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How Covid-19 pandemic is reshaping live sports production in Asia

By Shuan Lim

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire.
It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”
— Nelson Mandela,
the late President of South Africa

At a time when many around the world remain isolated because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the role of sports as a global unifier has arguably never been more important.

While live spectators will be substantially reduced during major upcoming events like the previously postponed Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Summer Olympics, millions around the world are expected to be glued to their screens, unified across boundaries by the collective bond of sports.

What has changed, however, is how sports is being organised, with remote production becoming the default as a growing number of production crew is kept away from sports venues due to the pandemic. 

Fintan McKiernan, CEO, South East Asia, Ideal Systems, pointed out, “Broadcasters and live sports organisations had to move fast and innovate to counter the effects of Covid-19 with remote production and distributed, socially distanced production teams. 

“With the relentless pressures from the pandemic, the typically slow decision processes involved in changing technology suddenly changed gears, and the innovation box was turned from a hamster wheel to high voltage.”

Describing how the pandemic has catalysed change in broadcast technology in general, and sports production specifically, McKiernan added, “The innovation levels have been breakneck and the speed of innovation has been dramatic, particularly in two areas – cloud and NDI (network device interface).”

Keys to maintaining quality of sports production 

As live sporting events continue to be broadcast from empty — or at least, partially empty — sporting arenas, production teams will continue to face challenges such as redesigning the viewing experience by adopting different camera angles, or working in a more ‘hub-and-spoke’ production model.

Before the full grandeur of live sporting events can be truly restored with the full return and participation of spectators, broadcasters will need to adapt to these changes, and innovation is likely to hold the key to success.

As a systems integrator and a technology company, Ideal Systems has been adopting a different approach to live sports production, unencumbered by legacy technology or thinking, according to McKiernan.

“Putting switching, graphics, scoreboards and replay into one box made total sense,” he said. “Less people could do more, we had cost savings and we had less kit to lug along to stadiums.

“Using remote control professional PTZ cameras meant more cost savings, less kit and less cameramen, needing less logistics.”

The cloud, as McKiernan pointed out, has also proved to be a key technology for Ideal Systems’ work in South-east Asia, where prior to Covid-19 produced about 300 football matches a year for Malaysia’s professional football league.

He elaborated, “As we were already using the cloud to backhaul our signal from the stadiums, by using the same technologies, we could choose to have our production on-site at the stadium or remotely.”

Ideal Systems’ vast experience in producing live football matches has also provided a timely testbed for technologies deployed during the production operations, from camera technology and bonding technology, to remote editing and cloud playout.

Today, the sports production division has evolved to become the R&D department for the rest of Ideal Systems and technologically driven by the cloud and NDI.

“Cloud and NDI have become the cornerstones of our systems design going forward, not just for sports production, but any production. For example, we are currently building three new NDI studios in Singapore and one in Malaysia that are NDI-based and cloud-enabled,” McKiernan concluded.


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