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The Outside Broadcast Report 2010 Back to Reports & survey Listing

The outside broadcast industry rarely stands still, with multimillion pound trucks continually being added to ever growing fleets and plenty of company acquisitions thrown into the mix too, as Jake Bickerton reports

After a fairly brittle year for the UK’s outside broadcast industry, following the collapse of Setanta and the negative impact of the global recession, the sector is going through further change thanks to a spate of acquisitions by SIS Live. The OB giant (formerly BBC Outside Broadcast) has been on an acquisitions trail that’s led to two leading OB brands being swallowed up and disappearing in the space of two months. Its line up of HD and SD trucks now includes the inventory of O21, which it snapped up last month, and specialist OB concern Dales Broadcast, which SIS Live acquired at the end of last year.



Growth through acquisition
“There were two quite different reasons for our acquisitions,” explains Phil Aspden, head of commercial, SIS Live. “With Dales, it was in-sourcing. The vast majority of its work is live audio and video signals for horseracing. Its main client was SIS, as a distributor to bookmakers, and we wanted to bring Dales inhouse to complement our existing expertise.” As part of the acquisition, SIS Live has appointed Dales Broadcast’s ex-md Julian Boden, who joins as head of engineering.

The second acquisition, that of O21, was about entirely different criteria, says Aspden. “We are keen to complete our transition to HD as quickly as we can, and physically there are only so many trucks you can build in a year and be sure they are of good enough quality. O21 had three large HD vehicles, and, put simply, we wanted the trucks.”



The end of the road
There may be a little less competition in the marketplace now, but there are still a dozen or so OB companies with around 10 or more trucks, and a sizable list of smaller firms with two or three OB units. It’s still what many might consider an over-saturated market, so is SIS Live or any of its competitors on the hunt to acquire any more companies? “SIS Live has no more acquisitions on the cards,” says Aspden, but adds: “You can never say never.”

Meanwhile, another of the OB industry’s large players, Arena, has far from ruled out going down the acquisitions path: “Acquisitions are something we’re thinking about,” reveals md and owner Richard Yeowart. “Arena has built up a reputation for quality and being keenly priced and we want to continue in the strongest form. If that’s through acquisitions then fine, although the way forward for us so far has been building trucks.”
Similarly, “We are always looking at what best to do strategically and wouldn’t rule out an acquisition,” adds Brian Clark, commercial and technical projects director at one more of the OB industry’s key players, NEP Visions.


Keep on truckin’
Whether through acquisition or organic growth, many OB companies are planning to bolster their inventory this year. NEP Visions will soon unveil two new tapeless HD trucks – the largest ones in its fleet – that have been commissioned by Sky and could replace three existing OB vehicles in terms of the amount of production space provided. “They are built from lessons learned over past years and are pretty unique in design and efficient in the manner they will be used,” says Clark. “They will cover football but are flexible for other events and future proofed for what people need, using lots of new technologies.”

Barcud Derwen is adding a new truck to its fleet, too, at the cost of £2.5m, though it’s currently in the planning stage and over a year away from coming to fruition. Arena is also building a new truck, as is Telegenic, which is focusing on one designed specifically for stereo 3d work, predominantly for Sky. And never ones to be left out, SIS Live will soon also have a new truck on the road: “It is going to be vast,” says Aspden. “You can only get so big in transit size but you can expand out in any ways you like and this is going to have vast expansion. It’s the first we’ve built to do dual productions simultaneously.”



The next 12 months
A new strand of work is opening up for OB firms, through live and studio-based stereo 3d production. NEP Visions put what it says is “the first 3d production truck” on the road last year, which covered “numerous events” and enabled the company to gain experience in all areas of 3d production. “The 3d production truck hasn’t been that active in the UK but is very active elsewhere,” explains Clark. “No one is 100% sure where 3d is going but you can’t ignore it.”

Telegenic has also worked on an assortment of stereo 3d productions, including various football and rugby events for Sky, and Usain Bolt’s 150m race in Manchester. It has since won the tender to provide stereo 3d OB services for Sky and is spending £4m on a 3d-specific truck to gear up for this work.
Also focusing on stereo 3d is SIS Live, which was involved in an early attempt at live stereo 3d at an industry screening of a rugby game two years ago. This month it’s transmitting the England vs Wales game at Twickenham in stereo 3d to 40 Cineworld and Odeon cinemas: “3d is about to come of age as a commercial proposition,” believes Aspden.

But, says Michael Dugard, director at boutique OB firm Prolink, stereo 3d has some way to go before impacting on entry level facilities: “Pursuing the latest technology is all very exciting but of course the bulk of day to day work doesn’t even consider 3d. For a vast amount of programming, standard definition remains the default requirement.” Similarly, Tim Thompson at webcasting specialists Global Mix, says that, for the ongoing stability of the OB sector as a whole, “HD helps, and in some ways so does the 3d hype, but all they are affecting is the premium end of the market.”

Thompson adds that, for smaller niche suppliers, the future is less rosy: “The low cost webcasting end is finding its feet and yet is competing itself out of business just as fast. Frankly, HD webcams and high speed internet connections will soon mean that anyone with a laptop and a decent webcam will be able to provide most webcasting OB services.”



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