Fortune favours the brave: Cloudbass on the thrill of onsite production and the future of the OB truck

Inside one of the Cloudbass OB trucks

By Steve Knee, Cloudbass managing director.

The truck is dead, long live the truck. The pandemic accelerated all things remote, and for good reason, however Cloudbass believes that the truck still has a way to go yet. With the removal of many historical objections to remote workflows from medical necessity, many of the basic engineering principles of full bandwidth processing have gone out of the window.

Some of the recent pictures from Qatar have highlighted just how good sport can look with a full bandwidth onsite workflow, with compression only at the final stage. As good as some codecs are, connectivity challenges will never allow an offsite full bandwidth technical workflow with the signal being squeezed at every turn. Furthermore, there has been a triumphant return for both presenters and technical crew to stadiums, with a real desire to be ‘at the event’ on behalf of both the editorial and technical teams.

Thrill of the onsite production

Remote production has its place and can rightly replace traditional workflows where work-life balance or long haul travel are a consideration, however there is no substitute for the thrill of the onsite production situated at the live event. With sustainability being the last justification for domestic remote production, new methods of travel, especially electric vehicles, will decriminalise attending the live event and will see traditional on-site production as the cheapest, most sustainable, most exciting, and technically superior way of covering live sport.

The excitement is key. With an ever-increasing talent vacuum in the industry, it is important, now more than ever, that we attract the very best talent to support the coverage that we all love to work on. The traditional lure of being ‘accredited’ to be behind the scenes at some of the UK’s biggest events is being eroded by new workflows and only by the return to being at the event, especially in the brave new world of social media, will exciting new talent be attracted into our wonderful world of outside broadcast.

It is also the development of this new talent that will set the providers apart. Recruiting new people, supporting them, training them and giving them a chance to excel with the full support of both production and technical teams, will be embedded in the most successful providers of the future. ‘Training and education’ has long been seen as the preserve of third party providers, in particular academic institutions, with the industry expecting people to come out fully formed. This has clearly not been the reality and Cloudbass has been providing some of the best people for nearly a quarter of a century. Links with academia are important, but so is bringing some of that educational expertise inhouse to ensure that people are put on a supportive pathway to achieve their full potential.

Consolidation in the ‘new normal’

2022 saw a record year for many of the UK OB providers due to various factors, including the recovery from the pandemic, a tournament year, a major provider exiting the market as well as, dare we say it, Brexit. 2023 will in turn see a consolidation, with a ‘new normal’ settling in for most of the market. With the majority of providers running at or beyond one capacity or another, it will be those providers that deploy new systems to cope with the new workload that will truly benefit from this new landscape.

Multi-camera live coverage will only grow as the desire to cover more and more events increases. Some of this work will be low-cost solutions to allow distribution to over the top (OTT) platforms such as YouTube, as the advertiser revenue can now justify content production, both on screen and around it, but there will also be an increase in high end production.

With latest figures showing that the large screen is still the dominant format of consumption and the production values of high-end dramas on the streaming services, Netflix et. al., driving the desire for top end production values in the form of UHD and HDR, the need for top quality coverage is only increasing.

Lastly, the industry has to navigate its way through a high inflation environment. With inflation forecast to stay high until the end of 2023, the broadcasters, production and facilities companies all need to ensure that we have robust conversations around the true cost of covering live events, otherwise all the work we do in attracting the very best new talent to a life on the road will be wasted as they all decide to take jobs at their nearest Amazon warehouse.

2023 is potentially one of the most exciting years there has been in my time in television, yet it contains opportunities and challenges in equal measure.

Fortune favours the brave!


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