Even post-pandemic, remote production is the future of Media and Broadcast industries

September 10, 2020

4 min read

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I never thought of myself as a "remember when" type of guy, but you can’t help but look back when something you never thought would happen – a global pandemic – is happening and it promises to change your business forever. This is especially true when you work in live events and sports, like I do.

Up until recently, the live production industry’s annual calendar was filled with large conventions, meetings and conferences. We had a lot of fun, but a lot of business got done, too. One hotly discussed topic, even years ago, was remote production, and it wasn’t always met with a positive reception.

People didn't want to lose that feeling of being at a venue, feeding off the excitement of a live event when the energy carries from the field and into the production truck. Many years ago, I was in a truck for a World Series game at Yankee Stadium, and I remember it was literally shaking as the crowd celebrated after Tino Martinez hit a game-tying home run.

Fast forward to 2020, and COVID-19 has moved remote production from merely a topic of discussion to a day-to-day reality. Truthfully, it’s been creeping up on us gradually for some time now, spurred by the demand in the U.S. and globally for a wide range of traditional sports like lacrosse or volleyball that, while popular, don’t necessarily warrant the expense and time to bring a truck out on location. Outside of traditional sports, esports has been booming alongside the increased popularity of gaming worldwide, especially during the pandemic, as many sports leagues’ seasons were put on hold. Esports has been a pioneer in the use of remote production and the industry will continue to accelerate its adoption in media and broadcast operations.

Remote production is something we’re all certainly familiar with at Telstra. Last year, we covered the IAAF World Relay Championships in Japan where we delivered remote broadcasts to Australia and the U.K. using 10 gigabit per second diverse, hitless IP networks using VC2 ultra-low latency to transport 30 HD feeds across almost 10,000 miles. We’ve also been on the forefront of this in Australia, building out a network solely relying on remote production in 2017 in conjunction with FOX Sports and working with 27 tier one, two and three venues.

Gaining that experience with remote production means we were already set up for the current global environment, putting us in a very strong position in the media and broadcast industry. Moreover, we’re continuing to expand our capabilities by working with international broadcasters, forging new partnerships and increasing our connectivity to the points where our customers need to get to and from – all with the goal of being the enabling driver behind the future of seamless and dynamic remote production.

Demonstrating the long-term viability of remote production

Once COVID hit, Telstra’s media and broadcast bookings dropped dramatically, event cancellations were coming in daily and we needed a plan to get us through this slow period. We all agreed the best course was to expand our network and our partnerships, building out to the areas where we knew customers would want to be once things started getting back to some sense of normalcy.

A perfect opportunity for us to start accomplishing this actually grew out of a current relationship, and it demonstrated what happens when partners, sports organizations and technology providers all work together.

We had been working with R+S Consulting and PSSI, two of our customers/partners, to increase Telstra’s capacity into their Pittsburgh-based teleport. This effort would prove beneficial when soon after, we began support of a major international sports competition that, due to COVID restrictions prohibiting fan attendance, would rely heavily on pay-per-view and arena simulcasts.

While much of the on-site production was based on a traditional broadcast center model, during the event’s final week we worked with R+S and PSSI to test the capabilities of long-term remote-only production from this location. Using our Global Media Network (GMN), it was seamless to carry the events across our network. We put everything up on multiple satellites and Telstra’s teleports and our partners downlinked and fed content to our GMN for distribution to rights holders.

This "test case" was clear proof that remote production works and will be a key part of media and broadcast operations in 2020 and beyond. It also gave us the opportunity to enhance our Global Media Network, building on our global subsea cable infrastructure, IP transit, media cloud connectivity, and world-class satellite services.

Interested to learn more about how we can help you deliver live broadcasts around the world? Contact us here.

"We’re not going back"

Sports is already returning and while it may look different at first (and maybe forever?), we’ve got to do whatever we can to prepare ourselves for this comeback and put our customers in the best position to succeed.

And we’re not alone in this. Recently, Telstra co-hosted and participated in a webinar (watch the full recording here) during which our colleagues shared similar experiences in navigating these somewhat uncharted waters. It was a chance to gain insights into the return of live sports broadcasting from well-known industry veterans – and Telstra partners – such Mike Davies, SVP, Technical and Field Operations at FOX Sports; Mary Ellen Carlyle, SVP and GM at Dome Productions; and, Eric Bolten, VP of Business Development at Zixi. We all learned a great deal not only about the logistics required to successfully pull off a live remote production, but also the human factors of dealing with this pandemic.

Mike summed it up best saying, "It's been a journey for sure. We've been perfecting our recipe of mitigation for crews that keeps everybody safe first and then allows them to do their job second."

Now that FOX Sports is well into the baseball season, they’ve taken their lessons learned from MLS and NASCAR, which returned earlier this year, and applied them to their MLB production. He also brought up the fact there was so much more to consider now than just the event.

"You need to figure out a way to minimize your presence on site to eliminate that density of crew. Then how do you keep them apart and make sure they're safe? And finally, what are your mitigation efforts, your sanitization, your PPE, your protocols? Everybody's got a slightly different way of doing that. There's no one size fits all solution to this."

Read more about the industry-wide safety protocols and COVID-19 sports production guidelines Sports Video Group has developed here

Mary Ellen gave a rundown of Dome Productions’ preparations for the NHL and NBA, plus how they dealt with the restrictions placed on the Toronto Blue Jays as far as traveling for MLB games once the Canadian government ruled it was not safe enough for them to come back and forth across the border.

In addition to building their own versions of quarantine bubbles, she said, "The biggest thing is to make sure you have a plan first. The client wants to come into the truck so now you must make room for them and make sure the [Plexiglass barriers] are in the right places. Also, we no longer have buckets of water. We want people to bring their own water bottles, and we have coolers in each bubble. Just all that takes time. That's something we have to think about that if we move a truck from one event to the next event, how do we clean that and make sure we're safe."

Mike noted in the current environment, technology providers like Telstra or Zixi--another partner of ours—are more important than ever as the backbone for everyone’s new infrastructure.

"Even though many companies had contingency plans, this pandemic really pushed the boundaries of ‘in case of emergency break glass," Eric noted.

Like Telstra, Zixi has been managing remote networks globally for several years so they were also well equipped to handle this transition. That’s why something Eric added about the future of our business really hit home and underscored the need for being flexible and adaptable.

"We're not going back," he said. "This is going to change the way we manage control rooms, the way trucks produce and the way everyone interacts. After a few more months, it will be strange that people would go back to the way they used to work."

Perhaps the biggest lesson we’ve all learned, from the webinar and our recent experiences, is that we all still have a lot more to learn. Although Telstra has been doing this for a while, expansion of our partner relationships and our networks is key for continued success, not just in the U.S., but across the globe. Fairly soon we hope to announce new deals with international broadcasters and several pro sports leagues in different countries.

While there are still many uncertainties in all aspects of daily lives, one certainty is the demand for sports—which goes hand in hand with the need for live sports broadcasting. We've got the facilities, the network, the partners and the experience to enable it. It’s just a matter of knowing where the interest is and how can we best meet the demand.

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