New versatile comms technology now makes it possible to produce a remote broadcast without having an entire production crew on site.
The live events industry has grown dramatically. Driven by audiences for smaller sports, new viewing behavior and the opportunity for new revenue. As broadcasters face increasing competition from new media players such as OTT distribution and streaming, both stations and networks are looking for ways to bring these live events to their audiences in a cost effective manner.
Live programming is a powerful tool for broadcasters against the encroachment of OTT services and loss of advertisement revenues. Live content, with its potential for enrichment and analysis, holds the key to drawing viewers. As such, broadcasters are constantly looking to provide more live sports, news and other live content. Live programming, especially sports, still attracts a large and dedicated TV consumer base as viewers want to discuss news and events of the day with friends via social media.
However, live event production can be resource intensive and traditional OB production limits the amount of live content that can be cost-effectively produced. In order to increase the number of live productions, broadcasters must address cost control by embracing live production workflows that are more efficient and cost effective.
New production model
Remote production of live events may be the answer. In this model, most of the costly production equipment and staff remain at home in the studio. This model has the potential to dramatically reduce costs associated with live production and let broadcasters deliver more and richer live content.
A remote broadcast typically relies on large trucks and tons of gear. With proper planning, links and communication, some remotes can be handled using the equipment a station already has in place at the broadcast studio, resulting in cost savings.
With remote production, there is no need to send large OB production trucks to the venue and fewer staff resources are required. Expensive and scarce resources like directors, editors and production staff can remain in the central production facility, working in their own familiar environment, while just a few camera operators and a limited technical staff actually go on-site.
The cost savings associated with remote production can be significant - upwards of 40 percent savings or more, based on recent studies. But is remote production technically practical at this time?
The answer is clearly yes. With the latest technological advancements, remote production is now a practical, deliverable and proven option. Major broadcasters are currently using this model to cost effectively deliver high quality live events that likely would not have been covered at all with traditional on-site techniques. Transporting signals over dark fiber or via IP circuits with high security and relatively low latency is now possible. Compact remote equipment minimizes transport cost, is easy to set up and establish connections, and has redundancy built in to eliminate disruptions.
Good intercom is key
There are many technical considerations in implementing the remote production model. One factor that is often overlooked is communications. With a portion of the core team operating remotely from a studio, it is critical that robust, reliable and effective communications be implemented. While linked via the same technology that is being used to transport the audio, video and control signals, the actual intercom configurations will look very different at each end of the production.
At the studio, the comms will likely be a complex multiport matrix intercom with additional 2-Wire party-line and wireless extensions. While this maximizes flexibility and power, it does so at the expense of cost and large amounts of infrastructure and personnel resources to set up and maintain. This may be a reasonable trade-off in a dedicated production facility, but not for a load-in/load-out event site.
The remote flypack cannot easily support this level of hardware, nor can the limited number of technical staff at the event build out the necessary infrastructure for this type of centralized topology. However, it is still necessary to have a high level of flexibility and configurability on-site so that production changes and last minute requirements can be adequately serviced.
The answer is an on-site intercom that utilizes a decentralized architecture using wireless technology. This approach allows on-site personnel to both go where they need to go and talk to who they need to talk to at the event site while minimizing equipment and infrastructure.
A broad-coverage wireless scheme helps eliminate infrastructure yet ensures that on-site personnel can still move about as needed. The key to achieving wide area wireless coverage for a live event is the ability to locate radio transceivers (antennas) where the coverage is required. In the past, this was typically accomplished utilizing highly engineered antenna distribution systems. These were effective but were frequency dependent and a unique design was required for each venue. In addition these designs were expensive to implement and required a skilled RF engineer to design and install. Such an approach is not practical for live production where fast load-in/load-out is paramount and the on-site crew size is limited.
Building the comms network
The key to efficient on-site antenna placement is a wireless intercom system with a frequency-agnostic network that allows radio transceivers (of one or more frequency bands) to be located via a distributed architecture network topology. This allows frequency selection of different RF bands as required by venue location and provides the ability to cover as wide an area (or individual locations) as needed to fulfill production requirements. Wireless users may then roam seamlessly from one area to another while still maintaining their assigned communication paths.
A key to flexible comms is a frequency-agnostic system that works on a distributed architecture network. This allows communication in a variety of areas and conditions.
Making sure that everyone can move freely to do their job is a good start. But to fully emulate the studio environment where production staff would be co-located, wireless users need the ability to communicate with multiple individuals and/or groups based on their specific operational requirements.
To accomplish this, audio and control data must be distributed and processed in a decentralized method using a distributed architecture. This enables multiple conferences (conversations or communication channels) to be dynamically created and assigned to each wireless user. These conferences must be able to support point-to-point or multi-user conversations. Each individual wireless user must have access to multiple conferences based on their specific needs. In more complex events, wireless users may need up to four separate conferences each with individual volume and talk control.
This configuration effectively emulates the studio’s matrix-based communication while being more suited to remote venue operation. The two sides of the production are then connected via the same transport network being used to relay the program’s audio and video. In this way, a seamless, robust and reliable communication configuration is established that lets all parties—on either side of the link—work as if everyone was located at the event.
Author: Tom Turkington, Vice President of Technology, Pliant Technologies
While remote production opens the door for lucrative content opportunities, pursuing those opportunities without a proven, reliable and cost-effective communications solution puts the production at risk. With a little planning and proper intercom technology selection, even the most challenging remote production events can be successful. If done correctly, viewers will never know that the entire production staff was hundreds or thousands of miles away from the actual event!
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