“Coordination is critical in the OU world,” says Samantha McCloskey, Vice President, Global Occasional Use, SES, speaking to SatellitePro ME about the record levels of occasional use capacity deployed during the US presidential elections.
“The record breaking amount of capacity of over 1,200 simultaneous MHz across 16 satellites sold during the US presidential elections 2012 was made possible by the enormous amount of planning – literally weeks – of our sales and operations teams”
Your company reported a sharp increase in occasional use during the US elections – was this unprecedented in terms of previous events of a similar nature?
Indeed. There was a record uptake of SES OU satellite capacity during the two-day US election period of November 6 and 7. SES customers which included the EBU, Telenor Satellite Broadcasting, Arqiva, Telemundo, Media Broadcast, NBC, CBS, CNN, PBS, Fox News, Encompass Digital Media, CNBC, MSNBC, Centrex and many others used SES satellites to cover the elections and to dispatch reports to TV stations around the world. In fact, in the US domestic arc, for Ku-band capacity alone, we used more than double the capacity in terms of MHz for the US presidential elections 2012 as compared to the 2010 mid-term elections.
The key drivers of this unprecedented use were:
Overwhelming demand for live elections’ coverage
The demand for Ku-band was extremely high because everyone both in and outside the States wanted to witness the elections live and watch the exciting events unfold before their eyes. During the elections, live on-site news gathering was taking place all over the United States with hundreds of SNG trucks spread across the country capturing live footage and leveraging SES’ global satellite network to distribute their content across the country and globe.
“One should never assume there is available capacity to broadcast the event. It is also equally important to build in redundancy and have a path B for any major event”
Weeks of planning
Typically for major events, customers, especially the major networks, need to book well in advance. In areas like the US where operators have an abundance of capacity this is a great benefit to the operator as well as to the network as it aids in planning operational resources required during the actual event. However, in areas where capacity is scarce, new capacity allocations need to be made as they become available. Sometimes this is at the 11th hour as an unexpected cancellation of a service occurs or a lease terminates and the carrier finally drops.
Consolidation of the former subsidiary companies, SES Astra and SES World Skies, has resulted in closer cooperation within the sales and operations groups of SES and an ability to better anticipate and provision assets for customers’ needs fleet wide. More importantly, the record breaking amount of capacity of over 1,200 simultaneous MHz across 16 satellites sold during the US Presidential Elections 2012 was made possible by the enormous amount of planning – literally weeks – of our sales and operations teams.
Flexibility to deploy
In addition to meticulous planning, a unified OU booking and sales process means we are able to deliver live feeds not only within the US but worldwide with one phone call or click of an online system. But sometimes, and notably, during the US presidential elections 2012, our customers’ needs greatly exceed our available resources. Whenever possible, we go the extra mile to satisfy these requirements.
For example, in November, a number of key network customers needed large blocks of additional capacity. We brought an inclined satellite (AMC-5) into service specifically for these customers for the elections. An inclined orbit satellite is always a bit of a challenge. However, we worked out detailed plans with the networks as to the loading and tracking of the satellite for short live shots and allowed our customers to gather the news they needed.
The year of 2012 has been a great year for the OU team. SES satellites delivered coverage of the Euro 2012 European football championship, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and used an unprecedented amount of occasional use capacity to broadcast the London Olympic Games.
What are the challenges that you typically face when clients approach you for occasional use?
In the world of OU, speed is key to our customers. For our existing customers reserving space is just an email, call, or an online click away. Likewise, we are equally swift at processing new customers’ requests.
Regarding challenges – that depends on the event and how much available capacity there is. For example, the US Presidential Election presented a unique set of challenges, primarily with the additional capacity we brought on line from the satellite access perspective. We have developed custom accessing tools ensuring short access times. In addition we also activated two additional satellite access centres for OU support (South Mountain teleport in California and Manassas teleport in Virginia, in addition to Woodbine Access centre in Maryland). Out of the 1000 access calls we received within 24 hours, only two required troubleshooting assistance.[boxposthighlight]
- Be clear on your requirements and always clarify the solution being offered if in doubt.
- Reserve capacity in the largest block needed. Also reserve it well in advance.
- For a major event like an election; use multiple and diverse paths.
- Build in test time and be sure to check all elements of the actual path prior to the event.
- Consider any regulatory and licence costs, restrictions or timescales that need to be adhered to.
- Ensure a proper vetted Link budget has been run against actual resources and settings to be used.
- Wait until the last minute to book capacity during key events.
- Underestimate requirements.
- Book all capacity on one satellite or fibre.
What are some of the good practices around the management of occasional use capacity?
As mentioned earlier, OU capacity management in the world of a satellite operator is only achieved with exceptional internal collaboration. We work closely with various departments ranging from regional full-time sales, engineering, asset management etc, to remain flexible in serving our OU customers’ needs. All departments, including management, make every effort to provision any non-committed capacity for these events. Our booking windows are extended where possible and capacity becoming available is quickly reused.
In addition, we also have an asset management and customer management system which allows us to manage our inventory of OU products from satellite transponders to teleport facilities. This allows us to maintain the flexibility we need to maximise our inventory to meet market demands.
In terms of coordination between earth stations, broadcasters and operators – what can typically go wrong?
Coordination as you have correctly spotted is critical in the OU world. There should always be clear communication between earth stations, broadcasters and operators. Which is why our motto is: Communicate! Be clear. Never Assume.
What is also important is that one should never assume there is available capacity to broadcast the event. It is equally important to build in redundancy and have a path B for any major event.
In addition to all the good practices – listed below – we are fortunate that we have seasoned professionals who know their customers and their resources inside and out and are able to think outside the box to deliver complex solutions and top level service at a moment’s notice.
- Partnership with customers is key. We know customers are under pressure just as much as we are so we work out in detail our access plans prior to the event. We communicate with our customers regularly as the event draws near to ensure successful coverage.
- Organise your internal resources ahead of time to meet the demands of increased simultaneous traffic.
- Over commit capacity.
- Assume a customer’s requirements are satisfied with the first inquiry: check back during the run up to the event that requirements have not changed.