Satellite trucks go surfing

Feb 17, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Production & Satellite Services Inc., one of the nation’s leading providers of satellite remote trucks for live news and sports coverage, has added an Internet connection for its television clients doing remotes from the field.
The 17-year-old Los Angeles-based firm has acquired its first two terminal modems from Comtech EF Data, which allow a reporter to plug a computer into the box to get on the Internet.
“In most of the areas where we deploy a satellite truck, there’s no connectivity to fiber or coaxial cable, and most people at a live event have a need for an Internet connection for high-speed e-mail, Web surfing and file transfers,” said Rob Schuster, PSSI’s Las Vegas-based Director of Internet Protocol.
The Internet connection also handles a reporter’s live voice report to the studio from his remote location and replaces telephone communication in areas in which there is no phone service. The reporting goes through the Internet box and is satellited along with the video footage back to the studio. A second Internet signal carries e-mail, still photos and files back to the set.
The number of modems, each costing $8,000, will be increased as demand grows, so that PSSI’s 19 owned C-band and Ku-band mobile units around the country can provide this hookup capability, Mr. Schuster said. “We are the first company in our little niche market providing Internet service,” he added.
PSSI’s new Las Vegas teleport called SNAP (Satellite Network Access Point) is the hub for the Internet service. Notes Mr. Schuster: “It’s a central exchange access point for Internet and telephone traffic incoming and outgoing. We take both signals and route them to the satellite truck wherever it is.”
Mr. Schuster calls this “a wire in the sky between the field and the television network’s home office. If a reporter is in the truck and wants to call his office, he plugs his phone into the modem and the call gets routed over the satellite band to us here and it then goes out to a public phone switching network.
“If there is no analog phone line available at the location, we can provide an IFB [closed circuit] service via the Internet satellite modem which is a direct communication line back to the studio.” IFBs allow talent, editorial and technical personnel to chat with each other through a transmitter and ear piece.
How did PSSI get involved with Internet connections? Mr. Schuster, who’s been with the company two years, said PSSI had been hired by Real Networks to provide live video streaming of a U2 concert at Notre Dame due to a lack of Internet bandwidth at the concert site. “While we had the equipment to do this job,” Mr. Schuster recalled, “It identified the future demand for Internet services at remote locations. Most of our trucks had the transmission equipment, but we needed to add some terminal equipment that would allow us to extend the Internet via satellite out to the trucks in the field. So we ran tests for a year, and in January we made the service available.”
PSSI maintains five trucks in Las Vegas that cover boxing and concerts for pay-per-view providers iN Demand, DirecTV, The Dish Network and TVN and can be dispatched to other locations as well.
Sporting events
Even though PSSI trucks have been used at such recent events as the Super Bowl (by ABC and ESPN International), the Shuttle Columbia breakup and parts recovery (ABC in Houston and Cape Canaveral, CBS in Houston and CNN in Joshua Tree, Calif.), the Pro Bowl in Honolulu (ESPN) and the Sundance Film Festival (MTV), none had the need for an Internet hookup.
Rob Lamb, who co-founded the company with Charles Storlie in 1986, claims PSSI “is among the five to 10 firms that do 80 percent of the work.” NBC and its CNBC cable network are among his biggest clients. Other recent customers include Univision, Televisa, BBC, ITN, European Broadcasting Union and NHK. “Eighty percent of our business is in sports and news, with the remainder corporate media press tours and meetings,” Mr. Lamb said. “Firms doing a lot of business annually receive price discounts of between 10 percent and 25 percent, while sports packages get the best discount deal-25 percent to 30 percent.”
PSSI’s 17 Ku-band and two C-band trucks cost between $450,000 to $750,000 and lease for $2,500 a day, including an uplink operator with a cameraperson and an audio technician added if needed. Besides Las Vegas, PSSI vehicles are located in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Seattle and Sacramento, Calif. The company also leases and operates six vans from Transvision of Oxnard, Calif., on the Mainland and in Hawaii.
In addition to offering Internet capability, PSSI has acquired two Tandberg high-definition TV digital encoders, each costing $105,000. PSSI will tack on an additional fee of around $1,000 for the HDTV gear. “We can now put up a high-definition signal to the satellite,” Mr. Lamb said, “and that’s important to have because people can’t transmit sports without it.” It’s a future growth area as more networks and team franchises opt to use HDTV, Mr. Lamb added.