Sustainability and environmental impact have become essential parts of business strategy across the media industry, but the devil is in the detail, reports Andrew Williams.
The topic of how today’s broadcasting bodies should think about the carbon footprint of their business was illuminated in several different ways by an expert IBC2022 panel, which looked at both the ways to explore broadcast’s impact in the home, and as an industry, the latter using ITV as a lens.
Another key development recognised that high dynamic range (HDR) mobile displays, increasingly used for streamed video, consume considerable energy, and looked at methods to predict the battery capacity required, and how to choose energy-saving viewing options.
Energy Efficiency: Mindful behaviours in the home
Regina Bernhaupt is a UX expert and professor at the Eindhoven University of Technology who works with Ruwido, a company that produces advanced remote controls for the home. Bernhaupt suggested the best way to get consumers to make more environmentally friendly decisions is through choice rather than dictating what the right behaviour should be.
“Allow them to judge for themselves, and give them incentives to do so,” said Bernhaupt.
Her research identified four categories of outlook that tend to determine how people feel about modifying their behaviour with regard to the environment. These are self-enhancement, openness to change, self-transcendence and conservation.
She found that the demographics amenable to a more environmental way of thinking vary based on culture, on where people live, but the self-transcendence and conservation groups were most likely to moderate their behaviour.
“A good suggestion for you becomes a habit,” said Bernhaupt, referring to the ways smart home technology can be used to limit household energy use. This could be turning off heating and lights in specific rooms, using the visual indicators and hands-free controls that smart home tech provides.
“Basic usability will be key,” she said. However, this becomes something of a trickier topic when one homes in on more active forms of entertainment like video streaming. In these cases, efficiency savings on the part of the user require a little more than just a slightly more mindful approach. Lights not specifically required may be left on carelessly, but in most homes that is less likely to happen with the living room TV set.
Bernhaupt suggested people may begin to think a little more about the level of brightness required when watching content, dropping down the backlight level. Many modern TVs now use ambient light sensors to automatically alter display intensity to suit the room and have ultra-low power standby modes.
Energy Efficiency: Reducing the content production contribution
The conversation gets more interesting when the view is flipped, and assessed from a production standpoint, rather than from where the consumer sits.
“Technology is an enabler. The data centre is an enabler, but true change comes from creating that carbon-conscious culture within a company,” said Microsoft Media Technologist Joe Newcombe.
Microsoft is one of the key partners involved in ITV’s move to reduce its energy usage and carbon footprint by taking a less conventional approach to the making of TV programmes. This started during the pandemic, which had forced the production team of feel-good cooking show John & Lisa’s Weekend Kitchen into a hybrid model, where editors were left working from home rather than in the usual editing suite.
ITV Studios’ Head of Production Technology Tim Guilder was tasked with designing a production workflow that would actually work, considering teams would often be running off home broadband. This also offered an opportunity to make some significant improvements to the carbon footprint of the operation, in multiple respects.
“We need to look any things like travel. Remote production can obviously reduce the travel of your staff,” said Guilder. He talks of the “power hungry infrastructure” of the traditional editing suite, calculating that the central apparatus room consumes up to 576kWh over 24 hours, the edit suite itself 76.8kWh. The two combined consume the equivalent of draining 130,000 MacBook Air batteries in 24 hours.
“The dream was to virtualise all of that. The gauntlet was laid down to many of our existing providers,” said Guilder.
The result was a chain of partners to free ITV’s creation teams from the centralised production suite. Teradici is used for remote desktop access, Leostream functioning as the connection broker. Avid is used for cloud editing, Telestream for on-cloud transcoding, and Microsoft Azure provides the virtualised servers.
Energy Efficiency: The offsetting impact
The result is a seamless production workflow that is a perfect fit for a hybridised workforce, allowing for far greater flexibility. On seeing that list of partners one might be forgiven for imagining this is a case of offsetting carbon burden onto other companies, but it is not that simple.
Guilder describes the previous high rate of hardware infrastructure attrition, how maintaining editing workstations eventually results in significant e-waste as well as high capital expenditure. Microsoft, meanwhile, can approach the issue much more successfully.
“We’re a big company so we have a lot of places we can recycle our infrastructure. So what we’re doing is taking a lot of the servers, when they go end of life, and putting them back in our supply chain - what we call circular supply chain,” said Microsoft’s Newcombe.
The massive scale of Azure also lets Microsoft approach the design of infrastructure with extremely high environmental standards, and creativity.
“Most cloud providers who are putting a lot of time and effort into building their data centres are doing it in a different way. At Microsoft we’ve got a carbon pledge - carbon negative, water positive and zero waste by 2030. That means all of all of our data centres are powered by renewable energy. By 2030 100% of our electricity will be zero carbon energy sources.
“We’re also looking at changing how we even build our data centres. These are things that would be more difficult to do for private data centres. We’re looking at things like algae bricks, to make sure the places we’re actually housing this infrastructure are sustainable as well,” said Newcombe.
While virtualisation of production infrastructure does not wipe away energy consumed, a centralised approach can bring a focus on sustainability in a manner that may not be feasible for more atomised players, or smaller production companies.
Regina Bernhaupt, Director User Experience Research, Ruwido Austria Gmbh, Tim Guilder, Head of Production Technology, ITV Studios and Joe Newcombe, Media Technology Strategist, Microsoft UK discussed how to improve the environmental impact in the broadcast industry at IBC2022. The event was moderated by Stephan Heimbecher, Head of CC Production and Infrastructure, Technology and Production Directorate & Chairman, EBU SP Digital Media Production, SWR