The future of production is not so much a destination as an ongoing journey that will see software, IP, cloud, managed services, virtualization, commodity plus custom hardware and artificial intelligence all forming part of the direction of travel for broadcasters and other content creators.
There is no one journey either: every broadcaster and production company is different, with its own unique trajectory based on tempo and circumstances—from traditional operators with broadcaster-centric infrastructure to newer players that have already embraced a largely managed service provide model with little hands-on involvement.
While the trend towards remote production was already underway in recent years, the coronavirus crisis has acted as a catalyst to accelerate the technologies enabling remote working. This has thrown up technical challenges such as managing latency and timing, and delivering the orchestration needed to allow the physical world of studio facilities and OB trucks to co-exist or merge with the more virtual software-centric production model.
Among the outcomes of this evolutionary journal in production will be the emergence of content factories that can handle a range of outputs across an array of live events, platforms and geographies. The aim for many is to tackle the yield-per-asset issue by creating more content, more efficiently and cost-effectively – with greater flexibility.
Demand for more content is only increasing, and it will be the organizations that embrace innovation and systems that foster it that will thrive, as terms like “remote production” and “cloud-based production” simply become “production.”
These are among the insightful observations of a white paper released by Grass Valley and authored by General Manager of Live Production Marco Lopez, with input and assistance from GV Technology Fellow Chuck Meyer and also Robert Erickson, Strategic Account Manager for Venues.
The white paper starts out with the premise that the TV production world has struggled to keep pace with the key drivers of technological advancement and evolving consumer behavior. The core broadcast technology principles of redundancy and always-on reliability have served market actors very well for decades, as audiences could totally rely on incoming sound and vision from the box in the corner of the living room.
However in recent times the audience has fragmented and bolder innovations are required to keep pace with an audience that is hungry for more platforms, devices, markets and versions of content. This era of media choice has made the job of creating compelling content more complex – and the COVID-19 crisis and lockdown in 2020 has massively accelerated this process. All content producers have had to set aside familiar ways of working to ensure crew safety and social distancing.
We all know now that “linear TV is no longer the unquestionable dominant medium, so broadcasters must learn new creation and delivery methods to thrive in the more diversified media landscape”.
TV network revenues are declining around the world, and at the same time production costs are escalating. Specialty programs are finding their niche on subscription-based OTT services with very targeted audiences.
Smaller and alternative sports that have struggled to get on TV are now finding themselves in demand. Media organisations around the world are re-thinking their business models based on falling TV revenues and rapidly increasing online and on-demand consumption.
“Production must now scale vertically and horizontally across formats, versions, language, device types and platforms to meet an increasingly diverse audience footprint,” according to the white paper. “However, there is no quick fix for rising production costs, and revenues are certainly not increasing to counteract the additional experience.”
Methods to Produce More and Better Content With Fewer Staff
So why not throw everything into the cloud? Is that the answer? In some cases, absolutely. While we know that remote production via the cloud has the advantage of up- and down scalability thanks to its OPEX model, it is not always feasible for some use cases. Besides, TV producers have existing equipment that needs to be amortised and kept working; it’s just not possible to mothball all that legacy hardware and software.
However, it is possible for the television production world to learn from other industries about rising costs and complexity. One example is the automotive industry, which has gone through several periods of existential crisis over recent decades and in a sink-or-swim scenario big players have come up with methods to produce more models and better models with fewer staff.
“General Motors, in common with the wider manufacturing world, has adopted more lean production methods, automated its factories and used advanced software to streamline its production workflow through design, logistics, quality and test. Similar trends are happening across a broad range of manufacturing sectors as business leaders strive to deliver products faster, with broader choice, and for a lower cost.”
Now, in the television industry, we are seeing a major shift towards technologies and workflows that enable production teams to achieve more with less. This shift includes the widespread adoption of IP to replace SDI, enabling less hardware-centric workflows and also increasing the possibility of production automation. Audience fragmentation and the demand for choice will continue to propel these changes – even despite the dreaded arrival of the coronavirus crisis. There is no way back to the old ways, for most live production professionals.
We all know we’ve got to change and adapt; but that doesn’t remove the engineering challenge inherent in large-scale live production. TV production is complex: you can move that complexity around, but you cannot eliminate it completely in our ‘show must go on’ environment.
TV production is complex: you can move that complexity around, but you cannot eliminate it completely in our “show must go on” environment
“Content production at its most basic equates to: we film it, we edit it, we deliver it. It sounds simple but finding ways to carry out these tasks more efficiently and, potentially, for less CAPEX and/or OPEX, requires shifting the technology stack towards a more software-centric position.
“As technology has progressed, the computational power of COTS servers within cloud-based environments that utilize virtualization offers a viable alternative geared towards and on-demand and OPEX-focused model.”
The future is one where flexibility and efficiency will be as crucial as reliability. “In key live content areas such as news and less frequent live events such as sports, concerts, awards and elections, traditional broadcasters and newer player alike will look for partners and ecosystems to help them navigate the complexities of production.
“At Grass Valley,” the white paper authors conclude, “we also understand the need for technology partnerships that bring specialist expertise in certain key disciplines to drive success. Our vision is that we and other pioneers will exist within a broad universe of technologies and utilize core open standards along with proprietary systems to ensure that production can transition towards greater efficiency and scale with more options around CAPEX or OPEX.”