Playout & Transmission Global Viewpoint – July 2020

Emerging From Lockdown

As life is once again starting to show some semblance of normality, how has the recent broadcast innovation impacted workflows? And how will this affect us in the coming months and years?

For many live sports broadcasters, their three-year plan to embrace remote operation has been accelerated to three weeks. This period has delivered unprecedented innovation as production and technical staff have found new ways of maintaining social distancing yet at the same time providing high quality productions.

Due to the power of IP and the opportunities it provides, entire studio crews have been able to work from home. Remote control for many devices including vision switchers, sound consoles, CG and even cameras has been made possible. Although the physical interface may not be at home, virtual panels controlled through desktop computers, notepads and even mobile phones has allowed these devices to be controlled from anywhere with an internet connection.

Relatively low latency compressed video and audio allow studio crews to watch the production from home, it might not be the 4K studio quality they’re used to, but it’s good enough to make a program with. Even intercom can be provided with a number of vendors offering audio over IP and virtualized control panels through desktop computers and mobile devices.

But where does this leave us as we emerge from lockdown? Are there going to be an army of studio crews all now working from home making live sports and television programs? I think not!

Having spent many years working in TV studios I can certainly vouch for anybody who says studio control rooms provide an ambiance, or vibe. The social interaction we all need demands that we work in relatively close physical proximity. This is far more than just talking on a phone or through one of the social media channels, this is about being in the same room as your co-workers to enhance the emotional connection and exude creativity.

One insight lockdown has brought is the resurgence of the age-old television debate “which came first, the technology or the creative production?” I’m sure production teams often feel constrained by the limitations of the technology, but by the same token, creativity in television wouldn’t progress very far if we didn’t have the technology in the first place. After all, it’s this technology that makes the expression of creativity possible.

Much of the innovation we’ve seen over the past three months will no-doubt stay with us for many years to come. But it is my view, that if you can move a task to a person’s home and the production doesn’t suffer, then you’re effectively removing the social interaction for that specific task and, hence minimizing its creative contribution. If this is the case, then I believe the task can be ultimately replaced with an automated solution, probably based on AI.

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