Live sport may have come to a halt earlier this year, but the work behind the scenes certainly didn’t. Graphics and data expert Andrew O’Neil talks about the inside scoop on the challenges and opportunities that presented themselves when the world was forced to switch to remote broadcast production almost overnight.
Let’s face it. This year, it’s all too easy to focus on the ample challenges that have affected so many of us. However, in the sporting world, the rapid shift to remote broadcast production has undeniably led to some huge strides being taken within the industry. “The innovation that we’ve seen over the past six months has been outstanding,” says Andrew O’Neil, Business Development Director | Sport Experiences, who joined us as a Graphics Operator in 2007.
With this in mind, we asked him all the important questions about the changing landscape of remote production, and, importantly, whether things will ever be the same again.
How does remote production today differ to pre-Covid production?
It’s been de-centralized. Directors, producers, and operators are working from their offices or homes with innovative fly away kits (tech that provides immediate communication capability in remote locations) and common consumer technology when they would have previously been co-located at a specialized facility, whether a production studio or an outside broadcast facility.
It was an abrupt change as there are only so many people that can be in an OB truck or a production facility at the moment, but the workflow and use case for remote production is something that a lot of entities have been looking at for some time now and some of our clients already adopt it
Has anything stayed the same?
It’s been a really interesting period to be a part of as there’s been a lot of change, but ultimately thanks to a combination of existing technologies and the industry's ability to innovate quickly the work by directors, editors, and graphics operators can still be executed in a way that is familiar and ensures that quality is not compromised.
From our perspective, we were already investing, developing and delivering IP workflows, providing cloud-based solutions and focusing on distributed work patterns. We've been operating our graphics and data platform, MAGMA, in the cloud for a number of years, including all the data aggregation, so whilst no one could be prepared for the full effect of Covid, we found we had the tools to adapt to the new way of working.
“You can sit in your home operating an entire live production which is something that would never have been entertained 12 months ago."
Andrew O'Neil - Business Development Director | Sport Experiences
What benefits can remote production bring?
Also, in a time where there is a real focus on climate change, we shouldn’t ignore the positive impact remote production can have on a project’s carbon footprint. This can benefit all projects, from small tournaments to large events and for me is a major driving force to adopting remote workflows.
Some organizations are facing a capacity issue in that they don’t have enough physical space for more racks and production equipment. Because of that, a model where the solution, including GPU and data management, can be virtualized, allowing a content producer to scale up and down as they want is quite enticing as they don’t have to worry about having the infrastructure on premises.
Some production processes can be managed more efficiently back at base where protocols and systems are already in place. Ultimately, this can have a positive impact on the quality of the content.
And the challenges?
1️. New rules
From an operations perspective, it was adapting to new rules and regulations in place due to Covid, i.e. keeping staff safe during social distancing and adopting the new workflows whilst ensuring the same quality of delivery.
However, the biggest challenge with remote production is connectivity and working with the resulting latency because you’ve still got to get the signals back from venue to a central facility. Then you still have to distribute them to people who are working decentralized.
When it comes to cloud-based graphics production, there have been vast strides in operating over domestic internet. You can sit in your home operating an entire live production which is something that would never have been entertained 12 months ago.
What innovations have we been working on?
We’ve been working on our software solution to ensure production can see in real-time what’s happening, regardless of where they are in the world. For example, we have added to our Magma software a low latency transport stream (such as SRT) displaying what the Graphics Operator is about to show. It’s very helpful as previously there wasn’t a way for a remote Director to see what was going on before it appeared live. Essentially, we are working towards giving production everything they would normally see and expect to give them that peace of mind.
“I don't see these remote production workflows going away. Covid has forced the hand of many in the industry to adopt remote workflows and the innovation we’re seeing because of it is incredible." Andrew O'Neil - Business Development Director | Sport Experiences
How can we help our clients during this period?
For more than 30 years, Deltatre has been at the cutting edge of technology and we aren’t stopping now! Pre-Covid we operated within multiple remote production projects so we have the experience and know-how to help any clients who suddenly need to change how they produce their content – and in the current climate those changes can happen very quickly.
We also operate five operations centres globally (Turin, London, Singapore, Mumbai, and LA), and therefore we are very well-positioned to support organizations in their productions from anywhere in the world.
What does remote production mean for an organization that is concerned about budget or doesn’t currently have the infrastructure in place?
Remote production will mean something different to many during these times and the solution will best suit the organizations and their budgets. Connectivity, bandwidth and hosting costs will be the main barrier for organizations looking to adopt a remote workflow. However, these connectivity costs will no doubt start to come down in the future as more organizations start to use them and then I expect we’ll start to see centralized facilities popping up for clients of all sizes and budgets. The introduction of 5G will no doubt make remote production more accessible as well. Also, the fact that there will be no (or limited) travel and accommodation expenses will help to keep costs down too.
How will remote production impact the sport viewing experience?
I don't think the way the content is produced will affect the consumer base. The main for all of us is to ensure that the quality of production remains the same for the viewer. Every sport has core fans that will watch it regardless of where it is or how it is produced, whether it's on the free-to-air, behind a paywall, or on OTT platforms, etc.
However, thinking about smaller organizations, change may come from the fact that as they’re saving on production, they may be able to shift the costs into marketing and advertising so they can really promote their brand and events and grow their viewership.
How will remote production continue to evolve?
I don't see these remote production workflows going away. Covid has forced the hand of many in the industry to adopt remote workflows and the innovation we’re seeing because of it is incredible. Organizations that were previously on the fence about remote workflows, or were just thinking about it for a few years, have been forced to adopt a remote production workflow to survive, and I expect to see some very smart solutions appearing in the next 12 months to meet that demand.
I don’t see a wholesale return to previous ways. Remote production will continue to be a stronger option for many, especially going into 2021 as the industry continues to adapt to the Covid environment.
picture source: Deltare
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