicated staff, who have been media managers for a large part of their career. On top of this our media managers have a wide understanding of the backend systems and processes that allows them to do a good job. In most situations this allows us to fix any issues we may have when using systems, but also provide additional support to editors, as we did at the Paralympics. This gives added value to our clients and means we can do that little bit more, especially where the cost of flying and accommodation for another member of staff, let alone sorting accreditation and visas is prohibitive.

Whisper Films had numerous operations running for the Paralympics, including in South Korea as well as at the Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre. We helped ensure the media got to wherever it needed to be for Whisper Films’ worldwide operation, as well as assisting the day-to-day operation on the ground in the IBC and helping to create their longer-term media archive.

Are the colleges and other training establishments turning out graduates that understand your type of work?  If not, what can be done to ensure correct talent for the future?

There are some fantastic graduates out there, who we are lucky enough to work alongside who do have a good grasp and understanding of what we do – but there are nowhere near enough. With the graduates we have worked with, what they lack in experience is often outdone by their enthusiasm. We work in one of the most interesting and exciting industries within television. Working around the world, covering some of the most exclusive and sought-after sporting events, it should remain fun and hugely exiting. I would hope we would have people knocking our door down for a role, with relevant understanding, but it simply isn’t happening. We have started talking to some colleges and universities, but I hope we can move forward in this area, it is not a case of waiting for them to come to us.

Any future plans you can discuss?

NAB 2018, when it came to hardware and systems, was on the face of it not the most exciting event that it has always been. In our area, developments appeared small. There were a lot of ideas and ‘in the future’-type comments relating to software, but with hardware nothing stood out for us. What we have seen is the ever-increasing development of computing power and a lot of companies’ software has matured. We now have more viable options and more choice when it comes to needing solutions for our clients’ wonderful and wacky workflows. I feel our vendors and suppliers are pushing themselves in the development race; as our arena has become more competitive so has theirs and now we’re seeing more credible and reliable solutions to problems than ever before. That is all great news, but it does mean we have to spend more time testing, trialling and building systems and workflows to ensure they’ll do the right thing for our clients and not let us down. As almost every HD workflow we develop needs a clear 4K roadmap for the near to immediate future, our next challenge is how we cover these costs.

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