Audio, remote operation and IP for 2020 score a hat trick

By Dave Letson, VP of sales, Calrec

2020 has been a very odd and challenging year around the world and, as I write this, there’s no clear end in sight. The biggest factor at play is that people have had to overcome a number of different challenges and find different ways of working because of COVID. They have had to find solutions that help them work remotely to keep content on-air and productions moving forward. But are these shifts permanent or temporary?

The remote production message we’ve been pushing successfully for several years hasn’t really changed. Remote production, REMI or at-home productions (take your pick), requires us to capture audio at the venue or the stadium and have commentators and reporters at the venue, requiring no latency IFB mixers.

Thinking long term

What we’re witnessing now is more and more people looking for long-term remote operation models. At the beginning of COVID it was all about survival, working remotely in a really minimal fashion simply to get something on-air and keep the momentum. Now, however, people are looking at it as a long-term strategy, so there’s lots of different models starting to pop up. For example, this could be a remote production centre connecting to different stadiums, or an intermediary truck on-site working with remote production centres. Either way, the ultimate goal is definitely to have fewer people at the location and to use technology far more efficiently.

This is a major paradigm shift because if you went to a Premier League football game in the UK even a year ago, there were still probably 60 people in and around the truck working on producing the event. Standard Premiership games typically have up to 24 cameras, so if we look at it from that perspective, it’s a lot of people. I think everybody who’s not essential will start to get pulled out of the truck, and to me that’s a paradigm shift. Or it may be that a smaller truck is on-site, with the technology in that truck or at the studio then accessed remotely by craft mixers and other operators.

Improving operational efficiency

This allows far greater efficiency in terms of staffing. Generally speaking, the current model is a truck that goes to one city for a game, and then two days later goes to another stadium for another game, and then two days after that it goes somewhere else. It will be the same crew that works on those different matches.

But if you use a remote production centre, one crew can remain central and handle games every day rather than moving around the country with the truck. That way you don’t need such a large crew, only some camera operators, audio assistants putting microphones up etc, and so it becomes a different, more efficient workflow.

This is also maximising your investment; rather than installing equipment in a truck that is used two or three days a week, you are now able to leverage that equipment for seven days. This is what the industry is telling us it wants to move to, and now technology and bandwidth allows this to be done.

We will see country-specific variations on this developing further over the next 12 months. For example, the UK has relatively low network latency as it’s a small country, but the US or Australia has much larger distances to cover and therefore more latency. What works in one country, may not work in another.

However, broadcasters and production companies implementing remote working practices with their operators have very much come to the fore during the pandemic, and this continues to evolve. What we’ve been seeing, and very much assisting with, is people moving to remote working in various ways. Remote working is where the operator is a significant distance from the console processing core, either using a virtual console or a physical surface. This allows the operator to sit at home and access a console core at a studio location or even in an OB truck.

We’ve seen our customers mixing main sporting events and news productions from their garages and living rooms, all being managed remotely using interfaces to products with customers thinking on their feet. We’ve been in a lot of dialogue with them, helping them understand and implement workflows. A lot of our key customers, particularly across the sports market, want to know how we can continue to move forward with sports during this pretty difficult time and how we can move more and more into remote, or at-home, production in its truest sense of the phrase.

A tale of two models

What we have started seeing recently is broadcasters looking at the two different remote production models; gathering signals and generating IFBs locally connected to a remote production centre which is in turn being remotely operated by a skilled freelancer working from home who can mix with their slippers on and doesn’t have to travel for a day to get there.

I think as an industry we still have a lot to solve. The move to SMPTE 2110 is a crucial point. Most of the technology we’ve been working on as an industry for the past few years has been focused on basically creating the equivalent of a BNC cable or an XLR cable, that is getting signals over a network. We’ve done that to a large extent and proved the base technology works. Where the industry needs to get to now is stream management and connectivity over greater distances.

Standardised approach

NMOS is the way forward for broadcasters in terms of a standardised stream and network management approach. It helps unify discovery and connection management on their IP network. This helps simplify the IP workflow for customers. It was never realistic for our customers to sit in front of web GUIs and manually create streams – it’s just not practical in a live broadcast environment. NMOS is major step forward to move into a unified format for control so we can truly work together. And I think as an industry we’re in the middle of that transition right now.

Combine this level of standardised control and the potential of IP over greater distances with the various ways a remote operator can work, and you soon realise that this remote working journey doesn’t end with a vaccine.

In fact, it’s not even the beginning! So far, we are just kicking the ball around in the pre-match warm up and we’re waiting for kick off by supporting these workflows across our product range so that customers can implement exactly the solution they need. We can all look at these scenarios as scary things or as opportunities. We look at them as opportunities for the whole industry to continue to create new, much more efficient, production models that are tailor-made.


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