Genie out of the box: Newtek asks where remote production is going in 2022

Mini’s at The Classic, 2021, Silverstone – Whoosh!

By Liam Hayter, senior solutions architect, NewTek

2021 has been a sporting year like no other. An incredible number of sports productions have gone ahead despite COVID constraints, and have been broadcast in high quality. This feat is a testament to the ingenuity of all the companies that work in the industry. From tech vendors to personnel in the stadiums to teams back at the production hubs, it’s been extraordinary to watch the industry come together to solve the challenges in front of it.

As a result, we have seen some fundamental shifts in the sports broadcast market. While these shifts accelerated because of the pandemic, innovations like remote workflows, the move to IP, the rise of virtualised solutions, and hybrid distributed production are here to stay.

The key to their current success is that the building blocks were already in place before the pandemic hit. Broadcasters and production companies have been experimenting with remote production for over five years now. The move to IP was already underway, and cloud, and now distributed workflows, are becoming established in other sectors of the broadcast industry, especially around editing and MAM.

Innovation acceleration

Effectively, COVID-19 forced the industry to forgo any careful, staged roll out of these technologies. Instead they had to be executed right away, with the need for simply staying on air steamrolling any potential internal objections to such dramatic changes.

It is difficult to estimate the exact impact the pandemic has had as a result. However, you can make a case for COVID expediting deployments of remote production, for instance, by anything up to four years, even at Tier 1 level.

Flexibility and agility have become integral differentiators for companies navigating the shifting sands of this storm. But none of this would have been possible if there were no innovative ideas in the first place. The urgent need to reduce the carbon footprint of live sports production by moving less equipment and people around has coupled with the realisation that remote can also be done more cost-effectively and even faster than traditional broadcast.

Remote production costs less, is more sustainable, and offers unparalleled operational flexibility. In fact, one of the consistent things that we have seen across the broadcast market is that the quality of experience for the viewer improves. Companies can either centralise resources in production hubs and use them more often, or take the savings and increase coverage quality, for instance with UHD over HD.

And now the genie is very much out of the box, there is little to no interest in going back. So, where does it go from here? While COVID is hardly in the rear-view mirror yet, remote sports production has rapidly become the de facto norm. Without the pressure of dealing with the pandemic, the question becomes: how does remote production keep on developing so the companies involved achieve increased return on investment and deploy even more efficient technologies?

IP and global data connectivity

One option is by making full use of the advantages of the latest generations of IP equipment. Remote workflows depend on IP connectivity, and it increasingly makes little sense to have baseband SDI elements in the production chain, but those investments have been made.

With tailored, hybridised systems these technologies can be easily integrated into an IP-centric, remote workflow enabling users to transition between the environments smoothly.

It is all about collaborating ever more efficiently in digital spaces rather than rigid workflows that have been ported over from legacy equipment and never optimised for remote (and now distributed,) working. But these workflows can be rolled into remote infrastructure, leaving no element behind as we embrace today’s remote reality.

Another crucial factor in the continuing development of remotely distributed workflows is cloud services as a component, but most critically, it’s about data connectivity. There will always be some outside broadcast equipment that will have to remain as a physical presence at a venue, with cameras and lenses very much heading the list. But more of the workflow processes making up the live production chain can now remain back at base and linked peer-to-peer in near real-time, including virtualised datacentre housed cloud components where the workflow warrants the complexity.

For example, editing is already in the cloud. The latest advancements for editing also exist on-premises yet can be remotely accessed, so either deployment can lean on cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) for simple tagging and clip generation processes.

So much more can already be achieved through virtualised, hybrid, and remote environments, from vision mixing to graphics to automation and control, and even instant replay; the entire video production chain can deliver content this way. Tier 1 broadcasters and league and non-league sports clubs alike are adopting remote distributed production chains.

Maximise production efforts

Some may still argue that the quality is not yet “full broadcast”, but we must recognise that IP-centric sports production only began pivoting to remote a few years ago. Now, the tools at our disposal are rapidly maturing to meet and ultimately exceed the pre-pandemic standard.

The industry needs next to analyse the operational and environmental costs of these workflows. But currently, this shift shows real promise in reducing the carbon impact compared to moving whole broadcast facilities en masse.

Productions that maximise their use of advanced software-defined tools, cloud, and modern networking connectivity will gain an advantage over their rivals with agile deployments. Not only will broadcasters have a competitive edge, but they will futureproof workflows and be able to navigate whatever challenges arise in the future. However, to fully benefit from these advances moves should be made now to avoid falling behind. We’ve seen the reaction to keep content live throughout the pandemic. If the incentive is strong enough, progress can be surprisingly swift; it just needs to be a priority.

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