A REMI control room at NEP Australia’s Sydney facility handles multiple live productions simultaneously.
The combination of the completion of the video distribution over IP standard and an increase in the cost of rights to broadcast live sporting events has led to engineers designing new ways to produce a telecast with a minimum of resources. And it’s happening around the world, in HD mostly, but 4K is possible given IP’s format-agnostic nature.
Indeed, live remote productions, aka “At-Home” or REMI (remote-integration model) productions, are growing in popularity because they save money and enable more content to be created using the same staffing. To an ever cost-conscious industry in need of technical flexibility, the concept—while new entirely new—makes logistical, financial and practical sense now that The SMPTE has published the ST 2110 standard.
Some of the savings are also in reduced Capex because of the way broadcasters and production companies can share resources over an IP infrastructure.
However, the positives are not all based on savings made by doing projects this way. Another benefit users of REMI production strategies is much more consistent productions and a far better use of staff. They say reduced travel means the staff is less tired.
“The concept of remotely controlling devices isn’t a new one,” said Jon Flay, Managing Director, at Megahertz, a UK-based system integrator, alluding to the use of satellites for video distribution. “With a lot of our business being DSNGs, we've been enabling the remote control of devices in the field for quite a number of years.”
He said that a production vehicle typically rolls on site at a news scene or sports event, sets up a satellite dish and connects to the station via satellite where central ops would handle the operations remotely. This simplifies set up on site and there is no need to deploy a specialist satellite operator with a truck. A result of this has been more coverage of smaller sporting events that previously wouldn't have made economic sense to deploy a whole field crew considering the smaller viewership.
Systems integrator Megahertz recently equipped a state-of-the-art news studio in the Boulogne-Billancourt broadcasting hub for RT France’s new French language channel.
IP Productions Reduce Cost
“It is becoming normal practice for broadcasters to cut down on the number of studios between sites and do more resource sharing,” Flay said. “IP will ultimately reduce the cost of production and will make even more content available as well as more flexibility to share resources. The use of IP is imminent but when you're talking about an all-IP infrastructure, it is even more complex than the switch from SD to HD, because the very nature by which content and data is transported over IP is fundamentally different—whereby broadcast-specific systems are replaced with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) platforms.”
He added that if you are just talking about only connectivity via IP (e.g., cellular networks and bonded cellular), the use of Wi-Fi hot spots are becoming a cheaper alternative to satellite and fibre so it has become a very attractive proposition for many broadcasters who want to gather more content.
Marc Segar, Director of Technology at NEP Australia said he staged a successful trial over satellite nearly 20 years ago using a satellite link from London to Brazil just to prove it could be done. Today his company has built two new all-IP facilities—one in Melbourne and another in Sydney—that handle multiple sporting codes and games simultaneously. The events are held throughout the country but are switched in either of the company's two facilities. The company has also built four all-IP OB Vans, two of which were launched in November of 2017 and upgraded seven of its existing fleet to hybrid IP so they can connect and share resources. “We are uncompressed and IP from the camera to the broadcaster, our projects are tier one sporting events at around 20-30 cameras, the scale is enormous when you think we can cover seven events simultaneously across the two hubs,” he said.
[The remote facilities include Sony XVS 8000 IP switchers, Lawo MC96 audio consoles, a Boland UHD/HDR monitor wall and Ross Video Newt edge IP to SDI converters. The Shared Core features Arista Networks data switches, 336 channels of EVS XT VIA (78 operator stations), a Telex Adam IP Comms system, a Meinberg redundant PTP station reference, Lawo VSM (Virtual Studio Manager) management control and a Lawo V_Matrix virtualized processing core.]
The EVS replay area in the Sydney hub facility, where replay clips are created for productions happening across the country before they are inserted into the live broadcasts.
“The goal for us with REMI is not just about saving money, it’s much more efficient for everyone with less travel that has a definite impact on the consistency of the product on-air. Segar said. “The distance of Perth to Sydney is the similar to Los Angeles and New York. It ends up being a three-day job for one day of production.
Consistency Is Also a Benefit
Aside from cost savings, resource sharing allows broadcasters to work with their preferred crews by engaging individuals wherever they might be located over a secure IP connection.
NEP Australia has completed about 37 events since its first IP facility opened in 2017 (the second facility is due to be completed by the end of June).
“The end state is that we will be able to use crew on more than one project a day and use the same staff so we keep that consistency level. When you find a competent crew, you want to work with them as much as possible to keep the consistency.”
One of the other keys to success of an all-IP production is low latency during real-time signal distribution, which many experienced in previous days using satellite links and first-generation IP technology. Today, according to Segar, latency is not an issue.
“The highest latency in country is from Sydney to Perth, and that’s 48 milliseconds round trip (over 2,700 miles),” Segar said. “That’s a frame of video. So, it’s not perceptible to the operators. The crew sitting in the production gallery in Sydney work exactly the same way as if they were in Perth, next to the venue.”
As part of an experiment in resource sharing of staff, engineers recently connected Sydney to Los Angeles where an EVS operator in LA was controlling hardware in Sydney. With only 136 milliseconds of latency round trip it proves the concept of extending equipment and operators over long distances
“It debunks the myths about not being able to control a production from far away,” he said.
Marc Logez, Head of Marketing Global Contribution at Globecast, adds, “We now have the technology to [leverage] this low latency and enable the director to ask the crew at the stadium to zoom or make any adjustments that are needed, just as it happens in the traditional live production environment. We can then push this further as the technology evolves.”
The Switch is another production services company that offers broadcasters global reach for all type of projects. Using its satellite and IP-only distribution services, The Switch recently transmitted more than 200 hours of content for the royal wedding of Britain's Prince Harry and American Meghan Markle wed in a ceremony at St. George's Chapel.
The Switch’s Burbank. Calif. production facility offers turnkey services and can be accessed from its other locations in London, New York and Singapore.
“The transformation of the media industry from a business-to-business model, to a business-to-consumer model, is offering content to consumers in ways that has never existed before,” said Richard Wolf, EVP Marketing and Corporate Communications at The Switch.
The Switch has been applying resource-sharing applications in several ways via its at-home service, seamlessly integrating camera feeds, audio channels and filed-based workflows, with equipment residing in a shared-services environment located at production centers of The Switch’s as well as its Network Operations Center in New York.
Wolf said customers have been using the ST 2110-compatible at-home model since 2015 and enjoying savings in on-location expenses resulting in fewer production and technical personnel travel requirements, while also providing a more consistent television production experience by using a common pool of personnel to produce at-home.
Meeting The Need For More Content
Skynet iMotion Activities, in Belgium, is yet another production company that produces soccer telecasts for the country’s first and second division games. In Brussels they have built an all-IP control room for that’s equipped with technology from Lawo (V_Matrix, V_Remote and audio mixing consoles) as well as EVS systems.
They cover eight stadiums in second division and stadiums in first division across the region that are all connected via IP, while the actual control room production is done in Belgium. Only the cameras are on site. The director, EVS operator and everything else is done in Brussels.
From its Brussels facility, Skynet iMotion Activities produces up to 24 live sporting events using A Pebble Beach Marina automation system controls its EVS server systems and Miranda Vertigo graphics. It also interfaces to a Front Porch Digital DIVA archive.
“Our production requirements have increased by double over the past three years, but our equipment budgets have not, so we needed to be creative,” said Rodrigo Sternberg, Executive Manager or Technology Media Operations at Skynet iMotion Activities (a division of Proximus TV). “IP remote production was one of the ways that we could meet our business objectives. We pay a lot of money for the rights to broadcast the games, so we had to do something different than we had before.”
Making matters more complicated, when they produce Champions League games, they have all eight matches running simultaneously. That becomes 16 programs because they produce the games for both French and Dutch audiences.
“We use the Lawo V_matrix for receiving and distributing all of the signals,” Sternberg said. “It plays a central role for us because we are moving from an SDI to IP infrastructure. But we also have a lot of hybrid workflows set up because we cannot afford to replace everything all at once. The 40 GB capacity of the V_Matrix was very important because you don’t have a lot of cables. You just have 40 GB to the switch and that’s it. This means we only need the one box.”
The List of REMI Productions Continues To Grow
So, with the maturation of the ST 2110 standard, it’s clear why the list of REMI production continues to grow as broadcasters recognize the value and flexibility it brings.
“The IP revolution overall is certainly gaining momentum,” said Megahertz’s Flay. “Over the past couple of years, it has been confined to islands within a facility and tasks that naturally lend themselves readily to the transition. Now, the technology allows the use of the basic three elements: storage, computing (servers) and networking, supporting software solutions that can run in a private or public cloud. For broadcasters, this offers huge opportunities in the longer term. The old toolbox of stand-alone hardware is gone and replaced by a richer and more extensive software toolkit that increases flexibility and workflow efficiencies whist reducing operational costs and generating new revenue streams.”
Segar concurs: “The reality is that we’re using our crews far more efficiently and we’re able to use the most experienced operators whenever we need them, no matter where they are based,” he said.
And in Belgium the future is REMI.
“I am convinced that in the next five to ten years, remote production will be the standard way to produce live sports,” Skynet iMotion Activities’ Sternberg said. “On-site production will be the exception.”
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