Leaps and bounds: AE Live on the changing face of sports production

ITV Sport recently signed AE Live for a long term graphics deal on its horse racing coverage. Here, the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner gets the AE Live AR treatment

By David Gill, chief technology officer, AE Live

As has been discussed countless times over the last year and a half, remote production has moved on leaps and bounds during the global pandemic.

A movement that was happening anyway has had rocket boosters attached as the entire industry scrambles to adapt to new ways of working to reduce the number of “boots on the ground” and distribute workflows to remote workers.

No one-size-fits-all

It’s also been well discussed that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to these workflows. Every customer wants to do things in a multitude of ways as they struggle to balance their own particular blend of competing needs.

The technology has been around for some time to support remote production, but some key blockers have existed in having the right connectivity in place at the right price and the perceived potential drop in the production values due to the production team not being on-venue to absorb the atmosphere.

There is certainly a different feel to a production where the different parts of the production team are not on-venue or jet-setting around the globe.

Sitting in one of our Operator Pods in our Graphics Operations Centre (GOC) is not necessarily what our operators originally signed up for. For some, the outside broadcast life is a life-style choice. For others, though, the benefits of more regular hours, sleeping in your own bed every night and seeing friends who aren’t in the business starts to become more attractive.

The connectivity market also needed to reach a maturity and price point to enable a more wholesale shift to remote. Connectivity pricing has consistently dropped over time whilst the bandwidths available has also increased.

At the same time, the costs of people, travel, hotels etc just continue to rise. There is still some way to go and more locations need connecting but we may have hit that inflexion point that tips the commercial model in favour of remote.

A mixed picture

A great deal of sport production still requires thousands of tons of kit and many thousands of people to be flown or driven around the globe. The imperative to “Go Green” or be “Carbon Zero” should be paramount for all of us and some are committing significant time and money to their efforts, whilst others are somewhat further behind the curve.

The pandemic has moved technology and workflows on but adapting to this change can be an expensive one in the short-term as capital or infrastructure investments maybe required and changing work practices and staffing models can be challenging to implement.

This would be hard enough in normal times but the sporting calendar is constantly changing and evolving as federations look to reschedule postponed events, often at short notice, making any form of planning yet more complex.

For a global business, such as ourselves, the picture has been radically different across the regions. The UK sporting schedule has bounced back pretty well but it’s been a very different story in APAC, South Asia and Africa.

For many businesses working in live sport, these changes also come about following a significant period of no sport and therefore reduced or even no revenues and, as we can see, not everyone has or will make it.

Bright future

For those that do, the future is bright. Sport is normally a very robust sector and has proven to be pretty recession-proof in the past so a complete shutdown came as quite a shock. The value of sport to society has been clearly highlighted by the fact that most governments have made great efforts in prioritising bringing elite sport back as soon as possible.

Relationships are evolving too. A major sporting production has so many moving parts that it requires a lot of parties to come together and work collaboratively. Pre-remote, hand-off points between one party and the next were pretty straightforward, but the solutions to support remote workflows are more complex and require multiple hand-offs and touch-points between different parties. This fosters an even more collaborative and team-spirited approach which we all welcome. The concept of service level agreements, which have limited use anyway – if you’re reaching for the contract the relationship is not going very well – becomes much more difficult to write or enforce.

The industry has reacted in an incredible way with leaps in technology and working practices to adapt and overcome the obstacles presented over the last couple of years.

The changes are positive and make the industry much more fit for the future. Make no mistake, the genie is out of the bottle and there is no going back and I, for one, welcome it.


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