Steve Gligorovic is a Senior Customer Support Engineer at Calrec.

He was the last Customer Support Engineer to return to Calrec prior to the outbreak of Covid 19, and in June he was the first Calrec Customer Support Engineer sent out on an international flight to Asia. Calrec flew two Support Engineers to Japan to provide advice, training, technical support and on-site development of workflows, supporting a host of international broadcasters. In this report, Steve talks about how it felt getting back to face-to-face international support after 15 months of social distancing.

In an average year Calrec’s Customer Support Engineers are on the road most of their working life. With commissioning, training, software and hardware upgrades, network upgrades, system flow advice and IP fault-finding – Calrec’s team of trained engineers are busy people.

The last 15 months has been far from average. While commissioning, training and demos have all been done remotely, getting physically stuck in is in a Support Engineer’s blood.

Calrec’s Steve Gligorivic has missed it more than most. He was the last Customer Support Engineer to return to the UK when the Pandemic began in March 2020, and he was the first to jump on a plane in June when restrictions were eased.

Steve and his colleague Elliot are currently supporting a host of international broadcasters producing live sports content, both physically at venues and at remote sites across the world. It’s a large area to cover, with more than 35 x consoles and 3 x router cores physically stationed on site, and 10 x RP1 remote production hubs helping broadcasters mix content remotely.

“Getting back out to see customers is great, but it’s a very different proposition to what it was a few years ago,” says Steve. “Just getting on a plane is an experience, although everything has been very efficient; the planes were only half full – I had the best sleep I have had on a plane in over 15 years!

“We flew into Haneda Airport and were taken by private vehicle straight to a quarantine hotel where we had a hard quarantine for six days and soft quarantine for eight days, which is when we were able to start working. Even then we had to use dedicated transport systems and stay in very secure bubbles, but everything was very well organised and to be honest it’s a joy to be back out with customers.

“Over the last few months, we’ve been providing face to face support to customers in the UK, but this is the first international trip for 15 months. It’s a culture shock, but we both feel very safe and very secure – there’s lots of regular testing, mask wearing and sanitiser everywhere. I have the cleanest hands ever; I can’t pass a sanitiser without using it!”

A mix of physical consoles, outside broadcast trucks, remote production cores and flypack equipment, across IP and proprietary networks, and across multiple sites, provides a lot of challenges. And one thing that the Covid 19 pandemic has encouraged is an expansion of remote working workflows which broadcasters are taking full advantage of. A reluctance – and often inability – to travel has accelerated this even further.

Many broadcasters are covering sporting events by using Calrec RP1 technology or taking international feeds and providing dedicated VO commentary at its studio, like Canada’s CBC has with two Calrec Brio consoles.

“There are lots of different networks and workflows, and that’s one of the benefits of being on-site. While there are very few repairs or issues to administer, most of the work is about working with customers on efficiencies. Different broadcast networks are working in different ways and being able to discuss what people are trying to achieve and having the equipment right there is invaluable. These things can be done remotely, but it’s faster, more efficient, and more thorough to be able to discuss a workflow in real-time.

“For example, one international broadcaster is using 5 x Brio consoles and 2 x cores across two studios, with a floating portable Brio 12 console. We were able to work with them on what they are trying to achieve and help suggest additional efficiencies. Another is using AES67 for routing, Dante for comms and SDI for backup – this is a new development and one which recent shifts in how broadcasters view technology has given them the confidence to try. The shift towards remote technology and the eagerness for broadcasters to try new things has changed the landscape for everyone.

“We have 10 x RP1 cores being controlled at multiple sites in the US and in the UK, in studios and in trucks, which means an additional 10 consoles which did not need to be shipped and set up. This has a huge positive environmental impact – fewer flights, less shipping, fewer people moving around the planet, but the same quality control and mixes.

“Being on-site with customers is also an opportunity to work directly with other equipment manufacturers which sit in the signal chain, in a real context – to be able to have best-practice discussions face-to-face and have the equipment to run tests is valuable and helps us all produce better content and guarantee reliability.”

But it’s not all about technology.

“It’s been a great excuse to catch up with old friends, and I’ve been able to visit our Distribution Partners, Hibino, who I haven’t seen since May 2019 – and it comes in handy for spares holding, especially as Hibino is based in Tokyo! We needed to get hold of a spare I/O controller card, and I was able to go to Hibino’s new office (which has got stunning views over the bay – you can’t see that on Zoom!) to borrow a card from them. I ended up staying with the customer for a couple of hours to help with config, and as the main operator had never used an Artemis before, I was able to provide some informal training on the Artemis monitoring system.

“Travelling in person is an opportunity to renew and to develop relationships, and that’s what I have missed over the last 15 months. It’s great to be back on the road!”

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