In this article for TVB Europe, Greg Burns looks at how remote production is helping broadcasters and content producers keep consumers entertained.
No industry has escaped the clutch of Covid-19 and sports broadcasting is no exception. The pandemic has provided the sector with a distinct opportunity to reflect and focus on its future and think creatively about how to revolutionise live production. If the events of 2020 have taught us anything it’s how crucial it is to maintain business agility and the importance of being flexible when dealing with challenging circumstances and unchartered territory.
One area we’ve witnessed a real change in is production of content from live sports. There has been a distinct acceleration in the number of sports agencies adopting Cloud technologies and IP-based infrastructures to avoid the complexities of traditional broadcasting. Normally, live production is a logistical triumph of in-person labour and a whole host of resources. This year we’ve discovered that if it’s not feasible for teams to physically work alongside one another, it opens the door to a whole array of new options – especially when live content is limited.
Adapting to new approaches
With IP-based and Cloud technologies, every step of the production workflow can be controlled and managed remotely – from capturing and producing live footage to media asset management, video playback and graphic insertion, without needing hardware, equipment, production teams or substantial down payments. Organisations can produce and deliver live content at scale through the internet, integrating natively with the Cloud-based systems that are suited for remote operations. This approach has many benefits including a quick set-up time and the ability to deliver to multiple locations while keeping overheads low.
In an increasingly competitive and crowded market, remote production is empowering broadcasters and rights holders to produce more content for more consumers, via more devices than was previously possible. Not to mention for those organisations who have the green agenda front of mind – dealing with remote production reduces the amount of travel needed contributing to lower carbon emission output. The advancements we’re seeing in this area is impressive – it’s enabling large production teams to operate and collaborate from wherever they want, delivering premium, engaging content to viewers in a seamless manner.
Disruption from the pandemic has gone on long enough to make this approach stick, so looking to next year and beyond we expect to see more new technologies in remote production using Cloud-based processing. Virtual and augmented reality and 4K/8K are among those which will transform live sports coverage. The last FIFA World Cup was broadcast in 4K but the next may make sports broadcasting history by moving to 8K – the Tokyo Olympics might get there first, assuming the promise that the Games will take place no matter what holds firm.
Prior to the pandemic it was expected that Tokyo 2020 would run the first 8K live content for the games, using drones and innovations like tracking cams that focus on a single competitor for OTT streaming. The move towards next-generation production is a clear signal that sports content delivery must continue to innovate to keep viewers watching, now that they have a range of channels and viewing alternatives to choose from.
Futureproofing for 2021
Despite this positive forecast the industry is still dealing with the immediate effects of Covid-19, and it will have to do so for another 12 months or so. Recent events have questioned norms and standards that have been adhered to for years. As live sports have returned in a Covid-friendly way and post-lockdown worlds emerge, one thing is sure – we’re not going back to pre-pandemic behaviour. Although there has been an acceleration in the adoption of remote and virtualised production, more work is required across the industry to ensure this new way of working is embraced and rolled out in the most cost-effective and time-efficient manner. Moving to more adaptable production models will not only make the sector more amenable to change but widen the talent pool for recruitment.
Reluctance to take up remote production more widely stems from several challenges and compromises that must be addressed. Maintaining synchronisation is one of them. Production staff have to ensure that all video, audio and other feeds are aligned and synched to avoid disruptions for the viewer, and this is where the technique is crucial. It must be strong enough to handle the inevitable challenges that crop up like signal failure, transmission links dropping off to hardware and equipment issues. If there is an issue, the correct measures need to be in place to restore the live stream quickly and efficiently.
Ultimately, ensuring the viewer experience is flawless is vital to remote production’s future. Minimising end-to-end latency in the production and distribution of live sports is a desire voiced by many. It is dependent upon the task at hand – it could be returning audio and visuals to the venue or camera control which all require different levels of latency. When working in the public Cloud or transporting contribution feeds over the internet there are trade-offs to consider between latency and stream protection, the age old compromise between speed and quality is incredibly relevant when working in the compressed domain of unmanaged networks. Added to this is the need for connectivity and extensive data bandwidth. Without all the cogs in the machine working together seamlessly, remote production is simply not achievable.
Remote production capabilities have become the sport broadcasting industry’s saving grace this year. They’ve given rights holders and fans the best of both worlds. Technological developments have helped service providers deliver new offerings with ease, providing a strong argument for this becoming the new normal. With tighter lockdown restrictions never far off the horizon, remote production doesn’t just give broadcasters and content producers the means to keep consumers entertained – it enables broadcasters to take sports production to a whole new level.
This article first appeared in TVB Europe, November 2020
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