LAS VEGAS—Ross Video has a track record investors dream about, except for not taking private equity. Ever. CEO David Ross started in 1991. He said the company has had continuous top-line revenue growth for 23 straight years at an average compound rate of 17 percent. Ross spoke with TV Technology about the company’s evolution from building switchers to dispatching a fleet of mobile production units.
“It’s one thing to just sell switchers, but switchers tie into things, and we recognized early on that the switcher is the hub of live production, and it goes out and controls all the pieces of equipment, so we became experts in all the equipment we controlled, and saw all the possibilities of what we could do if we could control both ends of that system.”
Ross said the company looks at market verticals and develops platforms, including those for automated newsrooms, manual newsrooms, sports arenas, houses of worship, legislative and now, production trucks.
“The problem that we saw, really a big problem in North America, but it exists worldwide as well in different forms, what I like to call the ‘outside production triangle,’” he said.
“You have a broadcaster, they say, ‘I want to make 30 games of women’s basketball, ‘so they often contract out to a packager, who bids maybe $1 million, which is fine for the network, because they’re making $10 million. Then the packager hires the crew and the truck. The crew comes in, the truck company comes in, says, ‘hey, no problem.’
“Now, Ross comes in—and this is my problem—we say, ‘we could do the switcher for half the price… a quarter of the price… a tenth of the price. And they say, ‘well, that’s sort of interesting, and ‘how about it to the crew,’ and they go, ‘I only know a different brand. Brand X.’
“And we say, ‘we’ll train those guys, we’ll pay you to learn how to use our switcher, and they say, ‘great, thanks for the day.’ And we go back to the truck company and say, ‘now we can do it for one-tenth of the price, and they so, ‘oh, is that true? Let’s go over and talk to the freelancers,’ and the freelancers go, ‘yeah, well, I got training, but only one day. You want my A game, it’s still Brand X.’”
“And that perpetuates the cycle… we ran into that for 20 straight years,” he said. “After a while, I got a little bit tired of it.”
That model has worked well with traditional broadcasting, he said, “when you’re talking about high-end sports transmitted to a national or a large regional area, to a large audience.”
“Where we are now is Internet broadcasting; hyperlocal broadcasting. You can’t take a 53-foot, top-of-the-line truck and do high school sports, and you know what, taking a 15-year-old SD truck to do that isn’t a good idea either. So we wanted to be able to offer top technology for a reasonable price. But we were still not able to break that triangle.”
The major broadcasters started realizing there was a whole market that wasn’t being addressed in any significant way, he said. Small- to middle-sized markets being served by a variety of indies with different products and technologies.
“You might be able to do in in L.A. one way, but in New York, it’s got to be something else,” he said. “And there’s no standardization.”
So Ross decided to buy a truck company. Mobile Content Providers was acquired last fall for an undisclosed sum. It was rebranded Ross Mobile Productions, and started with one truck. New ones are being built at about the pace of one every two months. They were on truck No. 5 at NAB in April.
No. 5 is a 3 GBps, 1080p Sprinter with 10 production positions, five cameras that can be increased to 10, and outfitted with interconnected Ross gear, at “one-tenth the cost of what it would have been otherwise,” Ross said.
Now, Ross is the packager hiring the freelancers. Within a few months of NAB, they had done “hundreds” productions in 20 states, productions viewed in more than 100 countries, he said.
Ross said the mobile initiative tapped a new market.
“What we found was, there is more demand than there is supply in this market space. There are productions that are going unshot,” he said. “They could not meet the price point.”
Ross is extending the mobile production reach of its gear with the openTruck concept, providing the design of the Sprinter to systems integrators. David Ross said at least a dozen were building trucks based on the openTruck spec to sell.
“They can take advantage of the crewing and the training we’ve been doing across the country,” he said. “We’re going to it possible for those names to be published, like a Linkedin for openTruck crewing so they can now find those freelancers and give [them] jobs on Ross equipment.”
openTruck is similar in nature to the Ross openGear, which comprises 68 manufacturers who abide by a voluntary interoperability standard.
“With the openTruck side of things, the new owner operators… get a known design, the ability to share trucks with each other and know what they’re getting,” he said.
(See the full video of Ross speaking with TV Technology’s Deborah McAdams at NAB here. )
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