Changes in how we consume media have resulted in an evolution of the standards that the industry conforms to.
While the shift towards home studio set-ups over the last 12 months might appear to be a case of necessity being the mother of invention, it is actually a trend that pre-dates the pandemic. Even pre-Covid, it was being explored by the broadcast industry, primarily from the desire to reduce operating overheads and made possible by improvements in technology and the adoption of standards that meant both video and audio could be shifted and controlled over IP, in real time.
The initial impetus came from sports broadcasters who wanted to reduce the resources required to cover the vast number of events taking place on any given day. But as lockdowns introduced logistical issues, this approach began appealing to a far larger segment of the industry.
This acceptance is also driven by the high quality of production now possible from home set-ups, due to rapid advancements in AV technology. This presents a positive feedback loop as incrementally better technology used in consumer cameras and phones has helped drive more prosumer audio and video products, and thereby better production quality.
In fact, we’re fast approaching a point where the factors promoting the adoption of home broadcast setups could extend well beyond mere cost reduction. Changes in how we consume media have resulted in an evolution of the standards that the industry conforms to. The convenience of being able to control and manage all facets of production from multiple, geographically dispersed locations is gradually starting to take precedence over traditional expectations.
Consequently, today it’s more the equipment that connects everything together, and ultimately how content is transmitted, that is setting the standard. This paves the way for a previously unimaginable level of flexibility.
To get to this stage, though, there are issues that need to be addressed. Beyond the obvious – background noise, interruptions and so on – there are technical challenges. Currently, as most home broadcasting is done via the internet, it can present challenges with having an uninterrupted signal. For this reason, when it comes to longer-term arrangements, I envisage hosts setting up ISDN lines between their home studios and their broadcaster’s hub to ensure a continuous stream.
The acoustics of the home studio also need to be addressed. While thick drapes and other forms of dampening are a quick and often essential fix, it is also possible to play with mic types and positions to suppress some of the undesirable effects of reverberant rooms. Even background noise, which might appear to be hard to eliminate, can be effectively suppressed with the use of directional mics and some signal processing.
Once professionals broadcasting from home become aware of just how much better their overall content could be by improving audio quality, they tend to take the time to understand and learn to use more elaborate solutions than in-built phone mics or Bluetooth headsets. It’s up to audio product manufacturers to then meet them halfway, by ensuring that our prosumer and professional-grade mics are as user-friendly as possible, and don’t require too much manual reading or a degree in audio engineering to get noticeable improvements within two or three attempts!
Finally, broadcasters must realise that the shift to home studios offers tremendous upside with little risk or investment. Those concerned about living up to previously established standards can take heart from the evolution of content on YouTube. Once synonymous with amateur footage, the platform today boasts content quality which can rival large-scale productions. And while we must acknowledge the distinct lack of post-production editing and retakes that are a unique characteristic of live broadcast, there are important lessons broadcasters can learn from content creators, particularly when it comes to prosumer equipment. The quality of video and audio from mirrorless/DSLR cameras and prosumer microphones has improved substantially in recent years, though it’s always worth spending a little more to get a lot more. Couple this with new expectations from end consumers, particularly the younger generation, and you can get to a level of broadcast that is engaging and keeps the audience watching – no matter where your hosts and correspondents are based.
Ryan Burr is Head of Technical Sales & Application Engineering, Professional Audio at Sennheiser Middle East.