“The pressure is on broadcasters to find ways to produce more content, more affordably, without compromising quality”
By George Lopez
Live events are a huge and critical driver in the global TV and video landscape, but the terrain continues to change, as the increasing cost of rights – especially sports – combined with the evolving interests and habits of audiences, is forcing content providers to adapt.
The trouble with live sports events is that as the cost of producing more coverage is being driven up by surging demand, it is not being met by the price that consumers are willing to pay. When you add in the rising outlay for hotly contested rights – the global rights market is expected to be worth $55bn by 2021 – the pressure is on broadcasters to find ways to produce more content, more affordably, without compromising quality.
The good news for broadcasters, OTT services and others feeding consumer demand is that the globalisation of TV and the proliferation of viewer choices has unlocked new potential. Growing audiences for sports crossing into new markets – such as English Premier League football in North America and NBA basketball in the Middle East – means there are opportunities beyond broadcasters bidding for big domestic rights contracts. What’s more, niche sports and now esports are reaching new audiences through syndication and direct-to-consumer models and are becoming mainstream.
Still, as the world of sports opens up, rights holders need to find smarter and more cost-effective models to maximise live production budgets while maintaining production values.
Enter at-home/remote production. The ability to produce live broadcasts from remote locations by transmitting raw (ISO) feeds, audio and equipment control over network infrastructure to a central studio facility – where operators have the ability to remotely control cameras and other equipment at the event site – offers a compelling solution.
By tapping into at-home/remote capabilities, content providers can centralise production at their home studio or at a dedicated third-party location. It provides a practical way of transporting signals over private fibre with high security and relatively low latency, while built-in redundancy eliminates disruptions. Dozens of camera feeds can be delivered to the central broadcast facility, either as uncompressed ISO feeds or lightly compressed feeds using JPEG2000, for example, to ensure the lowest possible end-to-end delay.
Control of on-site equipment traditionally handled by the production crew in the OB van is now accomplished from the central studio. Production audio from the venue is either embedded in the video feed or sent as a discrete native audio file.
In a typical remote production of a major sporting event in a stadium, the directors and production assistants, along with below-the-line staff such as camera operators and stage managers, can all work remotely from the central studio. Feeds from the stadium cameras are encoded at the venue and transported across an IP network as mezzanine formats. These are typically transcoded within a cloud platform such as AWS, using both AWSDX and ZIXI protocol, and fed into multiple instances of AWS Elemental Media Live across the globe. AWS Media Live then transcodes the 1080p 59.94 signal into multiple renditions and distributes RTMP streams to different receiving destinations. In this case, the hand-off would be via the closed Amazon network Direct Connect POP at the at-home/remote production facility.
The clear benefits of at-home/remote production include the elimination of OB trucks and much of the equipment traditionally required at the venue, saving purchase, leasing and maintenance costs; reduced overall costs, including freight, transportation, accommodation and support for staff on-site; same-day production of multiple events, using the same equipment while maximising staff; and the ability to deploy dedicated camera feeds across various screens to produce more content that can be monetised in new ways – such as direct-to-social platforms, player cams and localised (dubbed) feeds.
Finally, with at-home/remote production, the reduced need for OB trucks, shipping and travel substantially decreases the carbon footprint of a live broadcast. It also allows production crews to work in their own familiar environment, creating a better work-life balance – making careers sustainable and team members doubtless happier and more productive.
George Lopez is Senior Vice President Operations at The Switch.