OB's need to go on a high-fibre diet
Josh Simons, technical director at Argosy, tell us what to look for in cables and how outside broadcast companies need to up their cable game
Cabling for outside broadcast is often one of the last things that is considered when it comes to kitting out a truck or preparing the infrastructure for a temporary or fixed venue live event. Many outside broadcasters have fallen into habits that don’t make practical or economic sense in the long-term when it comes to investment, stock, cable quality and splicing.
Choosing the right cable solution for an outside broadcast (OB) application is not only crucial, but needs to be a deliberate choice based on a long-term strategy that brings a better return on investment.
The rise of fibre
The revolution that transformed the broadcast world over the last decade sparked a technology transformation that spanned not only screens and cameras but trickled down to the core infrastructure that now carries high-bandwidth video signals over distances that copper simply cannot handle.
Fibre, which first raised its head in post-production environments, was swiftly adopted in HD video extension/distribution equipment, audio MADI equipment and then was more widely integrated into SMPTE cameras.
In Europe, some big operators dipped their toe in the fibre waters first, using fibre infrastructure for monitor walls and audio transport. Hot on their heels however were the OB companies covering sports like golf, cricket or horse racing, many at fixed venues, as they were increasingly under pressure to feed multiple channels with ever higher quality images over long distances.
Undeniably, in the very near future, aside from some legacy coaxial cabling, broadcast infrastructure and truck cabling will be primarily made up of fibre for the transportation of video and audio and of copper twisted pair for the transportation of IP and control signals.
Many OBs are now witnessing a legacy technology creep born from the introduction of fibre media without a clearly defined strategy
To splice or not to splice?
Until recently, when it comes to choosing a fibre solution, a great many OB companies have been improvising, which has led to a rise in splicing. This has now become common practise due to the wide availability of low-cost distribution cables and fusion splicers, combined with the high cost of military tactical cable assemblies with expanded beam connectors, which dictated to some extent this early direction.
The practise of tactical fibre assemblies emerged as the cost of this type of cabling reduced over time making it more widely available. These were better suited to deployments in harsh environments, which saw the OB companies invest in bulk tactical cable, albeit low count, at typically four channels. The choice was often made between a drum of high-count, pre-terminated tactical cable and on-site splicing, which offered a welcome rugged, re-deployable and easily serviceable option to OBs.
As a result, many OBs are now witnessing a legacy technology creep born from the introduction of fibre media without a clearly defined strategy. The knock-on effect is that the ongoing cost of deployment of fibre has been higher than expected overall.
The (wire) people on the ground
Riggers at temporary venues for live events are often outsourced and work long days in often difficult and pressing conditions. This can sometimes lead to mistakes, as individual connectors are not removed correctly from the patch panels and cable protection are not replaced, so damaging the cables. In a case where the cable is spliced, the cable could be reduced by 1-2m at each splicing, reducing the cable run to an unusable length over time.
There are of course solutions to preventing this, including training, stock management of these shorter assets and re-investment in cable stock. While this may reduce the impact of damage during de-rigging operations, this increases deployment costs and time. As an alternative, pre-terminated solutions set the scene for best practise processes during rigging and de-rigging operations.
Undeniably, in the very near future, aside from some legacy coaxial cabling, broadcast infrastructure and truck cabling will be primarily made up of fibre
Rethinking CapEx & OpEx
From a commercial perspective, OBs that are investing in fibre now need to make more informed capital expenditure (CapEx) and operational expenditure (OpEx)-oriented decisions from the start. They need to review their options carefully to familiarise themselves with the pros and cons of tactical fibre assemblies versus other types of cable management systems.
Is there really a point to building up capital and assets that aren’t of value time and time again, such as redundant cable left over after one too many splicing? Are pre-terminated fibre cables and spare cable stock a more efficient way of meeting customer’s on site needs than splicing?
In addition, cabling is often seen as a necessity that bolts on to the active equipment rent-out part of an event. It may not bring in direct revenue but a careful choice of cabling does offer some return on investment, when one considers that cheaper cable has a lower operational life expectancy and that could jeopardise the entire production, as the cost of cable has a direct impact on quality.
In the case of returning events, for example music festivals or motor racing, there is a case to be made for the promotion of a permanent infrastructure so cabling doesn’t have to be deployed and recovered over and over again. In cases like these, the OBs should get the asset owner, installer and operator involved from the very start to deliver a functional, long-term solution.
Closing the loop
It is also crucial to involve a knowledgeable cable infrastructure provider to close the loop and help map out a future-proof solution that can deliver better CapEx, OpEx and ROI. Argosy for example has strong and enduring relationships with quality optical component manufactures and can add immense value to the customer relationship through the use of its onsite R&D facility and of its cable termination facility for the provision of complete, high quality cabling solutions.
Ultimately, OBs need to urgently rethink their cable management strategy, focusing on more long-term investments and on getting return from these investments. Working with a cable provider and fibre specialist like Argosy on a consultative level will help OB companies adapt the way they invest in and deploy fibre while taking the guess work out of such decisions.