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Remote production: The shows must go on

When COVID-19 first hit, content producers the world over halted production operations, relying on existing content libraries instead. As the pandemic wore on, they suffered what Accenture called “a major dent in the supply of new programming”, and Cap Gemini termed a “content supply shortage”.

“Those who are in live content production and distribution will need to enable field workers by providing automation, remote working and training solutions without compromising on security and compliance guidelines,” stated the authors of a June 2020 Mindtree white paper about the new normal in the media & entertainment industry.

Cap Gemini’s COVID analysis, also dated June 2020, suggests building safe production sets using digital technologies like smart detection and managed access.

Remote production appears to be the solution, but is it viable? Three companies spoke to APB+ about what’s really happening with remote production today. Here’s what we learned about remote production capabilities, where few people are on-location or working together in studios:

Not new to broadcasting

Remote production, especially for live events, had been ramping up pre-pandemic, and continues to be popular today.

Grass Valley’s Vice President Sales, APAC Greg de Bressac noted that broadcasters and production companies had already been facing demand to create greater volumes of quality content more efficiently, with static or shrinking budgets.

“This was a real driver for them to examine and adapt their business models,” he said.

“So while remote production was already gaining ground before 2020, COVID-19 only accelerated this trend as our customers were forced to navigate through social distancing measures and prioritise staff safety; remote models have really come into their own.”

Susanna Mandel-Mantello, VP & Head of Sales, Sports & Events, SES Video said, “While remote production methods have been around for some time, the lockdowns and travel restrictions worldwide have exacerbated the adoption of remote, cloud-based services and operational models among broadcasters and content providers in a bid to enhance business continuity and resilience.”

Kevin Mockford, MediaKind’s Director, Contribution Processing & Product Management, shared that MediaKind had supported NASCAR Productions and PSSI Global as far back as 2018 for the Rolex 24 in Daytona, Florida. This was the largest remote production of the time, he explained.

“Through the deployment of MediaKind’s compression technology, which included AVP2000 Contribution Encoders and RX 8200 Professional IRDs, PSSI Global Services and NASCAR Productions were able to simplify the overall live event production workflow and leverage the use of advanced, complex equipment from a permanent external facility,” he said.

“The project was such a success, NASCAR Productions and PSSI Global won a Technology & Engineering Emmy for their work!”

A new ball game

Remote production shines for sports and live-event coverage.

Today, remote production is frequently used for live coverage of sporting events, Mockford said.

“It has also been invaluable for the live broadcast of eSports events due to the high-bandwidth network infrastructures in-place at eSports venues and the need to deliver numerous live feeds of gameplay at once to remote production facilities,” he added.

There has been a spike in remote production among leading sports broadcasters such as Star Sports, said de Bressac.

“Before the pandemic, some of our major customers around the globe – such as Star Sports in India, some of our broadcast networks in Australia and SVT in Sweden – had already realised the benefits of remote workflows and successfully transitioned their live sports and/or news productions to more centralised models,” he said.

“With long haul travel more limited (and) as the Summer Games in Tokyo approach, we expect many of the major broadcasters to put remote production workflows in place, leveraging the ability to support a large-scale production with fewer production staff on location.”

Solutions for new situations

Mandel-Mantello said that remote production has ramped up slowly after the first COVID-19 lockdown in the first half of 2020.

“While broadcasters, content owners, sports organisations, and media companies are looking for ways to increase efficiencies and speed up the distribution of live broadcast and sports through various channels, production crews continue to face difficulty in getting to venues due to travel restrictions,” she said.

“In view of this, our product team was able to adapt our existing offering and come up with a new solution. The SES IP switch is a hybrid cloud-based and on-prem service platform for the delivery of broadcast picture-quality video streams for broadcast contribution, production, and distribution.

“This enables customers to obtain content feeds from sports events even if their production crews cannot travel.”

Mandel-Mantello shared that SES has already helped several Asian broadcasters produce a live broadcast of a US golf tournament remotely with the new SES IP switch solution.

“We enabled the transmission of numerous live video streams from cameras set up across the golf course to multiple recipients globally in a low-latency, secure, reliable and cost-effective manner,” she said.

Grass Valley has also launched new solutions for remote production. “Innovations like our latest all-IP LDX 100 camera platform, which connects directly to a network without the need for a separate base station, make it possible to send just camera operators on site,” de Bressac said.

“This type of working is attractive to broadcasters and content creators worldwide as it frees up staff to focus on other, more creative tasks.”

Remote production is here to stay

“We expect to see sustained demand for remote production solutions in the months ahead, and believe the flexibility, agility, scalability and cost-effectiveness offered by these cloud-based production methods will make it a major trend moving forward in the broadcast industry,” Mandel-Mantello concluded.

“While we expect to see more productions return to ‘normal’ as markets increasingly turn the corner on controlling the epidemic, many of these new technology adoptions will continue to be a permanent part of the production process.”

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