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Ross Video Team May 11, 2020 1:33:50 PM

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Living Live Podcast: Delivering a More Powerful Production Switcher


On this episode of Living Live with Ross Video, host Tyler Kern was joined by Nigel Spratling, Vice President – Production Switchers and Servers.

In a live broadcast, the on-camera talent, graphics and more are front-and-center and top-of-mind. However, there’s a critical element helping tie everything together. Without innovative and efficient production switchers, productions can lag behind their full potential and engagement.

To stay ahead of the curve and provide switchers that meet and exceed customers’ needs, Spratling said Ross Video spends a lot of time talking to those on the frontline of live production to get a better idea of where current options may come up short.

“It’s a bit of a challenge, because everybody’s needs are a bit different,” he said. “Obviously, there are different verticals in live production. But the synergies between them all are very much the same. By listening and learning, then imparting that information back into the design team, that’s really the key.”

Traditionally, Spratling said, production switchers were mainly exclusive to large-scale, fixed-location productions. However, the evolution and innovation in live production and small, mobile production companies has driven a shift away from a “one-size-fits-all” switcher.

Spratling also said that scalable and future-ready switchers are a key factor in driving a successful purchase for any size live production company – if the switcher can’t keep up with the pace of innovation, it’s not worth the investment.

AUTHOR: Tyler Kern
CONTRIBUTOR: Nigel Spratling

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Podcast Transcript

Tyler Kern:

As we look out at the production landscape, Ross Video has been at the forefront of a number of innovations throughout the industry. And production switchers represent an example of this. And joining me to talk about that today is Nigel Spratling, vice president of production switchers for Ross Video. Nigel, thank you so much for joining me today.

Nigel Spratling:

Thank you very much for inviting me.

Tyler Kern:

So Nigel, I want to start off here. In the fast paced market of production switchers, how do you stay on top of the needs of producers and production staffs to make sure that they have everything they need to operate with efficiency, and also just have the products they need to pull off their productions?

Nigel Spratling:

Well, obviously, I mean the key, and of course the key to any good business practice really from a marketing perspective, is that we spend a lot of time with customers. We listen to their needs, and listen to their operational needs as well as their business and technical needs, and try to make sure we're always spending our money wisely to develop products that are going to be most suited to their needs going forward. So, and it's a little bit of a challenge because everybody's needs are a bit different. Obviously there are different verticals in live production, but the synergies between them all are very much the same. So by listening, and learning and then imparting that information back into the design team, that's really the key to our success I believe.

Tyler Kern:

You mentioned some of the use cases there, and I'm curious just how these various use cases and the way these products are used represent the necessity for them to be designed with flexibility in mind?

Nigel Spratling:

It does. I mean, it's actually a number of things. It's a relatively complex subject these days. It used to be, well, if you needed a production switcher you were probably quite a large production company with multiple camera feeds and a very specific and usually a fixed location or a truck, a large expensive truck. Today that landscape's changed a lot. Those things still exist, of course, and they're everywhere. Major TV news studios and at live events and so on, and of course the large production vehicles. But the market now includes literally hundreds, if not thousands, of various sizes of small to medium sized production companies. Some mobile, some fixed, some flight packs. And their needs are all different, well, the scale of their needs are all different, and so one size doesn't fit all in this case. And so we've made it over the years, certainly the last 10, 15 years, we've made a concerted effort to make sure we can provide equipment that fits the size needs as well as the operational and costs that are required.

Tyler Kern:

As we talk about flexibility and you designing these products with flexibility in mind, why is it important for not just the present, but to also think about flexibility for the future as things continue to evolve, as productions need new capabilities? Why is it important for these products to be designed with the future in mind as well?

Nigel Spratling:

So one of the things I actually quite often say to customers, for example standing at trade shows, is if you go buy a production switcher, select and purchase production switcher from any company, there are a few of us out there that make them. Not many, but there are a few. A production switcher is a production switcher. They will all work, they have different features and nuances. They'll all probably meet the needs as purchased. But really and truly the market itself is changing so much that the needs of the user are becoming, when it comes to the creative side, they need to be able to have all the tools, they need to be able to do the production in a very creative way, very compelling for their audience. But at the same time, the business case and the use case for the operations of the business are such that having that traditional, the way we've been doing it for many, many years as an industry, that traditional kind of workflow and treating each of the pieces of the production system as kind of an island really, doesn't really work anymore.

Nigel Spratling:

And so one of the things that we've been concentrating very heavily on is turning, and I actually hate to use this word because everybody uses this word, but it's the word that actually fits best, it's a really good word for this. What we're focusing on is not creating product, we're focusing on creating solutions. As I say, I don't like the word, but it fits so perfectly in this description, which is that a customer's needs are not to buy the nicest, biggest, best piece of equipment to fulfill their task. The needs are to deliver the product that they've sold to the customer or deliver to their audience. And delivering that product is the most vital, important thing to them. It's not how many of certain kinds of features or widgets you have in a particular product, it's not really trying to even accommodate the nuances of the operation.

Nigel Spratling:

What it really is about is how do I do the very best job I can for the most engaging quality of images, et cetera, and really deliver the best thing I can so the end user, customer, or to an end user, for the least amount of money, frankly? And the other thing that's also happening is we're seeing, our market is fairly well established, of course. I mean, we've been making video and television for a really long time. The early days of television, I shouldn't say early days, but the traditional producers, users, operators, technical directors, they all produce video for whether it be TV or even the internet, the fact of the matter is that they're an aging breed in terms of the senior technical folks that are involved. And we've got a whole new roster of young people coming in who have none of the experiences that the people they're replacing grew up with, and they don't need to have them.

Nigel Spratling:

The fact is that the new generation is totally familiar with operating things by pieces of software, touch screens and all those things that a traditional operation would probably shy away from in many aspects. So what we've been doing a lot of actually is making sure that the core engines that we build, the physical pieces of equipment that take all the signals and allow you to do the right level of keying and accommodate all the production functionality, we want to give, and we do give, it's probably why we're so successful, our users the ability to decide how they wish to operate the product. And what I mean by that is there's of course the very traditional way of doing it, treating it as an island, using it with a single operator who that's his only job in life or her job in life. But then there's also the other way, which is to turn it into a fully integrated part of the entire production system. And you can do it all actually.

Nigel Spratling:

So for a very large production, it may be that you need to have your very specific TD, technical director, or vision mixer running your big production switcher. It may be that you've also got a graphics operator of course, you've got maybe somebody, we still call them VT operators, means video tape, we don't use video tape anymore, but somebody to make sure all the clips that are going to be used in the production are available. You've got sound guy, you've got property lighting guy if it's in the studio, you've got camera folks. All of these people have individual tasks and individual responsibilities, and in a large production you probably need them all. But if you want to use that same equipment for a very small production, do you have to bring in all of those people still? And the answer to that is actually no if you know how to, or if you can figure out how to make the system fully integrated from a control point of view.

Nigel Spratling:

And we've got it to the point now using what we call Dashboard, which is basically our control gooeys, it's a system wide thing. We can take the dashboard control interface and make it so that people can actually control their entire system from single user interfaces. So one person could actually be managing an entire production. So obviously in a large production that doesn't work quite as well, but in a smaller production it certainly does.

Tyler Kern:

As we talk about certain use cases I think of a house of worship type setting where it's often a volunteer staff that's running the production and that sort of thing. And the production value for a lot of these houses of worship has really risen over the last several years. So how can Dashboard really proved to be valuable in a setting like a house of worship, especially with a volunteer type staff?

Nigel Spratling:

Actually, so I don't know if we have time for such things, but I have something I'd like to share with you about house of worship.

Tyler Kern:

Yes, please.

Nigel Spratling:

Because I think it's a really good illustration of the power that we can bring using some of these more modern software technologies. So you're absolutely correct, house of worship, I mean, I've spent a lot of time with house of worship clients. And as you've said, house of worship is embracing more and more video production, and certainly in North America. And the issue for them is most of them have very, very limited actual staff, so everybody that's involved in their productions of their services is a volunteer. And so when I've spoken with these folks in the church groups and said, okay, so what are your biggest challenges? What can we build for you that will be helpful? And then the biggest challenge is always the same. It's not the equipment necessarily, it's not they need this better camera or that better kind of equipment. It's our biggest challenge is retaining or retraining volunteers, because we find good ones and unfortunate they leave, they have to go somewhere else or whatever. We are constantly retraining volunteers.

Nigel Spratling:

Okay. And video production can be quite intense, especially when most people, if you're not involved or haven't been involved in church production, some of these larger churches, their productions are intense. Because in television, we tend to be building really just one kind of output program, which is going to be transmitted and received somewhere linearly perhaps on non linearly, but nevertheless it's a program output. In a church they have multiple outputs. They have outputs that go everywhere. They have outputs that go inside their own facility, they have multi-sites. And all of those outputs, many of those outputs, not necessarily all, have separate productions. They produce video to big screens. These days they're getting more and more into LED walls, but big screens in their auditoriums. And so, the production task is extreme, and to put a single operator at a big switcher and have him run the entire thing from that location is really stressful, very taxing for the operator.

Nigel Spratling:

And so what we see and one of my personal experiences was actually visiting with a church and sitting through their production during one of their services. And the person that was actually switching the show using the production switcher was an on-staff person, not a volunteer, and by the end of the production he looked pretty frazzled. Did a good job, but it was quite stressful. And I said to him, I said, so tell me, why can't you get a volunteer to help you with some of that task? Because you were switching stuff to screens, you were switching stuff to a program output, to a web feed, you're switching stuff to the lobbies and the crying rooms and those places. That's quite a stressful task and why can't you use a volunteer to help you? He said, well, I can't. We've tried training volunteers and they leave and then we have to retrain them. And this is, you know, production switching is not necessarily a simple task. It can be quite taxing and quite complex, so it's really hard to use a volunteer. I said, well, have you looked at how you could do this using Dashboard?

Nigel Spratling:

And he didn't really even get what I was asking him. So I said, look, if you have the time, let's spend some time and figure out what it is is the most taxing or most complex of the tasks you use or need to perform. And so we did that. We actually did that the following day, I spent some time with him. And we identified that the tasks they needed for switching their main screens in the auditorium, we could automate them a little bit. So I sat with him and we figured out that there were really only, he didn't believe it at first, but we figured it out that it was really only eight, I guess for want of a better word, scenes switched outputs that would go on those front of house screens. And so we sat down once we'd figured out exactly what they would be, what those eight scenes would be, we built a panel in Dashboard. So you can build your own custom panel in Dashboard. So we built a panel and we just put eight buttons on it with very clear English labels on the buttons, very big buttons.

Nigel Spratling:

And we put them on a tablet on wifi, and we took it out into the front of the house and ran it. And he was just thrilled, totally ecstatic, because now they could give this tablet to anybody, any volunteer, no training, give them a headset and say, tell them to press the button with the appropriate name on it. And so the producer could run the front of house screens and the TD could now run his program outs and everything else far more easily, much less stress. So that was a great example. I really loved it too. I felt really good after that one, actually.

Tyler Kern:

Nigel Spratling, vice president of production switchers for Ross Video. Thank you so much for joining me today, talking a little bit more about production switchers and some of their capabilities, some of the use cases and how they're evolving moving forward. Thank you so much, Nigel.

Nigel Spratling:

You're very welcome. I love to talk about it.

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