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Under the Hood of OBs Part 2: Exploring the Future of the Supertruck and Changing OB Culture

13/05/2021

Under the hood of OBs Part 2: Exploring the future of the supertruck and changing OB culture By Heather McLean, Editor

Monday, May 10, 2021 - 17:18

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NVP's new truck for 2021, OB7, features machine learning and artificial intelligence tools

Supertrucks used to be all the rage in sports broadcasting, but are they still today? Although we are still seeing the launch of brand new large, cutting edge outside broadcasting (OB) trucks to enable live sports coverage, we are also seeing a rise in demand for smaller vans that are being used to facilitate remote broadcasts.

Here we talk to a panel of experts from the OB industry in part two of our series exploring the future for uber OBs and where this industry is going moving forwards.

Modular trend setters

Prior to the pandemic, new supertrucks were big news. Although several large vans have been launched over 2020 and into 2021, Christer P lsson, president of NEP Central and Southern Europe, says modular systems are setting the trend today.

Outside of the deliverables for specific contracts, we don't have any current plans to build more of the really big supertrucks in the next year or two. When it comes to speculative builds, we've seen a shift in demand and our solutions need to be more modular.

With technologies evolving so rapidly at the moment, the typical depreciation cycle of core technology is decreasing, meaning we need to amortise our costs over a shorter period of time, notes P lsson.

Crew inside CTV OB's OB12A hard at work for European Tour Productions in October 2020

The best way we can do this is through increased utilisation, he states. By having a modular approach, and ensuring our facilities are all cross compatible, we can combine a number of medium size units to create the super size' fire power, when required, but we can then split them back out and have them working harder on a week to week basis.

Arena Television's deputy director of operations, Daf Rees, has noted the same trend towards modular set ups for OBs: The days of supertrucks aren't numbered quite yet, but I think there'll be a shift toward a different configuration of units.

He continues: Our goal is to send fewer trucks to site as that has the greatest impact on sustainability, so I think we'll see more versatile trucks that can carry cable and equipment, as well as serve as the technical hub of the on-site operation. Our trucks will always be super!

I believe that the OB on site will be always a good part of this job. If everything goes remote I think this work is dead

Peter Bates, EMG UK managing director, agrees: Supertrucks will always have a place in delivering major OB productions, however new builds will reduce to allow smaller, but still powerful units to deliver the increased requirement for remote productions.

We launched OB12A and its sister unit OB12B last summer, continues Bates. This is a scalable setup with its datacentre located at the front of the tender connected by four fibre cables, enabling maximum operational capacity for personnel within the production units.

Neville Hooper, NEP UK's deputy head of sound, says that while we will see less uber trucks being built in the immediate future, they still have a place: It is unlikely that any new large trucks will be built in the short to medium term. Focus has shifted to advancing remote style delivery, which often does not require such a large vehicle. But there are still those jobs which, for a variety of reasons, are not able to be delivered remotely. Jobs such as state events, due to their size and complexity, still require large trucks, along with certain major sporting and entertainment events.

CTV OB launched its large truck OB12A's little sister, OB12B [pictured], in late 2020. It is fitted with diPloy and works alongside OB12A to create a powerhouse in the TV compound

While Dan Regan, sound guarantee at Timeline TV, comments: Full size OB trucks still have a part to play in the coverage of large sporting events. These smaller more compact vehicles are enabling the sports that previously might have struggled to justify having a full OB unit onsite, to be covered with the high-end production values a large OB unit could facilitate.

Meanwhile, Andrea Buonomo, Cinevideo's executive sales manager, says that OB truck providers have spent recent years preparing for demand for the latest technologies, so the lull in large truck builds now is simply part of the natural cycle. He explains: I think that OB companies [have already] moved in time for the next future request about 4K, so this is why [over] the last three years we have seen a lot of new OB's [being built]. Actually in Italy we have 10 or 12 UHD trucks [at Cinevideo] but [there is] no request for UHD (or very poor demand). Maybe in the future [this demand] will increase.

Big love for big trucks

As to where the big trucks are needed in sports broadcasting today, and where we will see this changing as we move ahead, P lsson comments: For the big premium broadcasts the demand for big trucks will remain, and for a variety of reasons. A lot of clients want to be on site and have their preferred crew alongside them. Often it will be linked to the spec of the production where there is a lot of additional kit, high SLA's, or other pressures; some clients feel more comfortable in known surroundings and the technical fire power of the big truck makes sense. Sometimes it's a straightforward financial decision, where often it just doesn't it doesn't make commercial sense to remote everyone. For this reason we believe we will continue to see big trucks on the roads for many years to come.

However, P lsson adds: Where we have seen a transition is on some of the big once every four years' type of productions, who
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