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Part 1: Broadcast Innovator Jerry GepnerIndustry guru talks about his new job at Vitec Group, industry trends
(8/12/05) Jerry Gepner created some of the most sophisticated broadcast trucks in the industry during his tenure as president of National Mobile Television (NMT). The recipient of five Emmy Awards and holder of eight patents in the fields of television production and virtual imaging, he is best known as an innovator and expert in live television production and related fields. Gepner has now joined the Vitec Group as its Chief Technology Officer, and DMNs Charlie White talked with him about where hes been and where hes going in this two-part interview.
DMN: Tell me about your new job. It looks like a great fit for you, because Vitec Group is one of the great rental companies and it looks like youre still going to be consulting a bit with NMT, right?
Gepner: Thats accurate. Both NMT and I wanted to continue that relationship. Sometimes opportunities show up completely unbidden, and it takes a little bit of thought to sort out what the best route through it is. This one worked out well. The Vitec Group, you have to understand, is quite a bit more than just an equipment rental company.
DMN: Can you tell us little about that? It looks like not only does Vitec rent a lot of equipment to big-time productions, but also has a lot of brands under its belt like Vinten, Clear-Com, Sachtler?a lot of household words in the broadcast industry.
Gepner: Yes. Let me clarify just a little bit. The Vitec Company that does the equipment rental in the U.S. is called Bexel. Its the largest production equipment rental company in the United States. Bexel is the equipment rental arm, and then they have subsidiary companies that fall under the Bexel brand. In addition, as you mentioned, we have Vinten, Sachtler, OConnor, Drake intercoms, Clear-Com intercoms, and we also own Anton Bauer, the premier camera battery manufacturer, and many more.
DMN: Tell us more about the Vitec Group.
Gepner: We have superior technology in a lot of areas, particularly in the area of camera support. We have some very exciting things in camera support and we have some very interesting things with intercoms. Part of what theyre looking for me to do is, to the extent necessary, to help guide those products in their development stages by providing market input, and my sense of where not only technology is going, but which market segments would respond to those products. At the same time, I have over the years developed a pretty broad network, and Im able to introduce and help smooth that product-to-market transition for them, particularly as you talk about networking products or IP-based systems, whether its for camera control or voice or all these things. So much of this is about convergence. I hate to use that word?its one of those things, when I say it, everybody says, ?You must be talking about the mid-90s.
DMN: Now that its actually starting to happen, the word is worn out, isnt it?
Gepner: Its all worn out, its all gone. But in fact, it is happening. So whatever I want to call it, and Im sure theres a 2005 name for it, Im just not hip enough to know it.
DMN: A lot of times, people are just calling it IT [Information Technology].
DMN: Thats what it looks like, doesnt it?
Gepner: Yes, it sure does, doesnt it?
DMN: Yeah, everything is digital, so a bit is a bit is a bit.
Gepner: Yes, so on the product side, thats really what Im being asked to do, and its really something that Im good at, which is, looking at a product and going, ?If you did this, you might sell a few more, or people would use it more, people would like it more, and heres why. All manufacturing companies need that kind of a gadfly. The thing that makes Vitec unique from my perspective is that they have remarkable engineering. Its stunning. You look at the technology underneath some of the products and Im not at liberty to talk about some of them but the technology is just amazing.
DMN: Now is there one group of engineers that works on all these various brands, or are there are separate fiefdoms with each brand like Vinten and Sachtler and Anton Bauer and Clear-Com?
Gepner: I wouldnt call them fiefdoms?theyre separate companies. The current CEO is Gareth Rhys Williams, and under his leadership they have gotten rid of the ?silod mentality that so often exists in a company that grows by acquisition. For instance, there is an intercom engineering group. That works because while Drake services in large part now military and air traffic control customers, and Clear-Com serves entertainment customers, its all still voice communications. So you can have a unified base to some degree. Theyve also done the same with their basic pan head and camera support between Vinten and Sachtler. Theyre different things. You put a camera on both of them, but they are different things.
DMN: So there are efficiencies involved where they can use technology across these various companies but each have their own way of doing things at the same time.
Gepner: Thats right, and that the way it needs to be.
DMN: This is a huge company, and I can see that its vertically integrated, where a lot of this equipment is manufactured by your company, and then with the Vitec group and Bexel, you can rent this equipment and have a full service package, right?
Gepner: Yes, but in another way. What if we could come to a broadcaster and say, ?We have a range of solutions for you. It doesnt have to be that you rent your equipment from Bexel. What if we were able to say, ?Look, we can solve a wide range of problems by integrating product from across this group. You say, ?Mr. Broadcaster, you have a need for a technology transition. We can offer a financial product, believe it or not, coupled with technology protection, because we have outlets like Bexel and BBG, so we can offer equipment that can be literally taken back at some period of time, and we can either rent it or sell it.
So if somebody wants to make the transition, say, from digital to HD, or from analog to HD, and a) either doesnt want to spend the capital money, or they want to spend it as a capital lease or, b) wasnt sure which way to go and wanted to try something out for 24 to 36 months at a shot. We can structure that, and that we can put together the camera support side. If its a studio we can get the robotics, or just the pedestals and the pan heads and all the bits and pieces?the power pieces, all of that?and they can all be rolled up into a single package of solutions. Thats a pretty compelling discussion, because it addresses the issues on the whole a lot of levels. Theres a financial level, theres a technology protection level, theres also a service and support level that were providing, and then theres just the plain old quality of brands like Anton Bauer, Vinten, Sachtler and Clear-Com. So we can bundle solutions that in general, over a period of time cost a lot less and offer a lot more.
Related Keywords:Jerry Gepner, sophisticated broadcast trucks, National Mobile Television, NMT, Emmy Awards, television production, virtual imaging, innovator, expert, live television production, Vitec Group, Chief Technology Officer, interview, Charlie White