The pandemic has not only affected TV production but also the sales of equipment used to support it.
Over the past year, as broadcasters and production companies have expended great effort to reconfigure their workflows and develop new ways of working amid strict safety protocols, so too have the manufacturers of the technology and systems they rely on.
Many have moved to a cloud-based SaaS model for selling their software and remote commissioning (and updating), when required, to support their customers in the best way possible. Others, like Chryon, Grass Valley, Media Links, Signiant and Telestream (to name a few) all offer products that are inherently helpful in deploying remote workflows. Any technology, including many consumer-level ones, that allowed people to work from home were able to maintain profitability throughout the pandemic.
“During the past year, our main goal has been to help facilitate remote workflows and make professional and affordable live streaming a reality in order to support our customers as they to continue to create exciting content despite huge change and uncertainty,” said Bob Caniglia, Director of Sales Operations, Americas, Blackmagic Design.
“For example, during the very beginning of the pandemic, we released the free Blackmagic Camera Update 6.9, which adds studio camera features, such as control of the camera parameters, lens and tally light, to our Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and Pocket Cinema Camera 6K. We also announced the ATEM Mini Pro live production switcher with direct streaming and recording capabilities. While these announcements were planned pre-pandemic, they happened to coincide with people moving to remote workflows and relying on live streaming more than ever before.”
Blackmagic's Bob Caniglia.
Indeed, the pandemic has made selling production and distribution technology—already a tough task given an ever-expanding pool of technology suppliers and ever smaller profit margins—particularly challenging when there were no trade shows to exhibit their wares and little opportunity to meet with customers in person. Online conferencing software like Chime, Teams and Zoom became the only efficient option.
In such unpredictable times, it has been difficult for vendors to predict revenue across territories but being flexible and adapting to changing requirements has definitely helped them do their job despite it all. Now, with sports and other public venues slowly opening up, manufacturers we talked to see business slowly coming back as well.
“From a revenue perspective, [for us] Asia was first to revive, and we were able to adapt our commissioning procedures to help get broadcasters on air remotely,” said Dave Letson, VP of Sales for audio production technology supplier Calrec Audio. “Calrec was involved in several large IP systems across Asia in 2020, and the move to IP isn’t just about audio; it’s about the whole infrastructure. It was a challenge helping those customers get on air, but Calrec’s technologies are IP ready, either natively or via our gateway products.”
Calrec's Dave Letson.
“The use of IP solutions in broadcast operations that our industries has been experiencing for several years was accelerated once again with the crisis as a catalyst,” said Wolfgang Huber, Public Relations Manager, Lawo, makers of TV and radio mixing consoles as well as audio routing and video networking. “And as Lawo has always been at the helm of this development, we have been in a position to meet these new requirements with our complete portfolio of IP broadcast solutions.”
Huber said that when the pandemic restrictions were imposed in the spring of 2020, Lawo responded by creating internal structures and motivating employees to work on solutions to meet the needs of the business and customers. Everyone at Lawo embraced the challenges of finding new ways to meet project schedules, serve customers on time and remotely supervise entire projects.
“Wherever possible and appropriate to their roles, colleagues work from home, while the manufacturing and deployment of systems under Corona constraints takes place on company premises or on site,” he said. “This approach has left Lawo practically unharmed as most projects went according to plan or could be managed successfully with an adapted schedule. Even the big sports events of 2020 have been postponed and not cancelled, and the equipment, prepared for use by our Lawo team will in the end be used according to its original purpose.”
However, with such industry-gathering mainstays as the NAB (typically held in April), CABSAT (in May) and IBC (in September) trade shows—and others—all being first cancelled (and held virtually) in 2020 and then pushed back until the fall of this year, a key selling tool has been reduced to online panel discussions and product demos. It’s not a perfect solution: “Zoom fatigue” has set in.
“We have always looked forward to trade shows and events where we can meet with our customers face to face to get their feedback and hear more about their workflows and needs firsthand,” said Blackmagic’s Caniglia. “And we will continue to do so once it’s safe for everyone to gather again in person, however, just because we’ve been unable to physically meet, doesn't mean we haven’t been connecting virtually. For example, our forum has become a portal for customers to interact with us and with each other, ask questions, get tips and more. We believe this has allowed our customers to continue to feel a sense of community with both Blackmagic Design and other creatives.”
To counter this, manufacturers have listened keenly to what their customers are asking for, even if it’s meant smaller revenue from software-only sales.
“Broadcasters are looking at their networks with fresh eyes,” said Calrec’s Letson. “Many customers are investing in their infrastructures, and we’ve already seen increased interest in products like our modular Type R console, which can provide multiple independent remote mix environments on a single IP core.”
He added that understanding a broadcasters’ network infrastructure at the outset of a project - and what they want out of their IP network - is vital.
“We’ve been able to invest in specialist IP personnel during lockdown to help provide this support and that decision is now paying dividends,” Letson said.
For remote FATs, demos and training, as well as installation support, colleagues at Lawo have set up WAN infrastructures and communication channels that allow scheduled project phases and deadlines to be met even though travel is not possible or engineers on the customer side mostly cannot work in the broadcast facilities.
“By working from home, implementing a safety work shift system with distancing regulations, and by providing remote support to customers, Lawo has been able to operate close to normal in terms of manufacturing and project support,” said Lawo’s Huber. “Not everything can be done this way, and personal site visits or project meetings will continue to be an essential element of project execution and sales activities, but we can now rely on the newly established structures to complete tasks more efficiently and with less pressure caused by extended travel or equipment shipping.”
Lawo's Wolfgang Huber.
The good news is that as public restrictions continue to be eased and/or lifted, manufacturers are beginning to see business improve. This includes new sales and projects that were put on hold by the pandemic now moving forward.
“We are convinced that the broadcast industry will emerge strengthened with a new awareness of its raison d'être, innovativeness and responsibility to customers, and thus to the educational and cultural dimensions,” said Huber. “In the broadcast industry, it’s a time for manufacturers and customers to make decisions and boldly seize opportunities.”
“As government restrictions are cautiously relaxed and more collaborative work is possible, we are expecting big things,” said Calrec’s Letson. “Our R&D teams have never stopped working; in fact, Calrec has been recruiting to strengthen its teams across R&D, Production and Support throughout the pandemic. We’ve been able to develop stronger working relationships with all our customers and we’ve all learned how to better utilize the flexibility of Calrec equipment to support a wider range of customers, across TV and radio, proprietary and IP infrastructures, physical and virtual interfaces, or a hybrid.”
“As broadcasters have built more solidified solutions and settled into the ‘new normal,’ they’ll continue to rely on these workflows even as things reopen,” said Caniglia. “They will continue to utilize these new assets and have them complement more traditional productions.
He said that during the past year, the industry has seen an increase in demand for content, and creators are working hard to keep up with it. As a result of this demand, paired with purpose-built solutions that enable talent to collaborate on projects from anywhere in the world, Calrec has seen more diverse and unique stories being told.
“What this all means is that pandemic or not, the demand for content continues its upward trajectory,” he said. “To remain competitive, content creators must put solid workflows in place that will allow them to be agile to meet rapidly-changing circumstances while satisfying what the audiences are looking for.”
“This pandemic has pushed innovative ideas and flexibility by using modern infrastructures in many sectors – broadcast, cultural events, live performances – so that we expect that IP technologies will spread also in these domains,” said Lawo’s Huber.
“Broadcast workflows were already in transition and Covid-19 has concentrated minds on what is possible,” he said. “The last 12 months has given us the opportunity to improve how we collaborate digitally, but we are looking forward to getting face to face with our friends across the industry again. That level of dialogue and collaboration is more important than ever.”