Looking at production for a new media age
By Marco Lopez, general manager of live production, Grass Valley
Broadcasters, production companies and content producers around the globe are seeing the complexities in production and distribution soaring, increasing costs with lower revenue per asset. In parallel, the TV production world has struggled to keep pace with the dual drivers of technological advancement and evolving consumer viewing behaviour.
The industry has now reached a point where bolder innovations are necessary to keep up with the growing number of platforms, devices, markets, audiences and versions of content. We live in the age of media choice and it is making the complexity of producing programmes of all types — especially live TV — more challenging than ever. Reaching new levels of efficiency – and flexibility – is rapidly becoming the name of the game today.
The search for scale and flexibility
It’s no longer enough to only increase the volume of content being produced. To remain future-ready, production must now scale vertically and horizontally across formats, versions, device types and platforms to meet an increasingly diverse audience footprint.
The shift towards the widespread adoption of standards-based IP as a more flexible and scalable replacement for SDI, alongside the greater use of software rather than dedicated hardware to reduce cost and enable more automation, is the first step in addressing this challenge. Additionally, the need for flexibility and scalability – so sharply underlined by the global pandemic – has also accelerated the trend towards cloud-based infrastructures that support the creation of dynamic content across multiple platforms. Many of our customers aim to address the fundamental Yield Per Asset issue by creating more content, more cost-effectively and to deliver it with greater flexibility to a growing number of distribution platforms.
Content production at its most basic equates to: we capture it, we create it, we deliver it. Finding ways to carry out these tasks with greater efficiency and, potentially, for less capex and/or opex, requires shifting the technology stack towards a more software-centric position.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach
Achieving greater efficiency doesn’t just come from transitioning to a software-centric future; it requires a simultaneous change in approach. As our customers – whether they are traditional broadcasters or esports companies – strive to meet consumer demands for greater immediacy, choice and quality, there is a drive to do more with less. IP and cloud-based models undeniably form a large part of the solution, but the shape that solution takes can vary significantly.
Those outside the world of TV may assume a uniform picture between media companies, but when you look deeper, it becomes abundantly clear that almost every organisation is moving along a unique trajectory. When we talk to our customers and partners, they convey that they are at different points in their journey governed by several factors, including:
- When was the last refresh done and how much useful life remains in the current equipment?
- Are we strategically promoting more work from home or remote access working environments?
- Is the organisation large enough to include creative teams, spread geographically, requiring greater collaboration and sharing of assets?
- Is the organisation financially structured to shift between capex to opex even if the cash going out is lower?
In short, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Any ‘solution’ that aims to improve production efficiency must have the flexibility to adapt to each organisation’s own tempo.
Hardware still has a role to play
While the move to IP, cloud and software-centric models offer many of the answers, there is no quick fix for rising production costs and revenues are certainly not increasing to counteract the additional expense.
Some may argue that throwing everything into the cloud is the solution. Remote production via the cloud has many advantages, including more flexibility and the ability to scale up (and down) quickly within an opex model. However, it is still technically unfeasible for specific use cases.
Traditional TV technology has been built around integrating discrete and purpose-built hardware elements – and, more recently, software parts – to accommodate a specific workflow. The need to deliver more channels or support increases in quality requirements, such as the transition to HD and UHD, has helped prompt each refresh cycle. This approach’s rationale was that bespoke hardware offered a guaranteed level of performance and suited the capex-heavy buy-cycle that broadcasters are traditionally geared around.
While it is central to the future evolution of the industry, an immediate move to the cloud is also not always financially sensible. The existing investment made in broadcast TV technology runs into the hundreds of billions – and many broadcasters can sweat these assets for a significant amount of time. Besides, certain processes are still more efficient, faster and cheaper via local, highly specialised hardware. Think of your vision mixer panel as being analogous to your iPhone; purpose-built hardware that enables the user to be more effective.
The hunger for content and, ultimately, consumer choice shows no signs of abating. To address this spiraling demand in key live content areas, including news and live events – such as sports, concerts, awards and elections – traditional broadcasters and newer players alike will look for partners and ecosystems to help them navigate production complexities.
In today’s dynamically shifting market, our customers want to form strategic technology partnerships with vendors that can draw on deep experience in broadcast technology across both traditional hardware and newer software and cloud platforms. Across the board, broadcasters and content producers are exploring new ways to get more value out of their production workflows, freeing them up to concentrate on developing more creative and engaging programming.
In the face of ever-higher audience expectation, only organisations that are ready to embrace innovation and systems that foster it can hope to thrive, as terms such as ‘remote production’ and ‘cloud-based production’ simply become ‘production’.