The Future of Distributed Live Video Production
The media and entertainment sector is seeing huge advances in the use of leading-edge methods and technologies as the events of the last two years have forced changes that many could not have imagined beforehand. New cloud-driven approaches are revolutionizing the way live content is produced and delivered.
The pandemic has accelerated trends that were already in motion and opening up new possibilities for media companies capitalizing on the explosion of streaming and direct-to-consumer platforms. Increased use of remote production techniques and cloud-based workflows for live events, especially sports, has ushered in a rapid evolution in live video content creation. We have seen a shift from an almost strict adherence to a traditional onsite production model, to the use of remote methods, to now employing a more flexible, cloud-enabled distributed approach.
Gone are the days when above-the-line crew need to fly to arenas, stadiums and other venues to produce and deliver great coverage of an event. The range of production options that cloud opens up enables leagues, broadcasters and other rightsholders to cherry-pick the talent and tools that best fit their needs and budget. The shift to a more flexible live production model has been brewing for a number of years but it has unquestionably been accelerated by the pandemic.
Were the New Production Model Is Coming From
Before the pandemic, we were already seeing the growing use of remote production – where above-the-line technical crews are located at fully-equipped remote facilities and connected by robust video delivery networks – for close to a decade. Its adoption has been massively accelerated as broadcasters and rightsholders have needed to minimize travel and onsite personnel to meet rules and guidelines aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19. It’s now become a standard option for most large-scale live event productions, with at least some if not all elements of the workflow performed remotely.
Over the past five years, the swift development of cloud-based production tools has provided even more options across a wider range of projects employing remote production methods. Media companies are now able to execute the entire end-to-end production process in a cloud-based environment, covering everything from IP video contribution to graphics creation to low-latency communications to clipping and editing to distribution. Available as a flexible on-demand offering, cloud-based production expands the horizons of live content producers, enabling near-real-time social media highlights, delivery to streaming services, and the ability to spin up more pre- and post-game shoulder programming and sideline feeds.
Connecting with Audiences Across all Platforms
Still regarded by some as the "new kid on the block," the cloud's robustness and reliability have been well proven through the pandemic as Tier-1 sports, news, and entertainment organizations have used it to maintain standards despite the limits imposed on them by the crisis. Increasingly, sports leagues and media companies in particular are relying on its flexibility and growing feature set to enhance and expand the types of content they can produce and deliver.
A great example is an NHL project that used The Switch's cloud video services platform, to produce and deliver a unique slate of social media programming. Ahead of 21 key games in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, The Switch worked closely with the league to support pre-game coverage that aired on Twitter Live. The entire production process was managed in the cloud, with the workflow linking talent and crews from Long Island, Burbank, New York, Chicago and Brooklyn, enabling them to coordinate the program in real time. The project helped the NHL to tailor highly interactive content, including betting odds, for its fans on Twitter, building anticipation in the run-up to crucial playoff and finals games.
A Match of Production Tools Made in Heaven
The combination of remote and cloud-based production capabilities—bolstered by traditional mobile and on-site production where needed—has resulted in the exciting new distributed production model emerging. The business benefits of this approach are clear: streamlined production costs; improved operational and resource efficiency; and unprecedented flexibility and scalability. These advantages play a significant role in enabling rightsholders to go above and beyond their current approach to production, doing more with less while experimenting with new types of coverage before, during and after live events to create a more immersive consumer experience.
The 2021 Latin Grammys offers another prime example of a major event using a distributed production model to go above and beyond its linear broadcast offering. The Latin Recording Academy livestreamed the preliminary ceremony and main awards show to social media channels, along with real-time highlights capturing all the anticipation and action around the event – all in addition to delivering the broadcast feeds for the primary US rightsholder, Spanish-speaking network Univision.
The project utilized the full capabilities of the cloud, with dedicated editors and other crew working from The Switch’s Burbank production facility, 20 Spanish and Portuguese language social media operators working from remote locations around the world, and connectivity paths carrying feeds between the American Airlines Arena, Univision’s Miami production facility, and the Burbank production center. All aspects of the production and delivery workflow were handled in the cloud, including editing, graphics creation, clipping, comms and talk-back, and distribution.
All Roads Lead to a Distributed Future
Looking ahead to the rich line-up of major live events in 2022—including the forthcoming Beijing Winter Olympics, FIFA World Cup, and NHL Winter Classic—broadcasters, leagues, and other rightsholders have the chance to capitalize on creative new methods and expand the ways their fans can enjoy and engage with their content.
The reliability, creativity, and cost-efficiency of remote, cloud and distributed production have been put to the test through the pandemic and shown outstanding results. Media companies, sports organizations, and other rightsholders have the substantial advantage of creating tailored workflows that work for each type and size of production. This new menu of production capability has opened a whole range of opportunities for coverage of future live events.
[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from The Switch. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]
Blizzard Director, Live Operations, Global Broadcast Corey Smith discusses some of the roadblocks Blizzard has encountered when using NDI in cloud and remote workflows for gaming and esports in this clip from a panel at Streaming Media West 2021.
LiveU's Scott Sheehan discusses the transition to advanced codecs like HEVC in remote production workflows and streaming and the benefits of adopting those codecs in this clip from Streaming Media West Connect 2021.
Gigcasters' Casey Charvet discusses how Gigcasters and the agencies they work with have embraced remote production and virtual and hybrid events--first out of necessity with the challenges of the pandemic, then recognizing the new possibilities and opportunities they offer.
Blizzard Entertainment's Corey Smith discusses the shift toward full cloud remote (REMI) production in large-scale event streaming in this clip from a panel at Streaming Media East Connect 2020.