Trucking Toward a Turnaround?

Optimism in improving economy means companies placing bets with more mobile units
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September always marks the busiest time of year for mobile production units, with the final weeks of Major League Baseball and the start of college and professional football keeping crews and trucks in high gear. But this month will see more trucks than ever motoring into stadiums around the country, thanks to an improving economy and increased demand for high-definition production units.

“One of the reasons you are seeing so much more activity this year is that people didn’t have the ability to put new trucks out on the road last year,” says Mike Fernander, president and general manager of NEP’s U.S. Mobile Units, which this summer deployed two new trucks dedicated to 3D production. “This year, people are more comfortable making a commitment [to new trucks], and there was some pent-up demand for new trucks.”

The deployment of a new generation of HD trucks is good news, both for the amount of HD productions viewers can expect and the quality of those productions. “There are still a number of programmers that want to take their shows to high-definition,” explains Bob Lyon, president of Lyon Video, which launched a new HD truck in August in time for the NFL season and is planning to build another one in 2011. “The combination of the aging of the original HD fleet plus the number of events that are being televised in HD made for an uptick in the marketplace this year,” adds Game Creek Video President Pat Sullivan.

Too much of a good thing?
While all of the major providers of mobile production units report being busier than ever, the number of new trucks entering the market has also raised concerns about oversupply.

“I’m not sure there is a need for a lot more trucks,” notes Philip Garvin, general manager of the Mobile TV Group, which has launched one new HD truck this year and is planning to roll out another in October. “There is certainly a need for more trucks on some days and some times of the year [like the fall]. But if we had all the trucks that are needed for the maximum days, there are going to be some people who have unused trucks during the slowest times.”

As a result, companies are being cautious in terms of expanding their fleet. “Although we are rolling out and building new trucks, the total fleet size has not gone up significantly,” with most of the new units replacing older vehicles, NEP’s Fernander says.

Some of these new units represent a significant advance in technology over first-generation HD trucks. Lyon, for example, notes that his company’s newest truck is “fully loaded to be upgraded to 3G” capable, and that it has the largest Calrec audio mixer available for improved sound.

Likewise, the two new HD production trucks that Game Creek Video deployed this summer—one for ESPN in July and another for YES Network in August— are 3G-capable. This means that they will eventually be able to handle the highest-quality HD format currently available, 1080-line progressive scan at 60 frames per second, Sullivan notes.

While these new 3G trucks are easily adapted to 3D production, the number of units dedicated to 3D remains relatively limited. This summer, NEP rolled out two trucks for 3D—its SS32, which is being used by ESPN for its 3D channel, and an SS31 truck that was built to service “a lot of the ad hoc business we were seeing for 3D,” NEP’s Fernander notes. The SS31, he adds, is currently “doing a lot of DirecTV events for their channel.”

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