A Behind The Scenes Look From UTMG Founder Jordan Velarde

Uncle Toads Media Group is a live broadcasting production company that has produced big time events like the Vans Triple Crown, Volcom Pipe Pro, and Volcom Fiji Pro. With clients ranging from Delta Airlines, Coca Cola, Shell, and McDonalds to Roxy, Billabong, Nike, and Red Bull, the company offers a a wide spectrum of services both within and outside the action sports universe.

We recently learned that at the ASP Volcom Fiji Pro contest, Uncle Toad’s satellite production crew lugs five tons of gear—including eight cameras and wireless video links, six editing stations, and 131 cases of equipment—two miles out to sea to a production tower in order to create the live broadcast of the competition.

Intrigued by such a feat,  and with the contest right around the corner,—slated for June 2-14 in Tavarua— TransWorld Business caught up with UTMG Founder Jordan Velarde to learn more about what goes into putting on a production of such enormous magnitude, how he’s seen the media landscape change over the past six years, and strategies for building authentic events for both the actions sports industry and the non-endemic market.

Uncle Toad Media Group
Uncle Toad Media Group
Uncle Toad Media Group
Uncle Toad Media Group
Uncle Toad Media Group

How did Uncle Toad Media get started?

UTMG was the result of a confluence of ideally timed events. In 2008, I was at Wasserman Media Group as the Director of Productions for their Sportnet division. At that time we were covering sports of all genres ranging from action sports (skate, surf, snowboarding) to Olympic sports. When Sportnet closed its doors, the events were left without a webcast producer. Since we had had such success with the events in the past, I was asked to continue producing these projects. Back then, it was just myself and a few key people, but now UTMG is an all-inclusive, multi-faceted media company based out of Venice, California.

Where did the name Uncle Toads come from?
Uncle Toads is a family name.

What are the founders' background, specifically in action sports?

I'd say the most impressive fact about our company is that the majority of our team members are highly skilled athletes or extremely passionate about the sports we cover. We've even had crew members who have competed as athletes in those same events that we are broadcasting. I think that's definitely one of the factors that gives us an inside 'edge' in the industry we work in. Action Sports is so unique and non-traditional in it's approach and in its fan base, that it "takes one to know one," so to speak. Our team members are not only experienced camera people and seasoned broadcast professionals, we are fans of the sport and enthusiastic participants.

How many people total do you have on your staff?

Depending on the project, it ranges from 10-90 people.

What sort of services does Uncle Toad offer besides event production?

UTMG also offers Live Event Television Broadcast and Webcast services, Network Television long format programs & Online Content, Media Distribution, Online Interactive Services, as well as Website and Graphic Development. 

What were some of the first projects you worked on?

A few of our other early ventures in action sports were the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, Tahoe Cup snowboarding competition, and the Protec Pool Party skate event.

How have you built up your portfolio to include heavy-hitting brands and events?

I think the success of our company starts with our team's passion and love for the sports we cover. It's led us to a path where the product we deliver is solid. By continuing to deliver successful projects, we've been able to connect with like-minded clients. Luckily for us, the brands we work with are also incredibly energetic and passionate people. We end up becoming an extension of their department, we form close relationships, and we pride ourselves on being able to execute the client's vision. It ends up as a complete collaboration and the result is bringing the vision of the brand to the screen.

What’s been the most fun event you’ve worked on?

It's hard to say which was the most fun event to work on because every event we do is pretty much a blast in one aspect or another. We are lucky to be involved in the events that we do because the venues, the people, and the sports themselves are exciting. We just wrapped the 2013 Vans Pool Party a few weeks back. It was a whirlwind 48 hours. We set up in 14 hours, cranked out an insane 7-hour broadcast of a crazy event (the energy in that space is indescribable – when all those skaters are ripping and the fans are going nuts) and then broke it all down and our last crew member walked out the door at midnight. Just as fast as it started, it was over.

Which event was the biggest challenge?

There are 2 events that come to mind when the word "challenge" gets mentioned. The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing (an event we've been broadcasting for the last six years) is a challenge because it is a six week long intensive event with three locations. The biggest challenge that we put upon ourselves (and is expected from the client) is to raise the bar every year. However, organizationally and technically speaking, the Volcom Fiji Pro is bar-none the most challenging event we face due to the sheer logistics of making it actually work.

What does the production process for the Volcom Fiji Pro look like? How difficult is it to tackle filming an event that’s 2 miles out to sea? How many staff members does it take to pull this all together?

To successfully put together the Volcom Fiji Pro, production takes a lot of thoughtful planning and heavy consideration above anything else. Because it's such a unique venue, it takes a lot of creative thinking and innovation to properly execute it all, but in order to be successful, foresight is key. It starts with working with some of the most talented broadcast engineers, who design a broadcast system that can send HD quality video from 6 cameras wirelessly back two miles to a control room on a remote island. We have a highly specialized and, more importantly, dedicated 30 person crew who fly in from all corners of the globe. We bring in over 180 cases of gear, weighing over 5 tons. It takes a week in blazing hot and humid conditions over an expanse of ocean to set up HD wireless video links, 8 camera posts, 6 editing stations, and an entire broadcast hub in order to make it happen. The team truly risks life and limbs.

How has the media landscape in action sports evolved since you started?

Since we began broadcasting in 2007, action sports has evolved into a completely different animal. Back then, we were webcasting and today we are broadcasting, and I attribute that to the incredible advancements in technology we've witnessed since then. What's most significant, though, is the cost ratio. The amount of bandwidth it takes to be able to stream to and from remote locations is now attainable only because it's affordable. Also, the advancement of internet and mobile devices has changed the game completely. To be able to receive internet at high quality HD was unimaginable not too long ago. The individual commitment of people who have been a part of these industries is continuing to help grow the sports and the innovative technology that brings it to the masses. Finally, the overwhelming involvement of the brands is really who we have to thank for all these amazing broadcasts. They are the ones who put the money forward and have been brave enough to invest into upping the ante on these types of broadcasts.

What are some of the ways the company has adapted to a changing media landscape?

Continuing to educate ourselves on advancing technologies is on the top of our list. UTMG is a cutting edge media group. We are a team comprised of highly skilled specialists who keep up with the latest and greatest and stay informed and trained on how it all can boost our game. Not to mention, we are continuously bringing in new members and consultants who are savvy to the newest technology, helping us stay at the forefront of live production for action sports.

Your clients range from Volcom, Billabong and Vans, to Shell, MTV and McDonalds – how do you cater to such divers markets and audiences and still be authentic to each?

We genuinely consider ourselves a partner to each brand we work with. We appreciate that each company carries it's own unique vision. So, we roll up our sleeves and get right down to business in getting them what they want. We pay attention to every detail for them so they can focus on what they need to get done. Although it takes tons of effort to maintain this strategy, it's always rewarding in the end. It keeps it fresh and fun for us. Because every project is so different, it really challenges us to think of new and better ways to achieve everyone's goals. 

What sort of opportunities do you see that exist within the media landscape of the action sports market? What are the biggest challenges this market faces moving into the future?

The biggest challenge and the greatest opportunity are one in the same to us. It's the ability to connect to so many people through all forms of media, whether it's via the internet, on a hand held device, or through the traditional television broadcast. Our creed is to deliver content to the masses with style, savvy, and state of the art technology. We are tirelessly brainstorming new and innovative ways to excite, educate and entertain with the end goal of tying the audience to the product.