The pros and cons of remote production: an IMG perspective

Over the recent past, there have been moves for broadcasters to use remote production techniques for a diverse range of outside broadcasts. Despite the distances involved, some OBs from last year’s Rio Olympics were successfully managed in this way. But, more regularly, football matches in various locations are covered with this approach.

And the rationale cannot be faulted – the potential for lower travel costs, fewer professionals to be accommodated on location and better use of studio facilities back at base. With all that mind, what are the views of one of the leading sports production companies: IMG?

Ross Clarke, IMG: “Broadcasters will be able to use just one production gallery and crew to cover multiple matches on the same day”

Ross Clarke, IMG: “Broadcasters will be able to use just one production gallery and crew to cover multiple matches on the same day”

“Remote production is going to play a large role in live sports programme making in the coming years,” said Ross Clarke, Executive Producer at IMG Productions. “Increased connectivity around the globe gives productions increased flexibility and choice. Now we have the option to pursue the traditional OB route, or base the production team at a local facility and remotely produce the output.”

Clarke goes on to say that the biggest drawback to the remote production concept is trust. “Currently programme makers enjoy the comfort of traditional Outside Broadcast technology, they understand the point A to point B workflow. Remote production challenges this notion.”

In order for productions to alter their way of working, Clarke asserts, a level of persuasion is required, mainly to convince programme makers that remote production is in the best interests of their show. Teams need to be confident that delivery mechanisms are robust, and that transmission output will not be compromised in any way.

That said, Clarke is ready to discuss the benefits. “The remote angle gives producers of large scale, cross territory output the ability to provide continuity of production. We all strive for high-level consistent output, no matter from where in the world we are producing. The other benefit is cost, especially in travel expense. However, currently the savings are minimal.”

Suitable and not suitable

But, the question to be addressed is ‘just what sports are suited – or not suited – to remote production?”

“Sports in an enclosed space with a regular stadium or arena have an advantage,” says Clarke. “For example, football, basketball, tennis and rugby. Sports without a fixed venue, and played over a wide irregular area provide a greater challenge. Conversely, there are sports for which remote production is certainly not suitable. Sports such as golf that require complex technical rigs, in remote areas, often without fibre infrastructure are going to be less attractive.”

He goes on to say that production values can be affected by remote production techniques. “There are positives and negatives. The positives are the ability to have high level facilities and crew on a consistent basis. Another driving force is the capability to centralise production, which allows tighter control on output. With regard to negatives, I’m sure all production crews are worried about the loss of connectivity, from both a technical and social perspective.”

Maintaining the buzz

Mention has been made about the passion of those who are involved with sports production – and that being ‘remote’ could affect that passion. How does IMG feel about that aspect of remote working?

“When you are involved in live sports production, there is a buzz of being there, close to the action. There is no question that youngsters in the team enjoy the perk of travelling and expanding their horizons. By definition remote production takes this element away; you could argue that this could lead to a detached perspective.”

So, does the thought of being ‘remote’ affect the calibre of people who might apply for jobs? “I hope not! If you love sports and the buzz of live production, then hopefully you will attract top talent. However, different skill sets might be needed. Interpersonal communication is a key element in any OB. Diplomacy is an important skill when working in a different country. Dealing remotely, rather than in person will bring difficult production challenges.”

So, what does Clarke see as the future of this particular production technique? “There will be a tipping point where the price of connectivity, and the scheduling of sport events hits a sweet spot. This ‘remote nirvana’ will allow productions to save significant budget on people and facilities.

“For example, broadcasters will be able to use just one production gallery and crew to cover multiple matches on the same day. I do believe that future improvements in technology will allow large scale OBs to be driven remotely, without the need to compromise key production elements, such as super slow cameras and complex EVS rigs.”

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