Avid Connect session examines the future of remote production and virtual reality for sports
A revealing session at the Avid Connect @ NAB event on 16 April explored topics including 4K/UHD, virtual reality and remote production with a panel moderated by SVG editor-in-chief Jason Dachman and featuring Swedish TV head of production Adde Granberg, Avid senior director of broadcast product management Ofir Benovici, NBC Sports Group VP digital workflow Darryl Jefferson, and LiveLike co-founder and head of production Fabrice Loreanceau.
Putting the pace of recent change in context, Dachman pointed out that recent months have witnessed “one 4K announcement after another”, including CBS, DirecTV and Amen Corner hatching plans to deliver the Masters in the new format; Rogers Media prepping the first NHL 4K broadcasts for Canadian audiences; and BT continuing production for its much-discussed Ultra HD channel, among many others.
With the virtual reality revolution also hoving into view, and the possibilities of remote production also beginning to be explored, there is plenty of change ahead for broadcasters – and vendors must rise to the challenge of supporting them. As Benovici remarked: “Avid is supporting these [three pillars by] looking at sports strategy, news and post-production, audio and sports. Our mission is to associate with sports, create integrated solutions for sports, and provide our customers in our industry with a much better and more liberated kind of sports solution.”
The need to supply an increasing number of outlets and platforms with content means evermore pressure on resources – hence why the cost-saving scope of remote production is now being explored by many broadcasters.
For NBC, Jefferson confirmed that his team “have been getting lots of encouragement from management to rethink how we cover live sports, [in terms of] changing the shape of who we are sending and what kind of tier event it is.”
This long-term process has meant that, in previous Olympics, “we have left whole control rooms at home. For Sochi, we left the curling control room at home. For the upcoming Olympics, we are leaving 10 back at base, and some will also be left at home for the French Open. [Remote production] allows us to be more flexible if we have the creative talent at home [and therefore able] to work across different events and maximise efficiency.” Of course, he added wryly, the success of ‘at home’ production does depend “on having a really good connection; you cannot mess that up!”
Benovici confirmed that “more and more production is taking place at base, [with] only necessary people sent to the site. If we as a community want to deliver better content it is better to spend money on the stuff that makes a difference; so if for example you keep 20 people at home and save on travel and shipping costs, you can use that budget to finance your next super slow-motion camera and produce a better show.”
Granberg said that we are seeing more “sharing between companies” and that effective “infrastructure is the key thing [to be able to] save money and move it to new kinds of things”.
Moving on to VR and the impact on the emerging technology of 4K, Loreanceau suggested that “4K is actually the SD of VR… We hope to achieve a lot more in future. With VR you basically have the screen on your face, so you do need a huge amount of resolution. [At present with VR] you are talking about OTT delivery, and we have done a lot of work to deliver the highest possible quality at the lowest possible bandwidth.”
Jefferson agreed that VR represents an exciting area of future endeavour, confirming that “both VR 4K and 4K with HDR are conversations that are occurring, and we can certainly see the trajectory taking us in that direction.”
Of course, different vendors pulling in different directions can slow down the pace of change. “One of the challenges, and it’s a big topic at these shows, is getting everyone to agree on what we are doing [as an industry]. If you go across four different vendors and everyone has [contrasting ideas about HDR or IP], for the client buying stuff it can be enormously frustrating.” He added: “No one wants to be the wrong first adopter.”
And there is no doubt that the stakes for VR will be particularly high given its possibility for reworking the entire viewing experience. As Loreanceau remarked: “Television has always been a window into the world, but VR is really about transporting you into the world. Here you can get the best ticket, choose your own experience, jump to a specific camera, and go to the best seat in the house…”
In terms of Avid and VR, “it’s very early days; who knows where this is going to end up? At the moment it would be fair to say that we are trying to support people like LiveLike to embrace their workflows and offer the the best Avid solutions to produce a better VR experience, whatever that may be.”
Granberg said that his team had conducted experiments in 360 video and “hopes to get into VR ASAP”. But in terms of the longer-future, he stressed that “vendor openness” will be crucial to realising the potential of VR – and, one is tempted to add, IP delivery and remote production per se.
“Definitely the biggest hindrance when you talk to major broadcasters and league executives is getting everyone on the same page,” he noted. “It’s easier now that it was ten years ago, but it’s still challenging.” The message to manufacturers, therefore, has to be “to talk to each other. ‘You guys better get along or else!’”