By Mark Roberts Motion Control (MRMC), a Nikon Company
Remote production in broadcast has been the driving force behind cost-saving and workflow efficiencies across the industry for many years now. The term itself has had a number of different meanings. Historically ‘remote production’ in the sports media industry meant the majority of the show was produced onsite at the venue and pretty much everything that was required for the broadcast such as graphics, replays etc. would be handled from the event location (or more usually the car park next door!). Over time this has changed and more of those functions have been centralised. The advantages are obvious – you have a team of specialists who focus on their core expertise such as producing graphics and this team can work on multiple events in a day reducing costs, environmental impacts, wasted time and in most cases improving the quality of the output, it’s a win/win for all concerned.
Faster, lower latency and relatively lower cost IP networks have meant productions are able to reduce their onsite footprint and carry out as many of the traditional broadcast roles from a centralised location and with the impact of Covid even from home. The impact of COVID 19 has meant that the growth of remote production has accelerated at an extraordinary rate, and now we are seeing an unprecedented level of broadcasts that have taken place by this method. Dani Lyman’s piece on college sports production in the Covid era back in September highlighted that it does take a special type of person to work in this environment. If you have never done it, imagine a family holiday in a campervan where the temperature is set 5 degrees too high, there are 6 of you in a 4 sleeper and you only eat junk food.
Clearly, these environments don’t lend themselves to social distancing and whilst relatively more luxurious neither do the regular production galleries back at the TV station where the studio shows would be produced from. Remote production has therefore been forced onto many broadcasters before they were ready and without proper consideration. What is happening now is a re-evaluation of the necessitated knee-jerk reaction to the sudden changes brought about by Covid. Broadcasters are asking whether the compromises made in production quality are worth it? Could we work smarter? Could we do more?
If you tried to buy a broadcast-quality PTZ through Spring and into the Summer of 2020 you will know that the adoption of these sorts of cameras exploded and sales continue to grow. When lockdowns initially eased, broadcasters looked towards traditional robotic solutions (which historically took more time to deploy) to match their camera images as well as examining ways to increase production values but maintain safe working practices. This trend is accelerating, and increased interest in our automated camera tracking solution Polymotion Chat is testament to that. Technical producers and studio managers see the advantages of a system that can manage the ‘heavy lifting’ of camera control allowing remote operators to focus (pardon the pun) on creative adjustments or a producer’s specific requirement. As an additional benefit, the system gives reassurance to the technical team, if there is a drop in connectivity or an issue with availability it’s less of an issue as Polymotion Chat is always available.
Production is reflecting the realities most people are facing today, face to face meetings are difficult currently and I believe will be much less common in the future. I think that is a good thing, it’s better for the environment and often a better use of time on both sides. Broadcast has similarly pivoted; opinion contributors are no longer sitting on the sofa in the studio and instead are sitting in their kitchen at home. Down the line techniques using video conferencing tools which were always the last resort are now the de-facto standard. This need for flexibility and the belief that the show must go on is what underpins the new broadcasting horizon and remote production is no longer something to strive for; it is a day-to-day reality.