Superhero origin stories are big hits at the box office. Perhaps it’s because they give us context and make sense of something complicated. If we can trace back to the moment where Batman or Wonder Woman chose their destiny and embraced their powers, it’s easier to understand everything that follows.
So it is with any new technology tool. There was a moment in time where necessity drove the innovation, and it’s helpful to understand how it all happened.
“There wasn’t a solution out there that would give us what we wanted, so we decided to build our own.”
That’s Neil Smith, of NEP Australia, speaking at NEP Group’s Pittsburgh Field Shop. Smith is retelling the origin story of NEP’s cutting-edge broadcast and live events technology, TFC.
“We saw a gap in the market when IP video became the future,” Smith said.
“The current IP workflows in TV are quite complex. When we started working with the IP gear, it was very hard to make it work with the existing control systems. There wasn’t a solution out there that would give us what we wanted, so we decided to build our own.”
Short for Total Facility Control, TFC is NEP’s proprietary app that solves the industry’s challenges around managing, monitoring, controlling and networking IP/2110 equipment and systems. Put simply, TFC brings disparate equipment and systems together on one unified platform.
Initially, TFC was developed to function as a broadcast control solution. Before TFC, there were other broadcast control solutions, but NEP’s engineering team was running up against challenges getting hardware and systems from different manufacturers to work together as one unified system that could all be managed centrally. This meant more people and more man hours to make it all happen.
Additionally, there wasn’t a solution to help manage the increasingly complex needs around IP network configuration and management. This requires a specialty skill set that not every broadcast engineer has, and also requires significant staff hours. The team realized it would be valuable to have one platform managing both broadcast and network systems together, functioning as one. This scenario did not previously exist.
“We found a simpler way to talk from device to device and we wrote TFC around that, and that’s how we control all of the hardware these days,” Smith said. “It makes it easier for the operator and the users and gives the client a better experience.”
Developed by NEP Senior Solutions Engineer Dan Murphy, TFC is compatible with virtually any technology in the broadcast or live events industries. Smith was on the development team with Murphy that created and perfected TFC.
Since its beginnings in 2017, the capabilities and features available with TFC have grown, and the app now powers a growing suite of products, including: TFC Core, NEP’s broadcast control; TFC Flow, a DIVA solution for creating venue networks; and TFC Link, an SDN solution for connecting facilities and venues together. With these solutions in hand, NEP’s TFC engineers are traveling the world lighting up NEP facilities and mobile units with these new tools, creating a connected NEP Global Production Ecosystem.
“The long-term plan for NEP’s global ecosystem is to be able to connect all of our live centralized facilities together and share resources across them,” Smith said.
“So we might need an EVS in London, and we can connect it to our Netherlands Data Center, and connect an EVS from the data center there. TFC will give us the ability to do that.”
From Sydney to Hilversum to London to Pittsburgh – to name a few – NEP’s TFC is empowering content creators worldwide to bring their content to life, anywhere, anytime.
If you build it…
An innovative technology like TFC is also attracting the industry’s brightest minds.
“I saw the potential that TFC could have in the future of the company and in broadcast overall, and that really drove me to want to join the team,” said Chris Marcinkevich, a Commissioning & Support Engineer for NEP.
The Denver-based Marcinkevich recently collaborated with Smith at NEP Group’s Pittsburgh headquarters to oversee the installation of TFC Core, NEP’s broadcast control system, into Supershooter 4, an NEP U.S. Mobile Unit serving major professional sports productions.
In addition to Supershooter 4, TFC Core has been installed in four other NEP U.S. Mobile Units, including Supershooter 5, Supershooter 6, Supershooter 9, SRT3 and EN1. With a goal of deploying TFC Core in more mobile units, OB trucks and flypacks, NEP is growing its centralized production platform around the world and unlocking endless possibilities for how and where content creators can work.
The process is accelerating.
“When the truck comes in, we know we have a very quick timeline to get everything sorted out,” Marcinkevich explained.
“The first thing we do is remove the existing servers and put in the TFC servers. Once we have the TFC servers in, we can then connect it to all the devices from all the different vendors. We then assign the engineers immediately to start being hands-on with the system, that way they know how to build it, they know how to configure it and they know how to work with it. Ultimately, they’re going to be the ones working with it day-to-day in front of the clients.”
Engineering talent and broadcast expertise continue to be the secret behind TFC for NEP.
“It’s an exciting time to be part of the industry and we’re always excited to get new talent on board,” Smith said.
“TFC started when a few of us got together and wrote some code, put it together and built a solution that we thought would help us in the current situation. It’s obviously grown a lot since then.”
The history behind NEP’s TFC has all the qualities of one of our favorite origin stories, with a cast of characters rising up with a solution for a common challenge – the perfect prequel for even more compelling stories to come.
Read more here to learn about innovations in live event connectivity.