Business Analysis: Remotest Ideas
Business Analysis: Remotest Ideas
Calrec’s VP of sales, David Letson, discusses the challenges presented by 2020 and quickly adopting different business practices, including assisting broadcast customers transition to remote working
When did you begin to realise that things would have to be done differently this year?
The turning point for us was NAB – it sent a very clear message and things happened very quickly after that. When different parts of the world started to lock down, the nature of the phone calls we were dealing with changed very quickly. We expected to get a lot of questions about remote production as our RP1 remote production product was already very mature, but most questions were about helping broadcasters move to remote working environments. The difference is all about where you are sat. Where remote production uses an established mixing environment to mix local DSP at an event in another part of the world, remote working is about mixing a programme remotely from the processing core of the console: in your bedroom, in your kitchen or even in your garage. We’ve helped customers adopt virtualised tools such as Calrec’s Assist web interface to allow them to log into consoles remotely. We’ve helped install VP2 virtual systems for remote control over Assist; we’ve had broadcasters use physical Type R surfaces in their homes to mix live daily talkshows; we’ve helped broadcasters sitting at a desk in a production studio to pair with a desk in an OB truck parked at a football stadium; and we’ve even seen our compact Brio consoles in garages and in VW campervans mix live programmes while remaining socially distant. Things are being done very differently this year, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
How has the lack of travel affected interactions with your customers and distributors?
As an industry, we travel a lot. We travel to demos and tradeshows, we do onsite training and commissioning, we provide network upgrades onsite – we are a very sociable industry. Also, mixing consoles are very tactile – they are not software interfaces, they are physical surfaces. Not only do they have to fit in perfectly with customer workflows, it is important that customers are across the ergonomics: how easy they are to drive, how quickly can one access the functions and the actual physical size of it in a given environment. When live mixing from a preview monitor, operators often aren’t even looking at the surfaces, so feel is very important. As a company, and an industry, we like to get hands-on, and the lack of exhibitions and customer visits has been one of the most difficult things to adjust to. We still miss going to see customers and talking through their requirements, sitting at a desk and demonstrating how it can be flexed to meet specific requirements and shooting the breeze at a bar with operators and business leaders.
How have you adapted to this? How have your sales and marketing activities had to change?
Like many others, we have had to find other ways of communicating. We’ve had an opportunity to invest in training resources, so we now have Brio, Type R and AoIP training on the Calrec website, and we’ve been able to invest more time in ensuring our distributor network is kept informed of developments. In that respect, we’ve had a fantastic opportunity to connect. We’ve also been able to provide access to consoles and equipment remotely. Early on, we launched a series of demos using our Calrec Assist web interface to log directly into a Type R core at the Mill in Hebden Bridge, so customers can make live adjustments and see the effect on the hardware in real time. As we started to move into more and more virtualised and remote operations, these early demos were quite powerful. We’ve also been demoing remotely using webcams, but we’ve had most success demoing a hybrid model, purely because of the tactile nature of our equipment. We’ve had a fantastic response from customers when we’ve been able to ship a console to their location, and communicate from a console located in our demo room in Hebden Bridge. We use webcams to connect to the customer, and they can get hands-on with it at the same time. This also gives us an opportunity to show how our equipment integrates with our remote working products, like Calrec Assist.
Once you have made a sale, how do you carry it forward?
We have a very robust production system where the emphasis is on communication. Post-sale, customers have a dedicated project engineer for all engineering and build queries. We’ve maintained a core of production and engineering staff to ensure that customers have received the same support as ever.
What about the installation and commissioning process?
Covid-19 has given us new ways to support customers in the field, and installation and commissioning are a great example of that. Not being able to travel has forced us to adopt new techniques, and we’ve been able to support customers remotely over IP. For example, working alongside Andy Leung of Jolly Pro Audio, our distribution partner in Hong Kong, we were able to install and commission two 18-fader Type R systems for Radio Television Hong Kong. This covered hardware installation, network fault-finding, configuring switches and setting up PTP settings, culminating in remote technical training for the RTHK team. We’ve also been able to upgrade entire IP networks, such as a 12-console network for RTCG in Montenegro, with three Artemis and nine Type R consoles. These things we would normally do onsite, so this has been quite the learning experience for us.
Do you think you will adopt some of these measures permanently?
We all will! This has been a period of rapidly accelerated thought and, as an industry, we’ve all been very open-minded to figure out the best tools that we can. We could do a lot of this before, but broadcasters must now insist on the ability to be more flexible when something like this happens again. We need to provide broadcasters with equipment that is capable of being creative and flexible when they need to be. More importantly, customers are also reconsidering long-established work practices. Future builds, particularly around OB products, need careful consideration; having 50 people in close proximity in an OB truck needs to be reconsidered. Many are considering different approaches. This is a period of huge innovation and, in some respects, the timing is perfect for people to maximise the use of emerging IP solutions like Calrec’s ImPulse processing and routing engine.