Firstly, can you tell us a little about your background?
I began my working life as a Technical Operator for BBC Radio at Broadcasting House some 35 years ago, and worked for the Corporation for the next 13 years. I learned my trade helping to create a huge number of the nation’s favourite radio and TV programmes for the most prestigious broadcaster in the world – it was undoubtedly the best possible introduction to the industry I could have had! I was based in Pebble Mill in Birmingham for much of that time, working with (and learning from) colleagues who were quite literally the best in the business – forging relationships with specialists in all the different broadcast disciplines that remain strong to this day. By the time I left the BBC in 1996 I was a Senior Sound Supervisor with the kind of experience, training and professional network that I would struggle to have found anywhere else.
I then set up Total Audio, a business which specialised in providing real world solutions and advice for a wide range of clients. Early projects included setting up and running audio facilities for many reality TV shows, from Scrapheap Challenge to The Weakest Link.
When and why did you set up StvdioExpert?
The Digital Revolution meant that suddenly it wasn’t just the mainstream broadcasters who could reach vast audiences – everyone could! So we began to see Banks, Travel Companies, Retailers and all sorts of different businesses needing to build content production facilities.
But these new content producers had very different business models to the traditional broadcasters. Their priorities were different – their financial models were different – and so were their timelines. They were seeking new solutions that would give them a competitive edge and allow them to push boundaries. The traditional Systems Integration companies were not only slow to catch on, but once they did, they also had problems adapting to this leaner, faster-paced and more cost-conscious market. The decision to create a new business specifically designed to meet the needs of this exciting new market pretty much made itself – and the name of the business, StvdioExpert, virtually chose itself too!
What is your role and what does that consist of?
My job is to listen to our clients’ aspirations and ambitions, understand their practical and financial constraints, and then find a solution that meets all of their requirements. StvdioExpert does that by working with best-of-breed manufacturers and suppliers, leveraging the network of experts that I’ve built up over the last 35 years, and always being prepared to think outside the box. We think like a member of our client’s team. That means never costing in a service that could be provided by in-house staff, and we’ll often provide training to enable that to happen – self-sufficiency is always the goal. We’re not just about providing technical facilities – we keen to use our experience to help ensure the content that’s produced with them is the best it can be.
One thing we always seek to do is to communicate effectively with our clients and their stakeholders at all times – that means making sure we offer clear explanations for why we are recommending particular solutions, using language and imagery that is appropriate to our client’s level of knowledge. Our aim is never to baffle on the one hand, or patronise on the other. That’s not an easy balance to achieve, but I hope we get it right most of the time!
What is it that attracts you to working on broadcasting facilities in stadiums?
Stadiums such as Pride Park are deploying a wide range of technology because they cover everything from weddings to football matches, conferences to birthday parties. I love the challenge of designing a technical infrastructure within a finite budget that will be flexible enough to cover every eventuality both now and in the future.
There’s something special about the culture within Pride Park - there’s a great collaboration across the technical and creative teams, and I’m proud to have played a part in creating the environment where that can flourish. They are producing world class content with affordable (some might also call it ‘disruptive’) technology.
How does a stadium project start for you and your team?
It always starts with a lot of listening. We have to gauge quickly where the Stadium is today, and where it wants to be tomorrow. Not only that, but we have to know what sort of budget they have to fund that journey. Very often we’ll find that the stadium’s management team is not aware of the traditional broadcast vendors and has therefore started contacting equipment manufacturers direct. Indeed, it’s often those manufacturers that have suggested bringing us in. The solution a stadium ultimately needs invariably spans many different manufacturers and disciplines. It would be a very big challenge for any in-house team to arrive at the right solution without expert help – all the data’s out there it’s true, but you have to know where to look for it, and then what it means when you find it. It’s usually a huge relief when they realize they can trust us to do that for them – and save them a huge amount of time and money doing it.
What are the main things that you have to take into consideration when working on a stadium or sporting venue?
Change! Nothing stays the same for long. Needs change – circumstances change – and technology certainly changes, and very quickly! So it’s vital that we understand as much as we can about our clients’ business, and that we are aware of any new technological developments that are in the pipeline. That’s why we like to foster close relationships not only with our clients, but with all the key equipment manufacturers too.
Do you think more football clubs – particularly lower league clubs – will start to embrace the idea of investing in their own broadcasting facility?
Without a doubt! We live in a world where we expect everything to be available – it’s the norm now, so if they are not to disappoint their fans, the clubs almost have no choice! Not only that, but they have to make it good – we have all become accustomed to the extremely high production values delivered by the major broadcasters, and so inevitably we compare everything with that gold standard. Whilst that might sound a daunting prospect, it really needn’t be. What we have achieved at Derby County is proof that scalable content of the highest quality can be created by dedicated and creative in-house teams using state of the art equipment and infrastructure that is both affordable and extremely cost-effective. We’ve been blazing a trail for the last 18 months – and now we’re encouraging all our friends in the EFL to follow it! We’re keen to collaborate by sharing our experience and we’d be delighted to help in any way we can.
Do you believe using this kind of setup can challenge the traditional broadcasters when it comes to live sport?
From a technical point of view there is no doubt that the gap is ever narrowing – I believe the content that RAMS TV is now producing stands comparison with the major broadcasters in terms of quality. Our experience in terms of the investment required suggests that a model where clubs syndicate directly to their fans will provide better value for all parties - the Clubs themselves, their fans and their sponsors. So yes, it’s my personal view that the traditional broadcasters can be challenged - It may be a little way off yet, but we’ve definitely started down the path!
Are there any difficulties you experience on a regular basis – and what are they?
The obvious one is the sheer size of the venues. Older stadiums and venues tend not to have modern containment, and installing long cable runs can be very time-consuming. If we are installing a run I will always make sure we have future capacity – the cable is proportionately cheaper than the labour.
Which stadium and sporting arena projects have you been working on recently?
As you know, I’m currently working at Pride Park with RAMSTV – it’s probably the most forward-looking and dynamic project I have worked on, and it’s been getting a lot of attention. We are regularly approached by other clubs interested in hearing about how we’ve achieved what we have, and we’re always keen to share information and advice where we can. A collaborative network of club media teams has already begun to emerge!
What would you say has been your favourite project to date?
You should know better than to ask me to choose one client’s project over another! But I will take this opportunity to say that RAMSTV has had a growth and success rate I’ve never witnessed before – Pride Park is a genuinely exciting place to be working right now!
Do you have any interesting projects coming up in the near future?
Again, none that I can talk about at the moment ….but yes, and very different!
What do you believe to be the next big thing in terms of technology when it comes to stadiums?
All stadium infrastructures must be moving towards a complete I/P environment. At Pride Park we use NDI as our video network and Dante for audio. It allows sharing and expansion in a cost-effective and powerful solution. The immediate sharing of any experience within a stadium plus access to the event’s social media (containing great footage) is a package that is clearly at the forefront of any audience / fan experience wish-list.