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Have wheels, will travel.

Have Wheels, Will Travel

Jones Productions Working To Be The Leader In Remote Television Coverage In The Mid-South

It's midnight on a Tuesday last winter before the Arkansas vs. Birmingham game. Bob Derryberry, Jones Productions remote manager, arrives in Birmingham before his crew and stops at a local restaurant where all the television monitors are tuned to ESPN.

Derryberry watches a Midnight Madness basketball game in Moorehead, Ky., that his crew is shooting. When they're done, they'll drive more than 500 miles straight through to Alabama to set up for the Razorback game.

It's a typical day for the Jones Productions remote coverage team.

With a client list that ranges from local stations to ESPN and ABC-TV, Jones Productions mobile video remote crews shoot everything from Razorback football to major league baseball to World Championship Wrestling. And business is booming.

"There are months I turn down more mobile business than I bill commercial business," says Gary Jones, whose company began commercial production in Little Rock 10 years ago.

Jones had always wanted to get into the mobile remote coverage business, but the start-up cost of at least $2 million hindered him, and the lack of business -- KATV-TV, Channel 7, Little Rock, had pretty much cornered the market in Arkansas -- had kept Jones from attempting it.

"When the word came down that Allbritton [which owns KATV] was getting out of the business," says Jones, "I literally knocked over a chair getting to my cellular phone to call Bob and Dale."

KATV operated the remote business sideline to telecast sporting and special events like the Miss Arkansas Pageant. Dale Nicholson, president and general manager of KATV, decided to get out when the station lost its Razorback football contract to Learfield Communications in 1989.

"It didn't make any sense for us, and it was perfect for them," Nicholson says of the sale.

"I more than approached them," says Jones of his call to Derryberry and Nicholson. "I was begging, pleading -- anything."

In September 1989, Jones struck a deal with KATV Remote Manager Bob Derryberry and purchased the KATV equipment from Nicholson for a heavily discounted price. Jones won't disclose the exact amount he paid to KATV, but says he had to borrow about $200,000 to get the business off the ground.

An immediate addition of over $1 million worth of new equipment literally set Jones Productions on the road to a thriving business of remote coverage that now accounts for 40 percent of the company's close to $1.7 million in billings.

Today, business is so good Jones and Derryberry are making plans to purchase a second truck.

Keeping Up With The Joneses

Sports coverage, which accounts for 90 percent of the remote operation, is virtually recession-proof while commercial business has been slower lately due to the soft economy.

Even in the beginning, finding new jobs wasn't a problem "aside from the strategic area of opening my big mouth," says Jones. Initially, his company lost commercial production business because existing clients thought Jones Productions was shifting solely to the remote business. (The remote business now keeps a lower profile.)

Even with the low purchase price, it takes time to turn a profit, Jones says.

An investment into remote equipment can take up to five years to pay off. Jones figures he's got two years to go before he makes it into the black. Then, after about two years of a reasonable return on the investment, it'll be time to invest in new equipment again. While cameras run closer to a five-year schedule, the truck will probably last two cycles, or 10 years.

But Jones had an ulterior motive in purchasing his current truck: exploring the use of a mobile unit to do programming.

There are only about 20 other companies in five or six states that have remote trucks and post production facilities like Jones Productions. Jones says he operates with the Sam Walton mentality of "By God, let them come to me" -- meaning you can distribute just as well from Arkansas as anywhere.

"We had a lot of problems marketing the truck because of Arkansas' image, and poorly equipped trucks reinforced that," says Derryberry, "but now we've changed that."

The Bargain Basement Sale

Ken Koepka, a former remote supervisor at KATV and now VP in charge of broadcast operations at the station, says there were advantages to selling the equipment in-state. "We could have gotten a lot more money outside the state, but Gary agreed to provide the truck for [the remainder of] KATV's coverage of the Razorback games at a reduced fee."

Plus, Jones got more than just a deal on equipment -- he got Derryberry.

"If you don't have a core group of professionals it would be foolish to attempt" the remote business, Jones says. With three years of experience scheduling and marketing KATV's remote truck, Derryberry knows what he's doing.

Derryberry was also able to bring over clients -- not just accounts -- from KATV and do a greater volume of work for them because of the $1 million Jones sunk into new equipment for the truck. That included new cameras, video tape machines and an audio console.

Derryberry says there were too many fingers in the pie at KATV and remote coverage had to scramble for funds. KATV's remote truck only covered smaller regional events, but at Jones Productions, Derryberry says, "We took it and made it a serious competitor with all the other units around the country."

KATV, as well as competing TV stations, is now a client of Jones Productions, says Derryberry. And KATV is happier now, too. Nicholson says, "I can sit at home and enjoy the games like everybody else -- I don't have to sit home worrying."

Now the pressure is on Derryberry.

"The theory is that the truck shouldn't be here much," says Derryberry as he runs to his desk to take a quick call to finalize plans for a swimming and diving shoot in Austin, Texas, over the weekend.

Derryberry plans the schedule so that the truck isn't seen much. However, a large framed picture of the 32-foot truck hangs over a table in Derryberry's office. A wall unit showcases baseball caps and coffee mugs with the Jones Productions logo, and a stuffed basketball sits on the top shelf.

Constant calls concerning scheduling keep Derryberry hopping from a conference table to his desk. "Yes, we'll be there covering it as long as Iowa wins the game," Derryberry says over the phone.

Face Down With The Big O

Television isn't the glamorous business people think it is -- especially remote coverage, says Derryberry.

Jones Productions covered over 50 basketball games at Memphis State this year, and while the shoots became more routine and less pressured as the year went on, the days didn't become any less grueling.

For the most recent shoot, Derryberry started his day at 6:30 a.m. with a trip to the airport to pick up a freelancer. He then drove to Memphis, set up and checked equipment hours before the game, shot the game, took down the equipment, drove back to Little Rock and arrived home by 3 a.m.

"Every game is different as far as logistics and what's involved -- you never know what's going to happen," he says.

While television viewers usually don't see mistakes that are made -- which is the point, says Derryberry -- some foibles just can't be hidden on television.

Once during a Razorback game, a player from a visiting team landed on a cameraman after trying to save a pass, and the television audience got to see a great replay of the cameraman's hand trying to push the player away, then a shot of the stadium lights, and the lens finally bumping down to rest its focus on the shoes of the fallen cameraman.

Two plays later a cameran at the opposite end of the court was able to catch a shot of Razorback Oliver Miller sliding on his stomach face first into the lens.

These bloopers keep work lively and help crewmen's spirits, which is the most important aspect of the job, says Derryberry. "You can have the best equipment, but if you have a dirty truck and people with bad attitudes" you won't get business.

Two employees, an engineer and a driver/video operator always travel in the truck, but to keep costs down at least 50 percent of a crew on location will be freelancers.

Mike Clay is the EIC (Engineer In Charge) for Jones and takes care of all the remote equipment. While conducting a tour of the truck, Clay and Derryberry automatically pick up any articles around the truck that may not be in their proper spots.

The only items that seem slightly out of place are deliberately put in the truck -- the green Gumby mascot that sits next to the technical director, the press passes that hand on the wall, and the sign that hangs next to where the producer sits that says, "We don't believe in miracles -- we rely on them."

PHOTO : INTENSE FOCUS: Dale Carpenter, a videographer who often freelances when Jones Productions covers basketball games at Memphis State, focuses on the action with the high-tech equipment on which Gary Jones has placed his focus -- and $1 million dollars -- for remote coverage.

PHOTO : QUICK ACTION: Drag racing is only one of several sporting events covered across the country by the remote coverage crew at Jones Productions.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Jones Production specializing in remote television coverage
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Mar 11, 1991
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