Audio Global Viewpoint – July 2021

Remote Future

As broadcasters start to see some normality returning to their operations, will remote working now disappear to the history books? Or have broadcasters changed forever?

As lockdown is beginning to ease and crews have started to return to their stations, centralization has demonstrated its power, reliability, and flexibility. It’s been incredible to see live sports events being operated remotely as cameras and microphones feeds are streamed to the control room - the ultimate in back-haul. Not only has this solved many of the personal distancing challenges we’ve had to overcome, but it has also demonstrated that many of the much-reported benefits of IP are now actually reality.

Centralization has been a significant winner as broadcasters cover multiple events from one production facility. In his article NBCU Decentralizes Resources to Produce and Distribute Olympic Games Live, Mike Grotticelli goes into great detail when discussing how NBCU are receiving nearly 100 4K UHD feeds from the Olympic Broadcasting Services in Tokyo to produce 7,000 hours of broadcasting content in various locations throughout the USA.

Events such as the Eurovision Song Contest and the Olympic games have always been great drivers of technological advances, and 2021 has seen them excel even further. But have we now got so good at remote operations that we will never see an OB truck at a sporting or music event ever again?

My view is that remote is an enabling technology not a replacing technology. Some of the events, especially where there is a lot of sponsorship revenue at stake, will simply return to on-site and the OB trucks will return on mass. That said, even when an OB truck is on-site, feeds may be remoted back to the centralized production facility where specialist teams will create content for more specialist affiliate audiences.

But smaller events that may not have been covered or were just not commercially viable to justify an entire OB crew will benefit from centralization. Where events are marginal and production teams must make difficult decisions on the allocation of on-site resource will certainly benefit. The next progression in AI will see cameras with facial recognition creating their own shots to track specific team members.

However, something that I’m still considering is the human interaction aspect of media production. I’ve spoken to many producers who tell of how they absorb themselves in the emotional ambience of the event to help them connect with the collective audience and supporters to provide the best program possible. Even with the OB truck parked outside the stadium, just being able to hear the roar and banter of the crowd helps them deliver a truly immersive experience. I do tend to agree that the human and emotional aspect is a key differentiator in a production, but whether the CFO agrees with this view is another matter.

It’s fair to say that as an industry we’ve achieved so much over the past year, but I believe remote will continue to be an enabling technology and enhance the amount of coverage broadcasters provide, including on-site OB’s.