We explore the pitfalls of illegal content solutions in the crew cabins in our interview with experienced AV/IT Engineer Scott Molloy

Despite the negative consequences that illegal content can have, one place in a superyacht that still regularly employs it is the crew cabins. Owners often don’t want to spend the same kind of money for crew entertainment as they do in the master and guest cabins. This might mean that the crew cabins do not have nice enough AV gear to truly benefit from higher-quality, richer content.  Entertainment is also very personal, and so tastes may vary greatly between owners and crew. This leads some AV integrators to search for a dual solution: a luxury system for the main cabins and an inexpensive (and illegal) one for the crew.

Although this option is seen as feasible, it’s far from ideal and could lead to high fines if the yacht were caught. So, what do crew identify as the main problems, and what would be a better solution? We speak to Just ETOs Founder Scott Molloy, who also has over 10 years’ experience as AV/IT Officer on large private yachts, to find out.

If content is what differentiates one entertainment system from another, why then the focus on “BYOC” (Bring Your Own Content) for many yachts?

I believe one reason is the increased availability of BYOC-focused consumer tech; most TVs, media players and AV receivers are now BYOC-enabled. Consumer tech is increasingly a manufacturer-driven market.  Some guests and crew also just want to do things the same way they do at home and hook up their own content directly to the technology available.

One other argument for BYOC could be that it helps make the impossible more achievable – that is, pleasing everybody’s content requirements. A BYOC system might be preferable onboard a yacht to provide different content viewing systems to the different audiences onboard. This could be due to cultural or religious differences. Content that is considered harmless to a person of one culture could be very offensive to another.    

There are lots of various kinds of content – TV shows, full-length movies, music videos, sports, family shows, YouTube and live events. Are yacht entertainment systems designed around the type of content?

Occasionally, yes. Although I’d say this is more down to owner’s interests and preferences. There are often rooms, zones or elements of a system design that are based on the owner’s interests. For example, a sports lounge with bar for a football fan or a high-end dedicated theatre for a movie buff. Or an audiophile owner may want high-end floor-standing speakers situated for an optimum listening position.

Dedicated spaces have fallen out of favour, however. Multi-use spaces have become more common.  Here, the optimal audio/video experience is often compromised by the design of the area. Interior designers have a lot of clout during the design and build of a yacht.  But AV is not their profession, and rarely their priority. Good specialist AV consultancy at the earliest stages can really help.

There is a vast range of content that interests people. But what’s better – to have a lot of content that is hard to sort through and frustrates everyone because they can’t find something they like? Or to have an entertainment system which has only the finest, high-quality content, so everyone has something that would interest them?

Surely in the luxury yachting sector the focus should be on quality and not quantity. A high-end bespoke system, beautifully integrated into a fine interior, should not be showing content of inferior quality. Larger TV sets on yachts also really exaggerate deficiencies in ripped content.

I also believe in investing in crew and their living conditions. Cuts here are often detrimental to the service the guests and owner receive, so it can be a false economy. Why shouldn’t the crew have access to the same high-end (and low maintenance) systems as the owners?

Crew are then also actively quality-controlling the system and content on a daily basis.

But in reality there may be several different means of a yacht, or user, getting content. So, if the viewer can’t find anything of interesting on the primary, and premium, VOD system onboard – then they may start to look at other options. “Whats on TV?”, “What can we stream?”, “Has anyone got a hard drive with them?!”, “What can we ask the crew to download?” and “Can we get a disc from ashore?” are all common questions.

One thing I can tell you about most yachts is that if an owner or guest wants something, no means of meeting that request is off limits.

On entertainment systems which have a network drive where people can import their personal “ripped” content – does this not cause a lot of clutter after the person who imported the same has left the yacht? Who is responsible for the clean-up?

Yes, and I believe this is a nightmare for the administrator. I think the biggest pitfall for a yacht is the amount of time its administrator will have to spend managing the content. I’ve been there, and maintaining quality wasn’t possible, despite my best efforts.  One Captain gave me a hard drive full of his movies which I had to place on the “crew system”. The quality was dreadful, and many titles were ripped to 650mb to fit old CD-R discs!

The time required to quality-control such content detracts from the administrator’s other responsibilities – such as looking after the owner’s systems! And even if the administrator is conscientious and finds the time to manage ripped content properly – will their rotational partner or successor? I believe having a common dumping ground for everyone’s ripped content onboard is unmanageable and impractical.  

Would a company that offered a content service with legitimate content for sale appeal to AV/IT Engineers like you?

Of course, but there are already many means of obtaining content legally.  However with streamed services the content quality is almost always compromised.

To strike the right balance between performance, reliability, costs and legality – I actually still recommend an onboard server as the primary source of content.  I doubt if the cost-effectiveness of bandwidth at sea will ever catch up with the file sizes of the latest high definition content.

As mentioned, it is difficult to satisfy everyone’s tastes.  However, I have seen that yacht guests are mostly interested in the latest titles.

I think a good yacht library hosts recent titles together with content specifically curated for the owner’s tastes. Concerts are popular too, as are the “classics.”  Those popular older titles many people will watch again and again.

Also consider, should it always be the crew’s responsibility to decide and provide content?

Typically, this role is carried out onboard and can also be time-consuming.  Perhaps busier yachts would benefit from companies such as AV integrators providing this role as a service?

This is all very well.  But how CAN a yacht maintain a library of original quality content, with the typical bandwidth constraints at sea?  Well, perhaps we should stop blaming the tools we have, and think about creating some new ones.  Wouldn’t a solution be possible where original quality content was delivered via another means?  That would be logistically and legally challenging.  But addressing challenges is what this industry does very well.

Thank you, Scott Molloy

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