Reinvention and innovation are two of the outcomes of the pandemic, with TV and consumer choice the main beneficiaries, according to a recent panel debate around the state of technology and broadcast services after the impact of Covid-19.

An event in central London last month saw a number of technology companies contribute to panel sessions that charted the evolving nature of the broadcast industry since the outbreak of the pandemic.

working from home remote working

Remote working: Identified as an ongoing trend

At the Bubble House event, Ben Dales, former head of digital at IABM, hosted a panel titled ‘The Democratisation of Technology and Reinvention of Broadcast Services’.

He spoke to Phil Ventre, VP of Broadcast at disguise, Paddy Taylor, head of broadcast at MRMC, Karsten Schragmann, head of product Management at Vidispine, Rick Capstraw, chief revenue officer at Ateliere (Ownzones) and Motion Impossible chief product officer Ben Dair.

Ventre observed that there was a number of trends in evidence: “We’re seeing more of a lower footprint, for people doing more with less and I think there’s much more integration with what were previously seen as competing technologies.”

disguise Phil Ventre

disguise: Phil Ventre

As an example of the first trend, Ventre pointed to some of the big broadcasters, which he said were looking to go down a greener route pre-Covid. “For example, even before the pandemic, BT Sport was lowering the number of people on site for Champions League teams and encouraging vendors to work together to deliver a much more streamlined workflow,” he recalled.

“As a company we work very well like that; we like to play nicely with everybody.”

Ventre said democratisation had been good for the industry. “I also think it has been good for vendors as well, because seeing how people have to work together has driven innovation forward at a much faster pace than we’ve seen in previous years,” he added.

Looking at postproduction, Vidispine’s Schragmann observed a huge boost in remote workflows, caused not only by the pandemic but also due to technology improvements. “This is not a new development we see here, but the pace has been increased,” he said.

“[Vendors] seeing how people have to work together has driven innovation forward at a much faster pace than we’ve seen in previous years,” Phil Ventre, disguise 

Schragmann said it was a similar story with the way Vidispine works together with its customers, particularly the way they are using the cloud. “All sizes of our customers, not only small to mid-range but also large enterprises, are considering a managed cloud architecture.

They see the importance [of cloud] in scaling and covering peak phases in the system and AI, coming with the cloud, is also becoming seen as mandatory in production. It’s not a question of can we offer it, but the question is more what can we offer and how flexible is our solution?”

“People recognise that their content will be much more secure than if they were hosting it on their own - I think that’s a very important point. We’re seeing that mindset entirely change,” he added.

Schragmann said such infrastructure required strong collaboration with the customer: “We need to work closely together with them to be able to manage their requirements but also to manage the entire system, the infrastructure. We have been doing more proof of concepts in the past one and a half years. More collaboration with the customers is the key to success for the systems that we provide.”

Paddy Taylor of Mark Roberts Motion Control (MRMC) said he had observed a switch in broadcasters who traditionally used 2/3in sensor broadcast cameras moving to prosumer alternatives. “We’ve got a couple of tier one broadcast customers that use our robotics with Nikon mirrorless cameras for video,” he said.

“Then there’s the rise of the PTZ camera. Three or four years ago, if you had asked tier one broadcast customers ‘is this something that you would consider using to replace your 2/3in CCD broadcast cameras?’, they wouldn’t have done it. That’s changed partly because of the circumstances, but also partly because we’re entering into a world where prosumer technology has become so good it’s absolutely possible to use those kinds of tools in these kinds of workflows.”

Minimising footprints

“Pre-pandemic, the industry was already heading towards [remote] production and more companies were using it as part of carbon-neutral initiatives,” observed Dales.

“The flexibility that we need to offer to our customers is also something that has an effect on carbon footprint,” said Schragmann. “Remote post production can be improved with technology [enhancements], not only on the infrastructure side, with cloud-native solutions and cloud infrastructure, but also in transcoding, with lower bandwidth required for video codecs.”

“As a small British company we’ve always strived to be as carbon neutral and sustainable as possible,” said Taylor. “Now we’re part of a bigger company and within Nikon we are the most environmentally friendly part of the business.”

 “There’s a lot of demand, rightly so, for better workflows that support the environment and reduce the impact that we’re having,” Paddy Taylor, MRMC 

“One of the things that we’ve been talking about for a while with our software solutions is to minimise the amount of [carbon] expenditure, particularly travel, by being able to automate areas of production,” he added.

“This has become a really big thing over the past two or three years. Customers that were traditionally scared of the idea of using this sort of technology have come on board very quickly, [spurred by] the idea of reducing the footprint of their productions. We have a number of customers that are insisting on making their live sports events [carbon-zero].

“Very recently, we progressed a project around that very scenario. The final piece of the puzzle for [the customer] was how the automation from the Polymotion Player [robotic camera system] enables them to reduce the impact of their productions. I think this is something that’s growing very quickly and there’s a lot of demand, rightly so, for getting better workflows that support the environment and reduce the impact that we’re having.”

Vive la différence

The final question considered by the panel concerned consumer expectations and demand, and how content owners are facing the challenges.

“From a consumer point of view, everybody’s wanting more,” said Ventre. “Everybody was in lockdown across the world and the only industry that benefited was TV, because there was nothing anybody else could do.

“I think the UK has been the thought leader in how we engage with consumers and deliver content. Some of the UK broadcasters have been the key drivers around the world in how to get more content out to a wider audience across different platforms. I think that’s only going to carry on.”

“The ability of smaller firms to feasibly financially deliver content is getting better, so we’re starting to see a lot of smaller catalogues of niche genre content,” said Rick Capstraw of media supply chain firm Ateliere. “The ability to [meet] consumer demand, whether it be for Turkish soap operas or simply new content on major platforms, is extremely exciting from a consumer’s standpoint.”

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Schragmann agreed, pointing out Vidispine’s system was often used as the backbone for providing this content: “We see that there are changes in how our customers are addressing this in terms of their users. So we also need to adjust our portfolio, to make sure that we offer the right solutions for the customers, their users and the platforms that they want to provide [content] for.”

“We’ve got a challenge now everyone’s consuming more content in different ways,” said Taylor. “What we’re seeing as a result of that is a desire to try and create more interesting, and different, content.

”One of the things that we do in sports is people saying [they want to put in] new cameras. For example, we’ve got a Coach Cam initiative going on at the moment, where you can have a live feed tracking the coaches to see how they respond to a set of activities in the match. I think that [desire for difference] is driving innovation, which is a good thing.”