This year, Ross Video celebrates its 50th anniversary. Not content to rest on its laurels, the company continues to innovate with a set of products and solutions to support the emergence of remote and cloud-based production. IBC365 caught up with CEO David Ross to learn more.

Ross Video has a secret weapon to help drive product innovation. “One of the things that not everybody knows is that Ross owns a production company called Ross Production Services,” explains CEO David Ross. “We have nine OB vans, a studio, and multiple control rooms. Over the last 10 years, the team has been doing a lot of sports and entertainment programming and live programming. We do all the crewing, we do everything, and it’s all done on Ross Video equipment. That works out well because if they have a problem or an opportunity with a piece of Ross equipment, they’ve got a direct line to research and development to say, ‘This is what we see, this is what you need to do next.’ And later we make those features available to everybody.”


David Ross, Ross Video

Source: Michelle-Valberg

This direct engagement with the product development process is built into the structure of the company. “We’ve created roles in the production teams that we call ‘primes,’” says Ross. “Most of the technical people are engineers in charge (EIC). They’re the people who make sure that the production works and who answer every question for the freelancers that come in.”

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The skill and passion of the team members are a key factor in this process. “People always sort of gravitate to things that they love,” he says. “We’ve got some people that just love switchers, others love routers, or processing, and other people that get a kick out of cameras and robotics and things like that. So, the people who are most excited about a product line are considered to be the ‘prime’ for Ross Production Services.

“They can have regular conversations with the product managers and the R&D managers about what they’re seeing, the challenges they have, and their wish lists,” he continues. “Sometimes there are rants along the lines of, ‘I had this massive problem, what were you guys thinking?’ And I see that as extremely healthy. Sometimes you can do that with customers, but often you can’t. When you’re taking your own medicine, the gloves are off in those conversations. It’s very open, but it’s also very collaborative.”

Covid lockdown as a driver of innovation

There’s a cliché often heard in technology companies about engineers creating ‘a solution in search of a problem.’ Many of the technologies used in remote cloud-based production have been on the market for several years, but the notoriously risk-averse broadcasting industry showed little interest in taking advantage of them. That all changed at the beginning of 2020 when the pandemic made it almost impossible to work in traditional ways. The teams at Ross Production Services led the company’s innovation during this time. Ross recalls the challenges around the Remote Integration Model (REMI). “REMI basically meant going back to a control room someplace, where we’d all sit together and do a remote production. During the pandemic, one of the team’s innovations was something named ‘Distro,’ which is distributed production,” he says. “It was really quite useful during Covid because you didn’t want to get everybody together.”

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Ross Production Services operates nine OB vans

The company’s Distro approach allowed the functions of a control room to be accessed remotely, allowing the teams to work from home. Ultimately, they found that the Distro approach had many benefits beyond simply supporting social distancing. “It had financial advantages because you didn’t have to fly anyone anywhere,” says Ross. “You also have the advantage that you don’t have to choose somebody local all the time either. And that’s an interesting problem. If you decide you’re not going to do a remote production, and depending on the production and the location, you may want to be able to fly somebody in from California for an event in Texas to make the production easier - your price just skyrocketed. The idea of Distro being able to set you up so you can work out of your house is incredibly powerful.”

Long-term adoption

Innovation in cloud production techniques in the post-Covid landscape is now driven more by the needs of individual productions. “The willingness to try absolutely anything due to Covid was much higher,” says Ross. “But what we saw afterwards was a drop in its acceptance due to a desire to return a little bit back to normal. It might be a couple of years before we actually get to the Covid era level of remote production capabilities.”

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“Because a lot of the facilities were not at all ready to do remote production of any sort during Covid, they were forced to suddenly use cloud services that were Pro AV at best,” adds Ross. “I think some of these broadcasters were so thrilled to just be able go on the air, It didn’t matter that you could only switch four sources, or it didn’t matter if they couldn’t do some of the graphics that they could do before, and so on. It was, ‘Oh, my God, we’re still on the air!’ What we’re seeing after that is, ‘wait a minute, we actually kind of liked all the production bells and whistles that we got used to beforehand, we don’t need to be doing this anymore.’”

The factors driving distributed production have changed since the end of lockdown. Ross noted that most broadcasters were so relieved to have simply been able to get on air, that for most of them, cost and functionality were less of an issue. That has changed somewhat. “Getting in and out of the cloud is expensive,” says Ross. “And I think almost without exception, you can do far less, and don’t even talk about 4K.”

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The teams’ distributed production (Distro) approach came to the fore during the pandemic

“So, it depends on what type of production you’re doing,” he says. “If you’re doing a third-tier production that is going to be streamed online to a small number of fans, how do you do those 10 games cheaply, but make sure they’re covered? And then of course you have the highest-level games like a Super Bowl or a Premier League game where there’s no excuse for failure. It comes down to what you are willing to put up with, from the point of view of what you’re being paid and what the customer expects.”

Ross believes that the real-world experience provided by the company’s production arm provides a deeper connection to their customers. “I always feel that in the way that we make products we’ve always done well by giving our customers choice,” he says. “Do you want it in the cloud? Do you want on-prem? Do you want hardware? Do you want software? Because of my experiences with Ross Production Services and their successes, failures, challenges, and investments, I see the system, I see the people, I see the whole spectrum of what is possible. And as a CEO of a company like Ross Video, it’s invaluable. It takes me up above the industry looking down in some ways, in a way that is very different than my other backgrounds of being an engineer or a product manager.

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