Thirty Years in the Blink of an Eye
We look back over the events and projects that have shaped Video Progetti for three decades
Shakespeare famously said that ‘the path of true love never did run smooth’. And he wasn’t wrong. But you can tell that Shakespeare never tried to launch his own business, because if he had he’d describe true love as an arrow-straight autostrada by comparison.
Indeed, the roots of Video Progetti are somewhat tangled, but of course it is sprawling roots that result in the tallest oaks. Video Progetti started in 1991, under the inspiration of Carlo Struzzi and Antonio Greco. Both had been operating in the field of broadcast technology for many years, both working with Sony Italia, which was soon due to acquire Sony Broadcast.
For those of you who were present in the industry at the time, you’ll remember how business was in those days. One word describes it: booming. Cable television had matured and the appetite of audiences was growing; they were demanding far more than ‘the unified mass culture’ that had been provided through the 80s by only a handful of broadcasters. They were demanding not just a greater and more specific choice in content, but were becoming increasingly sophisticated and aware in relation to the technical quality of that content. Families had multiple televisions, often investing significant amounts in quickly-advancing audiovisual technologies and set-top boxes, ready to spend big bucks on household entertainment.
More than this, the industry was changing as a whole – both in relation to these market demands, but also changing regulatory frameworks. Over in the States, the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules meant that networks were able to expand their role in the production and ownership of programs, and this in turn meant that production companies began forming their own networks. This of course carried with it a boom in demand for state-of-the-art broadcast technologies.
The perfect time to branch out from a major player like Sony and fulfil a lifelong dream of owning a broadcast technology business, right?
Well, not quite.
Boom and… not quite bust
The problem with a boom is that a number of companies plough-in making their initial investments, and then… silence. Video Progetti managed to take up a meaningful position in the market, but with a smaller stake than they might have hoped. Broadcasters had made their major investments in 1993, and were happily working off this technology and reining in their investment budgets in subsequent years. Antonio Greco left for a little while to hone his skills as a technician with Quantel, and Video Progetti continued to generate an acceptable turnover in their role as a product distributor. With a particular focus in delivering innovation in the field of post-production, things could have continued happily in this manner, but then…
A major change in thinking
Carlo and Antonio were experts in their field, in recording and cameras and mixers respectively. They didn’t just know the technologies – they knew the broadcast industry, inside-out: the workflows, the business model, the points of competitive advantage. Merely making sales as a distributor was not harnessing half of what was truly Video Progetti’s USP – industry knowledge and the ability to truly understand the needs of clients.
And these needs were changing.
A major transition from hardware to software-based solutions was occurring, and clients were receiving less and less maintenance support from their manufacture providers.
So Video Progetti decided it was time to make a change; to harness their knowledge to provide something more holistic and meaningful – delivering full, turnkey solutions that embraced the cutting edge of technology, and the knowledge and foresight needed to grant networks meaningful competitive advantage.
During this time Video Progetti had also been joined by Stefano Naldoni, originally as consultant, and then later as co-owner – bringing also his wealth of engineering competence. Antonio had also rejoined the fold. Video Progetti were ready to make waves in the market not just as distributors, but full-blown systems integrators – bringing their immense background of expertise to the process of consultation, planning, installation, software training, cabling and more. Project management with exceptional customer service at the heart of it.
Fanning the Flame
Post-production still continued to matter heavily to Video Progetti. Frame-by-Frame, headquartered in Rome, were one such company; specializing in post-production that was initially delivered mainly to TV stations, but quickly branched out to commercials, web-based services, and eventually promotional shorts and film work.
Video Progetti had been working with them since their inception in 1990, and the team at VP – through strong understanding of client business needs – recognised the immense potential that Frame-by-Frame might gain from use of a FLAME system. Frame-by-Frame felt cautious, but the team at Video Progetti were convinced and ready to bet on this potential success; so they installed a system for them, with a requirement only to pay after a year’s use if Frame-by-Frame found it improved performance.
The bet paid off – and thirty years of mutually beneficial collaboration continued, with Video Progetti constantly ready to introduce Frame-by-Frame to progressive, industry-leading technologies that would allow them to maintain their competitive edge.
Extending away from post-production focused endeavours, the first major holistic project that Video Progetti turned their attention to was La7 – an at-the-time free-to-air television channel owned by Telecom Italia. La7 had for years operated as a generalist channel, but – thanks to the transition to digital terrestrial – eventually became part of the Pay TV realm, aided by the acquisition of broadcast rights for a number of key football teams.
This new expansion created the need for increased Playouts. La7’s initial investment had been with Sony, but a tender was issued for this extension, which Video Progetti promptly secured and then delivered upon, demonstrating their expertise and competence in the deployment of three channels within an incredibly short time.
But a further big change was coming: the move from Standard Definition to HD. La7 looked to Video Progetti to handle this challenging project – involving the deployment of a new and complete broadcast setup by utilizing the same studios for transmission whilst moving new production – with all equipment – to new locations. The whole process was achieved without causing any disruption to the daily broadcasting activities. It had to be a seamless transition. No easy task.
Video Progetti engaged in a full refurb of the production studios; new mixers, cameras and more. In terms of systems integration Video Progetti also installed a new playout system and router for file management and distribution – a product that is now recognised across the industry as the Grass Valley GV router.
Going the in the RAI(t) direction
With such a prestigious and successful installation in progress – substantially facilitated by Naldoni’s engineering know-how – Video Progetti could only grow from here. Small projects filled the gaps, but the next big landmark was with Rai Way, in 2000.
RAI originally constituted a single company engaged in both production and broadcasting, before subsequently deciding to divide the two activities, which resulted in the creation of Rai Way in 1999. The latter was set up to manage broadcasting transmitters and microwave links to connect production centers spread throughout Italy.
The essence of RAI’s problem was that it needed to route signals to and from its production centers. RAI’s five national production centers are located in different geographical areas (two main ones in Rome, then in Milan, Turin and Naples) as well as its 20 regional studios. All the studios were connected by radio transmitters which had been managed since 1999 by Rai Way together with all broadcast transmission systems in the area. Rai Way therefore needed to route all RAI audio and video signals to and from all production centers.
Through their clear understanding of both the business case and the engineering needs of the project, Video Progetti committed to providing a 188×188 analog Pal video router and a large 800×800 Madi router, an audio router that allowed to route and coordinate both the main stereo and audio service channels in an intuitive and reliable way without having to increase the size of the audio matrix and therefore preventing any bottlenecks that would have limited the possibilities of signal routing. Video Progetti were so confident of the fact that they were the right fit for the project that they even bought the system from Pro-Bel before having official confirmation of their tender success from RAI.
But he who dares wins, and the gamble from Video Progetti proved to be a success – one that would only spur on yet further achievements.
Italy might be the center of the known universe for a number of things; good food, romance, and gesticulating with your hands when you talk, for instance. But the broadcast industry extends much further, and it was time for Video Progetti to make this move.
Their first international project was for EBC, broadcaster of the Emirates, headquartered in Abu Dhabi. EBC had already made their equipment purchases from Pro-Bel in order to make their migration from analogue to digital, and Pro-Bel recommended Video Progetti to facilitate the installation. EBC also needed to interface their broadcast with two satellite channels (ETISALAT).
Video Progetti designed and connected the entire system; first by creating a rack of pre-cabled equipment in their offices in Rome to ensure full technical testing, before sending the entire pre-set system to Abu Dhabi. Undoubtedly the engineers at Video Progetti felt hard-done by to miss out on an extended holiday by the beach in Abu Dhabi, but this approach meant that Video Progetti could maximize their efficient deployment of human resources whilst still ensuring optimum reliability and testing quality. Just part of Video Progetti’s holistic approach to the business case of clients, and not merely their technical needs.
Evolution in Sports Production
The advantage of having a team that is built around engineers with true understanding of the industry is that Video Progetti don’t just deal in installing current technologies with proficiency and efficiency; they are able to look at the market and advise broadcasters not just about what they need now, but what they are going to need for the future.
This required an ability to fundamentally rethink how production equipment could be installed and executed. The Turin Winter Olympics solution focused on a satellite-based setup, which facilitated an ability for all broadcasters with Olympic Games rights to access the feed from the International Broadcast Centre based in Turin.
Following the successful implementation of the MCR deployed for the Rugby World Cup project (2007), SBP asked Video Progetti to replicate the same technology for the 9th FIFA World Cup, the world championship for men’s national association football teams that took place in South Africa in 2010.
Video Progetti used their creativity and technical know-how to create flight case-based solutions that incorporated all the functions needed for journalists to work remotely from the events location.
Video Progetti has already proved themselves ready to deploy their technical expertise in the transition from analogue to digital – but more revolutions were to come – most notably, a transition to IP, to non-linear broadcast, and the central importance of outside broadcast.
Indeed, Video Progetti’s expertise in developing OB solutions over the last five years mean that there are really too many significant projects to list here in this blog; though there are any number of case studies and previous blogs which can be perused to get a sense of their expertise, including NVP, L’Opera, Soul Movie, NEP Italy and the continuation of flight case solutions – particularly for RAI.
The essential core of Video Progetti’s continued success is maintaining a dual focus on the management of projects – staying abreast of technological innovation but also combining this with a fundamentally ‘human’ approach to the broadcast business. This means constantly developing relationships within the industry; providing ongoing support to existing business partnerships whilst always seeking to develop new ones – maintaining a 360 degree view of the industry that understands where it has been, where it is going, and how it impacts every stakeholder, both up and downstream. Looking for innovation not just in terms of technology, but also paradigm shifts in how business is done – which at the moment means increasing a focus on OPEX and alternative models of equipment acquisition, such as rental.
The team at Video Progetti can barely believe it’s been thirty years. Whilst the industry – and Video Progetti – have gone through a number of immense revolutions, many of the company veterans can still remember back to when IBC was still held in Montreux, and then later, Brighton. In many ways, it’s a case of everything’s changed, but everything’s stayed the same – ultimately, the real path to success is maintaining those connections in the industry, staying abreast of developments, keeping your eye to the ground, your nose on the scent, your eye on the prize. Innovation isn’t just a process, it’s a mindset, and it’s something that Video Progetti seeks to internalize throughout the company.
And now, the company will be moving on to the next generation of challenges. Video Progetti is still tackling new projects and embracing new solutions, and a new generation follows in the footsteps of its pioneers, with Carlo’s son Francesco joining the team, accompanied by a range of dynamic, up-and-coming staff additions. Francesco will be focused on opening new market areas and maintaining the market leading position of the company – all with the aim of extending Video Progetti’s reach for the next 30 years.
A final thank you
In this little retrospective, there are two emotions that the entire team feels at Video Progetti – pride and gratitude. Pride to have worked so hard and invested so much, and seen such great success as a result. Gratitude that this has been made possible not just by the hard work of those within the organization – but by everybody who Video Progetti have the pleasure of working with, from clients to business partners, from industry acquaintances to suppliers, manufacturers to distributors. It’s a cliché, but so much in business is made possible not through cutthroat capitalist competition, but by a genuine passion for what you do, and a willingness to engage in open communication and teamwork. These are the things that have helped Video Progetti to grow over the past thirty years, and they will be the key to further growth over the upcoming thirty.