In this article Adrian Pennington reviews technologies enabling production companies and broadcasters to deliver high quality content to viewers while optimising costs, resources, and eliminating travel.
Whilst the world grapples with the emergency outbreak of the coronavirus, we are seeing not only how people modify their behaviour but will see how businesses must modify theirs. Events being cancelled, travel being scaled back and replaced with teleconferencing. Many corporations have sent staff home to work where it is possible to do so. This is all made possible because we as a society already have much of the technology to facilitate flexible working. Give your office-based staff a laptop and access to the internet, and they are ready to sit in their home office or at their kitchen table.
“What has changed in the last few weeks is that working remotely is no longer a work-life balance argument, or a nice-to-have, it is now a question of business continuity,” says Jan Weigner, CEO, Cinegy. “The crisis is forcing companies to reevaluate their ways of working and finally act upon it. The technological infrastructure is in place and we have the tools ready to go – from acquisition over production to distribution, all can be handled remotely and/or in the cloud.”
With bases in the UK, mainland Europe, Middle East, Australia and North America, Never.no’s teams are able to service regional customers without the risk of the virus affecting workflows or production needs. Bee-On is its cloud-based audience engagement platform runs on AWS for access anywhere with a web browser and internet connection, “so there is no need for production teams to be managed under one roof,” CEO Scott Davies says.
“Individual projects can be pre-planned and packaged with audience generated content and dynamic visualisations prior to delivery/broadcast of live or pre-recorded content. Viewers continue to watch, more-so during a crisis, so content producers need to continue programming and deliver captivating content, with audience engagement a priority – Bee-On can help deliver this.”
He adds, “We’re seeing a need for packaged end-to-end solutions that utilise cloud-production and seamlessly integrates ‘off-the-shelf’ graphics and compatibility with native broadcast graphics for a wide range of programming, such as news, live events and popular chat shows. Gone are the days where production is managed and delivered from one hub.”
Demand for Quicklink’s video call management system has never been higher, according to CEO Richard Rees. The firm is releasing a completely browser-based cloud supported workflow with automated Panasonic PTZ camera and lighting.
“A journalist could sit at home and interview someone located elsewhere live to air while a colleague edits the video online (in Adobe Premiere) and in realtime,” says CEO Richard Rees. “That edit could be passed to a control room for wider channel distribution. The whole environment is now virtualised. We believe this is the future.”
VSN has added new capabilities for remote interoperability to its VSN NewsConnect web plugin for news production. This was on the cards for a NAB release but recent events have made them more relevant.
VSN NewsConnect, which brings together a number of third party tools required for news production, now enables users to control multiple studios in different locations, even if the systems used in the studios are different.
“What this means is that a journalist can simply send a news item to any studio and NewsConnect will automatically ensure that the delivered content matches the format requirements of the receiving devices,” said Patricia Corral, marketing director. “This remote interoperability is very useful in enabling news to be repurposed to the requirements of local broadcasters without worrying about technical compatibility.”
Pixel Power’s work is currently mainly based around large projects for refurbishment or replacement of playout and production infrastructure; projects with long timescales, so the current viral outbreak isn’t yet causing any major changes in demand.
“Our technology can be virtualized and deployed in data centre or public cloud, with remote access operation from anywhere in the world,” explains James Gilbert, CEO. “This is not something that can be done as an impulse reaction to the current situation - this capability has to be architected and designed into the product from the beginning.”
Once the outbreak subsides, the evolution of remote, decentralised working practices is likely to accelerate. “The industry is already moving towards remote, decentralised working practices because of the ecological and economic benefits,” Gilbert says. “The ability of staff to work from any location is core to that concept and whilst it is an obvious advantage during the current outbreak where staff may be required to, or choose to, work from home, I do not feel the pace of change will be accelerated - there are already enough drivers for it.”
Collaborative workflows with someone sitting next to you or on the opposite side of the world is in the DNA of storage solutions specialist GB Labs.
“We’ve fostered cloud integration for years and therefore, have always offered a remote workflow,” says Dominic Harland, CEO/CTO. “Obviously, there will be many other challenges with this ongoing situation, but GB Labs is confident that accessing content securely and quickly will not be one of them.
He thinks current events will accelerate solutions to enable a faster response to any future crisis. “The next two/three months is not long enough to develop, test and bring to market anything exceptional, but we are definitely looking at developing new products and new solutions. Whether this becomes a real-world advantage that the customer will want to buy after the outbreak subsides, well, that’s a different question.”
Each Bridge Technologies product has transformative potential in the field of remote broadcast and production, but none so more than its Widglets API. This leverages the full value of data collected by its VB440 - video, audio and ancillary - not only for network performance monitoring but also for a multitude of other workflows and applications. Full motion, colour-accurate, ultra-low-latency video, for example, can be made available from any source to any application or user.
“Being browser based, all that is required is a laptop and a network connection,” explains Tim Langridge Head of Marketing. “Each geographically dispersed user receives feeds from multiple cameras with multiple waveform vectorscopes and streams via a single HTML5 video monitor view. Not only does this result in incredible technical improvements in production and improved decision making, but also logistically frees up immense amounts of room in OB vans or MCRs – making them more efficient, affordable and adaptable.”
Blackbird has seen a significant increase in sales enquiries since the containment phase began. “Enterprises need effective technology solutions to enable their workforces to operate efficiently whilst working at home or remotely,” says CEO, Ian McDonough. “Blackbird is a fully featured video editor available in any browser and can operate at low bandwidth. It's the perfect solution for the majority of live and file-based video production workflows.”
Essentially Blackbird can be used by anyone, any time, anywhere and this flexibility is enormously attractive to enterprises looking to drive massive productivity efficiencies through their operations. It also runs on bandwidth as low as 2Mb/s which is ideal given the pressure in traffic over the network – a situation which has caused Netflix and YouTube to throttle back their bitrates.
“As teams become used to de-centralised video production and enterprises enjoy significant infrastructure savings together with a flexible globally distributed workforce untethered to source content, we anticipate an accelerated adoption of Blackbird,” McDonough adds.
For live sports workflows, there are few production partners more experienced than Gravity Media. In February it wrapped its 2000th remote production, in this case of a Pac-12 Networks’ broadcast of the USC Trojans 65-56 win over the Washington State Cougars.
This impressive number includes ‘At Home’ centralized productions that were undertaken under the Proshow Broadcast (acquired by Gravity Media in July 2018) and Gearhouse Broadcast brand.
The benefits of this remote approach are obvious, with REMIs offering a cost-efficient modern workflow that is operationally flexible and durable. By centralizing the control room, video switching, audio mixing, graphics, replays and show production can all be done ‘At Home’ in the broadcast centre. This means that smaller, more affordable purpose-built mobile units can be used at the venue. Only video and audio acquisition hardware such as engineered cameras, microphones and announcer headsets, as well as comms hardware, a transmission interface and engineering support are required on site. Company president Michael Harabin, says, “The potential for creating quality programming at an attractive price has never been greater, and we now have over 2000 proof points that showcase its consistent effectiveness and our ability to deliver.”
Sweden’s Intinor specialises in helping companies overcome the challenges of remote production. “As we are currently in lock-down of travel for personnel, the benefits of remote production could be felt all the more keenly,” says Daniel Lundstedt, regional sales manager. “Instead of having to arrange for operators to travel on location, broadcasting companies could instead work with local talent with equipment all that needs to be shipped rather than staff members.”
Intinor is already able to make going live, from anywhere, very easy, without marshalling a small (but expensive) army to make it happen. It’s all down to the “supreme mobility” of its Direkt link remote production pack. With an Intinor Direkt receiver or router in a control room, captured audio and video from a camera or mixer connected to a backpack can be streamed over public internet to a Direkt router and then re-streamed using other protocols, transcoded or outputed to SDI or NDI.
Mobile Viewpoint has a heritage in remote production solutions, especially for live streaming. CEO Michel Bais says the company has proven to reduce costs for production companies by not having to send a wealth of resource to an event.
“As we see companies trying to reduce their carbon footprint, it has emerged that it is not only cost savings that are driving these innovations,” he tells InBroadcast. “In line with this philosophy, we have developed remote cameras that allow sports games to be live streamed but without the need for a camera crew or an onsite production team.”
With the IQ-Sports Producer, an entire field of play can be recorded with a single 4x4K camera, while AI is used to create a virtual zoom of the play by automatically following players and the ball. Games can be live steamed in real time and with different format versions depending whether it is for web streaming, or for higher quality broadcasts requiring HD-SDI workflows, all at a fraction of the cost of an on-site production team.
vPilot is another AI driven solution from Mobile Viewpoint that can be used for remote newsrooms. A combination of cameras using 3D sensors and audio cues means round-table discussions can bet set-up without the need for a camera team or an onsite director. “Both IQ-Sports Producer and vPilot can be managed remotely with cameras that can be semi-permanently installed to create quality and cost-effective programming,” Bais says.
Net Insight’s plug and play solution Nimbra extends the production workflow to reach remote venues anywhere on the globe, with the same ease of operations as for traditional in-house productions.
Nimbra is a high-quality multi-service media transport over IP platform supporting both native video and audio in addition to standard IP/Ethernet. Built-in video processing, low-latency JPEG 2000 and MPEG-4 encoding, as well as unique features for equipment control and synchronisation, makes it a great choice for remote production. Users include SVT and TV2 Denmark.
“100 percent reliability is key for remote live production and our solution offers mechanisms to assure the content is delivered with perfect quality regardless of network issues,” the company states. “Enterprise customers can use the solution to deliver live video content to support internal communications and working remotely.”
All of Cinegy’s software solutions lend themselves to flexible working practices. “We have long been a proponent of virtualization and IP – and what is the cloud if nothing more than using someone else’s computer, hosted somewhere else? Says Weigner.
“Give your office-based staff a laptop, access to the internet and access to Cinegy software– locally or in the cloud, and they are ready to remotely produce content using Cinegy Desktop, remotely playout content with Cinegy Air; remotely monitor channels with Cinegy Multiviewer. Whether our customer is at home or at another location and needs to set-up a pop-up channel in the cloud, doesn’t matter.
“Our customers who already embraced our workflows are more prepared and ready to deal with the new business practices that are emerging,” he argues. “Being ready for this business process change is markedly harder than being ready for a technology change. In this case, circumstances are dictating that there must be change. The barriers are being lowered and it is time to embrace it.”