As the long-time head of NEP Broadcasting, the country’s largest mobile production firm, Debra Honkus has led her engineering and production teams to play a key role in helping clients produce some of the world’s most popular sporting events on television in recent decades.
Over the years, those efforts have earned Honkus four Emmys. Most recently she garnered a 2011 Sports Emmy, the George Wensel Technical Achievement Award, for NEP’s 3D solution for CBS’ 3D coverage of U.S. Open tennis.
But for Honkus, technology leadership isn’t so much about the technology as finding the right solutions for her client’s needs. “I’m not an engineer,” she stresses. “But I know enough to push our engineers to work with the vendors to understand what our clients wanted and then to provide them with a customized solution for what they need. I think that has really defined us as a technology leader.”
Her operations experience in the sports business began with Total Communications Systems, where she was the general manager from 1979 to 1987, a post she retained after TCS merged with NEP. Since then, under a variety of titles, she has overseen the company’s dayto- day operations as it has grown into a mobile production powerhouse. In addition to CBS, NEP works with such clients as NBC—which will use trucks from the NEP Visions unit in London at the Summer Olympics—as well as ESPN, Fox, Turner and others.
As part of its focus on matching technologies to its customers’ needs, NEP began building many of its own trucks in the 1990s. “Some of the pre-made trucks we bought required a lot of rewiring and weren’t as efficient in meeting our customers’ needs,” she notes. “So we realized early on that it would be better for ourselves and our customers to build customized trucks.”
More recently NEP, which is majority-owned by private-equity firm American Securities, has set up its own fiber department, which has reduced repair and set-up times. It has also developed its “nsite” automatic system for monitoring and supporting broadcast facilities via the Web, which has improved the tech support it provides to teams in the field.
Meanwhile, NEP has significantly expanded its entertainment production, working with such shows as Conan, The Voice and American Idol.
In January NEP hired Kevin Rabbitt as its new CEO, and Honkus became chairman of the board. “Having Kevin on board as the new CEO has been great,” Honkus says. “It is allowing me to focus more on the fun things like working with the engineers and clients, which is something I’ve wanted to have more time for.”
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