Back to front: Globecast looks at how remote production success depends on backend connectivity
By Christine Nassif, marketing and business development manager, Globecast
2021 has seen the return of sporting events around the world, including the Summer Games. This has been very good to see for all involved, not least for our industry. What we’ve also seen is the continued growth in remote production with interest in it, and deployment of it, undoubtedly on the rise. Some productions are moving to completely remote while others use part-onsite and part-remote productions.
While there’s been a lot of talk about this over the past couple of years – and beyond – those discussions have almost always concentrated on the front end of producing event coverage rather than backend connectivity. But that backend connectivity is vital in making any production work, and work well.
What do we mean by that? We mean low latency, high capacity, extremely reliable connectivity from the site out to wherever the production is happening. In many ways, this seems to be taken for granted. But the rock-solid, low latency connectivity – which could involve satellite, fibre, public internet or the cloud, or any mix thereof – is what makes the whole thing possible. Without that, remote productions will fail.
We have been working closely across the industry to understand what organisations need and their remote production ambitions. Many companies haven’t wanted to be at the cutting edge in this regard, rather they want and need to understand what’s possible at what price points, taking into account the ever-growing demand for content from events. They want to understand where remote production adds real value and/or reduces costs in the ways that we know it can.
Alongside remote production, what’s also changed is the massive increase in the volume of content and the bandwidth required to move that content between locations. In the past 10Gbitps was sufficient but now we’re talking about 100Gbitps required to satisfy the largest productions, and this also has to be robust and secure. And, of course, low latency is vital for sports production but not only that, it’s vital for comms activity and audio traffic more generally. These are complex situations that require a premium level of expertise to be able to be handled.
This increase in content demand can also be satisfied very cost effectively by facilitating secure, cloud-based distribution of additional content. What does this allow? It means affiliates can air content specific to them without the additional cost of more fibre or satellite capacity. This requires tight integration direct from the venue site to affiliates, removing any connectivity hurdles and providing a complete end-to-end solution.
Another question in terms of remote production is how far a customer wants to push the automation of key technologies, for example camera control. If you’re shooting a squash match with two fixed cameras and don’t need to worry about camera position, rather than cutting between a large number of cameras at a high level football match or a golf tournament where the latency has to be super low and some cameras will be moving, then doing this very cost effectively remotely is relatively simple from a connectivity point of view.
As the onsite technology grows in complexity, so do the connectivity requirements. As a service supplier, we never want to be dictating to a producer or director, rather we want to work with them to supply exactly what they need. What are they trying to achieve? That’s the starting point. Then we have to look at what technical solutions are best suited for each customer and event. Again, we’re talking about understanding the backend connectivity that’s required and the orchestration of this. This may also involve partnerships with production companies, studios and so on.
We believe that we have reached a tipping point with remote production, something the whole sector recognises. This was, of course, happening in a piecemeal fashion before the pandemic, but COVID has changed production significantly. Because we’ve all had to limit the number of people onsite, this does change the economics quite dramatically.
Of course, some people always need to be at the event. As an example, some commentators are happy to work remotely while others want to be onsite; they want to see the fans and sense the atmosphere. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work here.
There will, of course, be a continuation of remote production as that ball has well and truly started rolling. But it will vary from event to event and customer to customer as to what elements are remote and what are onsite, and therefore what type and level of backend connectivity is required.
Another factor that we’ve seen grow over the past year or two is that some customers, particularly across the sports sector, really benefit from a very ‘high touch’ service. This improves quality of service, not only from a technical standpoint but also from a customer service perspective, ensuring they have complete access to all members of a team, from the account manager to the technical experts who manage, monitor and deliver the feeds through the MCR, all the way through to the finance and bookings departments. We greatly look forward to 2022.