IBC Conference: where next for live production?

Top live production executives shared their expectations for the market at the IBC Conference session ‘Live production: operational, technical and cost trends’.

The panel was keen to compare notes on where 3D figures in their current production setup. Timo Koch, Outside Broadcast MD, conceded that with current technology, live 3D production is still “very complicated.” He estimated his Belgian-based company has completed around one 3D production a month this year. “It’s a start, but this year I feel 3D has not really moved forward. The last few months have been rather quiet,” he added.

Darren Long, head of operations, Sky Sports, agreed that, for the moment, “3D is still a niche market, which makes it a tough sell, and we need to educate the public more about it. [3D] won’t catch on until it becomes a regular practice.” He estimated that Sky Sports is currently producing around three productions a week in the UK.

In terms of driving 3D uptake, Long was adamant that merely flooding European electrical stores with 3D TVs isn’t the way ahead. “3D needs to be driven by the public and by broadcasters, rather than by manufacturers putting [TVs] out there.”

However, not all the 3D jury is out: Sony Professional Europe’s Malcolm Robinson, head of live production, recalled Wimbledon 2011 as “a big 3D success.” That said, he did counsel against driving 3D technology purely for technology’s sake. “We need to deliver content to mobile devices, live,” he stated. “The excitement of the event itself, experienced live, is more important than fantastic picture quality.”

Sky Sports’ Long echoed this, stressing that live content “now needs to be sent out to users in multiple ways. We have to keep the consumer in mind and treat technology as an enabler, not just jump on a gimmick.”

Peter Angell, director of production and programming division, Host Broadcasting Services, concurred, adding that the key to successful live production is remembering the primacy of the content and the end user. “Content has to be delivered in a ‘consumer-ready’ way as quickly and flexibly as possible,” he stated, “and this needs to be a priority from the acquisition stage. We need to spend less money on reversioning content, and instead to try and do more for our money.”

Speaking of which, John Ive, consultant and technologist, IveTech, guided the panel towards matters financial by posing the question: can the market’s current business model continue to support increasing costs? “Producers and broadcasters must stay relevant by investing in HD, 3D 4k and surround sound technologies, but the capital needed is substantial,” he posited. “Is there still a return on investment?”

Duncan Humphreys, creative director, Can Communicate, was quick to point out that the high cost of live production is nothing new. “In the past, high-profile live events would be shot on film over multiple cameras at an astronomical cost,” he recalled. However, what live productions can deliver, and deliver in abundance, is numbers. Major live sports and entertainment events are beamed throughout Europe and beyond and for the moment, they remain a key audience driver. Events viewed on television often weave themselves into the very weft of our lives. After all, doesn’t everyone remember ‘where they were when they watched…’

Other links in the live production chain still need be perfected, with the prevailing ‘content silo’ approach needing to be addressed, according to Long. Admitting that Sky has always operated the silo approach, he predicts this working practice will be targeted for change. “We need to have brand consistency of content, so we can’t have different producers across everything, but we do need to address the costs and resources for addressing different platforms,” he added.

Koch pointed out that broadcasters need to be receptive to new live production working practices, and to support live production teams. “We’d like to try new ways of working, but often we are forced by broadcasters to do things in a more traditional way,” he pointed out. “We’ve been talking about tapeless workflows for a long time, managing all content digitally, but broadcasters tend to be cautious about using new technologies.”

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