The rise of remote production
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The rise of remote production

The production of big live broadcast events has come a long way since the days when production could only be done on location.

We’ve grown used to commentary being added remotely for a number of years but, today, a new revolution is taking place in the way live events are produced: remote production is becoming increasingly prevalent.

For a long time now, production companies and broadcasters have been able to add commentary from an audio booth thousands of miles from the action to the transmitted output.

And today, that capability has expanded through remote production: simultaneous commentary, in multiple languages across various events in numerous locations.

All without the need for a single OB truck.

What is remote production? described it as “the geographic separation of complex interconnected production processes”.

In other words, putting broadcast productions together across multiple locations.

What are the benefits of remote production?

And the biggest challenge?

In a word: latency.

Remote production enables broadcasters to source commentary from event locations as well as audio booths with an internet connection anywhere in the world.

International video production company NEP Group, for example – which acquired SIS Live in 2018 – can supply a remote-commentary box to source commentary. A plug-and-play system, it requires only power and a connection to work.

“One of the challenges is that we have several languages coming from different locations simultaneously and different locations introduce different types of latencies,” says Casper Choffat, R&D manager and lead system architect at NEP. “So, for example, a commentary feed coming from Italy has a different latency getting to the central location than a commentary feed from the Netherlands. The NEP systems ensure that these latencies are compensated (for) and that all commentary feeds are made in sync before being sent out to the public. “We can source an unlimited amount of commentary feeds simultaneously and mix them together with the international sound coming from the event location. The final video and audio-mixed languages can be distributed through NEP’s encoding platform for linear or OTT.

NEP Australia and Telstra Broadcast Services delivered the world’s first remote production across the Pacific in spring 2018.

The successful trial was conducted over four days this week between NEP’s centralised, IP (internet protocol) and multi-format production facility at the Sydney Andrews Hub and Telstra’s Los Angeles datacentre – more than 7500 miles (12,000+ km) apart – using ultra-low-latency compression technology and Telstra’s Distributed Production Network (DPN).

Discovery: building remote-production hubs

NEP isn’t the only big player in the industry that’s investing and making huge inroads.

At the PyeongChang 2018, Discovery delivered its first Olympic Games coverage across 48 countries in Europe on free-to-air, pay-tv and online.

It was the first Games to be broadcast by Eurosport, which is 51%-owned by Discovery, as part of the €1.3 billion deal for the European rights to the Olympics to 2024.

Now, Discovery is spending “hundreds of millions of dollars” on a central content hub and technical infrastructure to transform its operations – and will “lose money on some of it in the early days”.

Dave Schafer, Discovery’s senior vice president of sports operations and planning, says that screening the Tokyo 2020 Games, which will require an operation three times the size of PyeongChang’s, “will be more of a remote production”, adding:

“You’re going to see a lot more done from Europe, especially with the number of feeds coming back. I think our footprint on site will probably be more content-based, to go out and tell those stories.”

Before the action in Tokyo, however, Eurosport’s continued move towards remote production has been deployed at the French Open tennis tournament at Roland-Garros, where two studios gave the broadcaster’s production teams multiple options.

“As we move to more remote mixing, we have a control room and two studios on site at Roland Garros but also control rooms at Eurosport in Paris and in the UK,” says Gordon Castle, Eurosport, SVP, technology and operations.

Who might suffer as remote production grows?

So remote production is about capturing and packaging content from locations without a travelling circus of big trucks, single-discipline techs, and the creation of a studio complex on a farm, beach or mountain

In a post in November 2017, the IBC blog asked:

“Is it time to sell the OB truck?”

The post concludes:

Without non-linear editing, and miniaturisation of camera chips we wouldn't have had many reality TV formats. Remote production will leverage a new generation of ideas. It's going to be an adventure. But for those not responsive to change, remote production will yet have a hand in the overthrow of some old-style media tech dynasties, kingdoms and empires.

As our industry continues to develop and grow at an ever-faster pace, remote production is already shaping the future.

In future posts, we’ll look more closely at further capabilities enabled by IP and 5g connectivity, such as localising content for specific markets.