New Economy Challenges News Truck Integrators
Sometimes the ENG/SNG truck business may seem like it's lost in space and other times as if it dares to go where no one else has gone before. Either way, the ingenuity both of manufacturers and users is being challenged in the current, difficult economy.
Nevertheless, there is plenty of good news. On the whole, it appears as if the "quiet periods" for integrators means their backlogs are only three months or so [insert laugh track here]. These are very busy companies, dealing with the always inevitable changes in technology. "We're seeing many orders for digital microwave and DSNG trucks," Frontline's General Manager, Jonathan Sherr stated. "Many satellite truck orders are coming from independents, too. One trend we are seeing is big trucks for EFP and SNG operations, a steadily growing area for us."
SNG antennas from Advent, AvL, and Vertex, are often mentioned as being popular with many clients/integrators lately, and pricing is competitive. It seems as if ETM and MCL are splitting the transmitter market, with Marconi, formerly EEV, being mentioned as popular with clients because their well-supplied loaner program fills needs in times of trouble. Xicom is also a popular name for many. COFDM microwave transmission pricing is a big story, too. Sherr seems bullish on it, knowing it can solve many problems, perhaps becoming a "total solution" for many news departments, as DSNG has been. "COFDM use and demand," Sherr continued, "is growing in many cities as more and more news departments understand it. As the prices are coming down, we're seeing more interest from those who were turned off by the initial investment price."
Mark Voorhees from Harris Broadcast agreed with the COFDM assessment, adding that everything Harris produces is COFDM-ready. ENG Mobile Systems President Ted Kendrick feels as if the COFDM bandwagon will really get rolling if the price can inch down a bit more, and is encouraged by reductions he's seen. Regarding the vehicles themselves, Kendrick says, "It's all still dominated by Ford's E-350 Super Cargo Van. A few clients try and get by with the shorter version, but when they see how limited they are in the cargo/storage area, they are more willing to pay the extra bucks for the more practical long version. Nothing beats the extra room in the rear. We also see a 50/50 amount of DVC Pro and Digital Beta in trucks, no real bias. Same with scopes. We see about 50/50 Tektronix and Videotek. I did run into a nice audio mixer a while back. A guy from Intelix in Wisconsin came into our booth at NAB and mentioned he 'does' audio mixers. I told him if he didn't have all the controls on the front panel I didn't want to hear about it. Well, he did. Of course we offer more, and install everything, but this is sure worth a look."
Gerling & Associates has been on a great run for many years, and according to Chris DeVol, the company's director of Sales, they are "still as busy as ever." What's the most popular? "For SNG," DeVol stated, "our under-chassis mounted 'Stinger' generator has been popular, as we've not only invented a generator solution which makes maintenance easier, but creates valuable inside space." Shifting into a different gear, Mitch Farris, Sales and Marketing manager for Florida's BAF, told us that he has felt the budget crunch of the business climate. While the company's ENG sales are still slowly ramping up as a result of corporate restructuring, their refurbishing business is strong, with trucks being worked on "just about at any given time." Farris also noted, "Even though we're busy, we're seeing how rough the economy is. People who have ordered or pledged that they'd be taking delivery of new vehicles in 'X' quarter have been pushing that date ahead. Many buys have been put off."
Which fits into the sweet spot at Winemiller Communications. Looked at by many as "the" company for used equipment, the recent economic conditions have given them, and their clients, lots of opportunities. From President Jan Winemiller: "We 'grew up' with small market stations which didn't have any budget worries, because they HAD no budgets. Now that there are so many cuts, larger market stations are looking at what we do with small budgets and our client base is growing with very big players. And we've had our best year ever." Offering microwave engineering and consulting and remote camera systems has also helped their overall business.
So where is it all going? Wolf Coach, Auburn, MA, is old enough to have weathered a few up and down cycles, and was the first to bring the COFDM technology to NAB a few years back. Vehicle Specialist Mark Leonard reflected on that as well as another Wolf Coach invention: "COFDM has worked out well for those who understand it," he stated. "I label it as understanding the 'link budget,' which is the ability of the decision makers at the station to understand just what they want it to do. The antenna being used, and how to implement the technology are the keys. Remember the Wolf-Pac? Well, its portability and self contained 'live shot in a small package' idea has finally hit home with many broadcasters looking for a bit more versatility. We're seeing those sell now and we field many more questions about it than ever."
In this field, creativity and versatility are the keys. Yet, questions remain. When are independent operators going to buy ENG vehicles to perform microwave live shots as well as the SNG shots they are currently doing? Even with COFDM on the horizon, do stations need to have their own live trucks at an event when a private operator's trucks can do the job? Satellite technology involves shared resources, right? Seems as if affordability of the live shot minute is challenged, and this is a business opportunity waiting to happen to ease that challenge to stations. Regarding the licensing for MW transmitters, the creative will win this battle, too. It's one more frontier; maybe the "Final Frontier," in newsgathering.