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Under the Hood of OBs: Exploring the Rapid Evolution of Today's OB Usage in Europe

10/05/2021

Under the Hood of OBs: Exploring the Rapid Evolution of Today's OB Usage in Europe By Heather McLean, Editor

Monday, May 10, 2021 - 12:00 pm

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Outside broadcast services have never been more in demand than they are today. The pandemic has created new opportunities for service provision as live sport attempts to recoup time lost to lockdowns, and broadcasters battle between schedules, COVID protocols, and new remote productions. SVG Europe spoke to a panel of experts from the OB industry to find out how OBs are being used across Europe today, what demand is being seen, and where small trucks are stepping into the breach.

Tricky times

On how truck usage has changed over the last year, Christer P lsson, president of NEP Central and Southern Europe, comments: The past six to nine months have been some of the busiest in recent memory. Due to the rescheduling of the sporting calendar, we've seen a huge peak in demand all over Europe.

However from a regional perspective, we've noticed demand coming in waves. So with the Nordics being one of the first [regions] to reopen, we saw a large number of sporting fixtures shift to that region as federations looked to clear the backlog.

To cater for this our fleet has never been more European, with trucks regularly moving across the continent to cater for the demand, continues P lsson. Of course trucks are easy to move, but people are more challenging, and being a responsible company we've done our best minimise cross border travel for people and have tried to crew all our productions using regional crew wherever possible. Brexit of course further complicates this!

While Peter Bates, EMG UK managing director, comments: With the worldwide travel restrictions introduced due to the COVID pandemic and especially the varying isolation and quarantine requirements for entry and exit from country to country, it makes complete sense to reduce the amount of travel across borders by sourcing facilities locally.

At EMG we are very fortunate that we can call upon resources across the whole of central Europe from within our Group sister entities, continues Bates. For our customised golf fleet we carefully manage all the different logistical issues to ensure safe passage and timely delivery of onsite facilities together with remoting of many facilities. Within the UK we regionalise crew to limit travel and reduce accommodation requirements where possible.

From a UK perspective, Neville Hooper, NEP UK deputy head of sound, says: Because of the dual complexities of both Brexit and the pandemic, there has not really been any call to leave the country for anything other than regular contract work such as Formula F1, or the Women's Tennis Association Tour. Obviously, this doesn't include the Euros, but to be fair, this was a project initially planned long before the pandemic hit, and it will be our first major venture into Europe this year.

Arena Television's deputy director of operations, Daf Rees, has noticed a marginal truck usage change over the course of the pandemic, but he notes that innovative technology use is enabling more broadcasts to happen safely. He says: [We've seen a] slight change, but we're also seeing great technology like mixed reality environments evolve, that allow broadcasters to stay at home, but make it look and feel as if the presenters are at the venue, tempering the need to be at the far away venue.

Meanwhile, Andrea Buonomo, Cinevideo's executive sales manager, says there has been no change for Cinevideo in Italy. None at all, in Italy from June 2020 (when we restarted our productions), we returned to covering all our events in person, everywhere.

EMG has helped with the speed of innovation in 2020 with its UK ROC in High Wycombe, shown here on 5 July 2020 for the Southampton v Manchester City match directed by Andrew Clement of BBC Sport

Evolving facilities

Production facilitation has definitely evolved over the last 12 months. Bates says: Several factors have influenced how we facilitate productions since the return to sport in June 2020. These include the availability of connectivity from site, the size of the production teams, and safety and COVID protocols.

EMG UK's focus has always been to provide a safe working environment for our clients without compromise to the delivery of their production. We have been able to offer remote production solutions using our ROCs in High Wycombe, Salford and Stratford, as well as providing overspill solutions on site where connectivity has been an issue or our clients have requested it.

More trucks have been needed on site to allow for social distancing, Timeline TV has found. Dan Regan, sound guarantee at Timeline TV, says: Currently we're providing more trucks to aid social distancing and within our Ealing Broadcast Centre, spreading operators across more rooms and providing COVID screens.

While Rees agrees more OB vans are currently being used, he says remote production is also tipping the requirement the other way. He elaborates: Yes, to aid social distancing we've deployed additional trucks or cabins, or built additional production space within a venue where the number of people on site can't be safely positioned within one truck. That said, the remote production models our clients favour enables us to remove one of the production trucks from the venue, so the net result - presently - is minimal.

As the need for social distancing subsides, the truck footprint in the OB compound will shrink because of remote production workflows moving some of the staff elsewhere and allowing equipment to be consolidated into fewer vehicles on-site, Rees continues.

P lsson agrees that more trucks are needed overall due to social distancing, but remote productions mean les
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