By Kevin Mockford, Director, Contribution Distribution and Broadcast Segment, MediaKind
We all know demand for live coverage of events – particularly sports – is growing all the time. Even in today’s climate, sports fans are counting down the days to the return of live action back on screen – where safe to do so of course – rather than re-runs of the classic matches and nostalgic moments which have been recaptured extensively over the past few months. For broadcasters, this brings a whole host of delivery challenges. The complexities of live delivery today are vast; viewers expect access to their favorite events across multiple devices and locations. Yet, even the most niche of sporting events can now be made economically viable, thanks to the ease with which globally dispersed audiences can be reached via streaming services.
But at a time when budgets are being squeezed and the environmental impact of operations are under the spotlight, these challenges are evolving. With the return of the Bundesliga in Germany and NASCAR racing in the US earlier this month, the return of live sports will gather pace. As a result, broadcasters need to quickly find new ways to acquire live content, in the necessary quality and at a cost that makes commercial sense. The current COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting social distancing rules have only complicated matters further. It’s no longer just a question of financials – reducing the quantity of people and equipment that needs to be sent on site to cover an event is now an absolute necessity for the health and safety of all involved in production work. So, within this changing climate, this is the perfect opportunity for broadcasters to explore and turn to at-home (or ‘remote’) production techniques. I encourage you to read MediaKind’s latest application paper to learn more about our work in this area. Download Here
Of course, at-home production has been building real momentum across the industry long before the outbreak of coronavirus – it was certainly one of the industry buzz-terms on the showfloor during IBC last September. In simple terms, at-home production is all about taking the video, audio and data feeds from the event venue and transmitting them to a remote production facility (increasingly actually at-home) where the process of creating the complete program is carried out. This could include vision mixing, audio mixing, adding graphics – even extending as far as remote commentary. A typical at-home production workflow can be seen below.
However, cost is not the only consideration when it comes to covering live events and inevitably there are challenges and compromises associated with at-home production that must be overcome. The three main areas include:
Synchronization: Maintaining synchronization between all video, audio and metadata feeds is essential to enabling remote video and audio mixing. For example; you don’t want to switch between two cameras capturing the final putt on the 18th green and see the ball appear to momentarily jump back out of the hole! The technique used to achieve and maintain synchronization between the feeds must be robust enough to handle real-world operational challenges such as transmission links momentarily dropping out, or equipment failing and being replaced by a back-up unit. Under such circumstances, correct synchronization must be restored easily and quickly, ideally without requiring any operator intervention.
End-to-End Latency: There is often a strong desire to minimize any latency in the production and distribution chain for live sports, but it can become even more critical if the production is being performed remotely from the venue. How critical this is, and to what extent the maximum latency can be tolerated, is dependent on exactly what control tasks are being performed remotely. This could include camera control; video and audio mixing; and video & audio being returned to venue (e.g. providing the cue for contributions from pitchside reporters or to cameramen, so they take the desired viewpoint)
The availability and cost of transmission bandwidth: The availability of data bandwidth at a venue and the cost of connectivity can vary enormously. However, it is critical to the technical and commercial viability of at-home production. Without the necessary amount of bandwidth to transport all of the video and audio feeds back to the production facility at the necessary quality and within the desired transmission latency, at-home production is simply not possible.
So how do we resolve these challenges? Tomorrow , my MediaKind colleague Matthew Goldman will be participating in the first episode of SVG’s ‘At-Home Production Series’ (2pm EST), which focuses on live events. Matthew will be discussing how at-home workflows have become the lifeblood for the media industry and how new technology developments are helping service providers to deliver new offerings with greater ease and robustness. Join him to learn about some of the recent developments and services that helping to make a real difference to production efforts and how broadcasters have new opportunities to better utilize highly skilled staff and expensive equipment when live sporting events return to our screens. Register to watch the event here!
To learn more, download the MediaKind Application Paper ‘Remote or At-Home Production: challenges, opportunities and future’.