Joining other industry technology leaders, Pete Emminger, NEP Group’s Global Chief Technology Officer, was featured at SVG Europe’s “Sport Production & Technology Summit” on Oct. 28.
Emminger participated in a live panel conversation with SVG Europe’s Will Strauss at the iconic Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea FC in West London.
During the “Sports OB Leaders Briefing”, Emminger discussed his role at NEP Group, the evolution of live production and his vision for production technology enabling content creation around the world, among other topics.
Read a portion of the Q&A below. Replay the full interview here, from SVG Europe.
Will Strauss: What is your mantra when it comes to technology and innovation in sports broadcasting and production?
Pete Emminger: “My mantra is making sure we are looking at the technology across all of the areas and making sure they are fully connected. Because that’s what the audience expects, that’s what our clients expect and that’s what we expect.”
Will Strauss: As technology has improved, is the role of the CTO now less about being led by the technology itself, and more about what it can do for both content creators and ultimately, the audience?
Pete Emminger: “I look first at content creators and production. When you look at the show, and that’s both live content creators and broadcast content creators, those are the people who are directly making the experiences. Our role as a technology provider company is to provide them with the technology tools. Sometimes they want tools that are familiar to them and sometimes they want tools that are pushing the boundaries, completely new things. But I think the starting point is, what is the content that they need to make for their audience?”
Will Strauss: The role of CTO is now almost CITO when it comes to broadcasting. IT and software are far more relevant than VTRs these days. Tell us about what you refer to as a ‘hyper-connected’ network - how does that manifest itself?
Pete Emminger: “Every production today is connected to multiple off-site locations. That environment is driven by IP and IT technology. The first backhaul link is satellite, but then the entire environment from there, it’s all IT-driven. So the role has really crossed over into the IT space. Information Technology, production and security are all directly intertwined today.”
Will Strauss: What are your priorities for NEP?
Pete Emminger: “As all of us know there have been a lot of workflows that have sprung up. We have seen all of the same things at NEP. One of the first priorities is identifying which ones are here to stay. A lot of them are, some of them aren’t. The ones that are here to stay are enabling completely new workflows and need to get productized and hardened and become more reliable. Some of the solutions that are developing around public internet are really great, but there are some productions that still want a higher level of reliability. Identifying which workstreams and which technologies that were spawned from the pandemic that are going to stay permanently, is the first priority we have.”
Will Strauss: What are your customer’s priorities?
Pete Emminger: “I think it’s similar. We sprung up backup locations, new workflows and remote production solutions and a lot of our clients are still using those solutions today because there are still a lot of travel challenges and testing issues. COVID-19 has not gone away and our client priorities are very similar, which is looking at, what did we spring up in the last year that needs to be turned into a more permanent solution and what is it going to enable for content creation?”
Will Strauss: Will everything in sports eventually go remote? Or will there always be a place for trucks (or mobile units)?
Pete Emminger: “I think there’s always a place for trucks. Certainly there’s a lot of workflow movement, cloud, centralized production and remote production workflows, but being on site has an enormous value and there are a lot of projects that still really need that. We are continuing to make significant investments in our truck and OB fleet environment. We are making sure that as we continue to design the infrastructure, that it ties together with everything because there are a lot of projects that are interconnected, multi-site and multi-location, and the OB and the truck environment are really critical - I think it’s going to be here for a long time.”
Will Strauss: What does the cloud mean to NEP?
Pete Emminger: “The cloud means a lot of things. There’s the public cloud side, and we work with all of the major cloud providers. But, the private cloud is also important. We operate about ten data centers globally, in multiple different regions, including everything from production equipment to storage workflows, and that private cloud environment is critical. The private cloud environment is sometimes under-looked in what it actually means and what it’s enabling. We all know there’s a lot of hardware dependent software still, and that private cloud environment is really critical.”
Will Strauss: As well as being a service provider, you are, of course, a big user and buyer of technology and systems. Where (or what) are the gaps that need to be filled at NEP? What are you hoping to see from the vendors, many of whom are represented here today? Less silos, perhaps?
Pete Emminger: “I think we want to see a continued migration away from some of the hardware dependent solutions and lead to more software solutions. It enables more flexible workflows and additional production capability. That’s what our clients and what content creators are looking for and expecting. Four-hundred gig isn’t going to be that far away, and looking at that technology stack into the future, that’s probably only two or three years away. That’s another specific example of a place where we are looking ahead.”
Will Strauss: Let’s look at the bigger picture. We have rigger shortages, an ageing workforce, a customer (rather than technology) centric shift, more productions going remote, further moves to OTT, the potential of 5G and more. There is a lot going on in sports broadcasting. What do you think the priorities are for the industry right now?
Pete Emminger: “Continuing to focus on people. The number one thing I’ve always said, and I am going to steal a quote from somebody who said this to me once, ‘it’s the astronauts, not the rocket ships’. Investing in our people is really critical, and that means a lot of things. It means diversity and inclusion initiatives; it also means training and forums where people have access to new technology. It means a lot of things. If we invest in people, then the right people will bring the right technology to the plate to make the right content.”
Will Strauss: What can broadcast learn from Esports?
Pete Emminger: “I think how exactly you link the live events with the broadcast is one thing that Esports does. Having an environment where when something happens in the game in Esports, for example, you want the same exact action to happen for both the audience in the stadium and at home. They expect that it’s the exact same thing. Still, in a lot of sports today, how many sports have multiple switchers doing different parts of the technology stack? In Esports, the API and driven technology connecting that infrastructure has been prevalent for much longer. That’s something that Esports can bring.
“We support a number of the major Esports publishers, and we do move teams between different projects. NEP, at a very high level, is organized into these three business units: live events, broadcast and virtual studios - but the crossover is daily. Every day I am on calls where people are crossing over. We make sure people are cross-trained and there’s a lot of learning happening back and forth. The clients also expect that.”
Will Strauss: how do we as an industry attract new talent?
Pete Emminger: “I think there’s a few things, including ongoing diversity and inclusion will help that. I think younger generations just expect that as an inherent basis of the way the world exists and I think that’s an ongoing generational shift. I also always reinforce with my department that it has to be fun. I think sometimes that can be forgotten. I tell my team we should have fun at work.”
Will Strauss: To finish, give us a prediction or two. Where is sports broadcasting going to be this time next year?
Pete Emminger: “A year from now I think we are going to see the workflows that came up during the pandemic be solidified and hardened. We are going to see the remote and centralized production workflows be more omnipresent, and that’s going to enable environments being more integrated into that broadcast space.”