The recent COP26 conference and the urgent need to limit global temperature rises to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels has placed renewed emphasis on this IBC Accelerator, which seeks to expand some of the excellent work done throughout the broadcast and media industry to provide useful metrics for achieving carbon net zero live production.
As Andy Beale, chief engineer at BT Sport puts it succinctly: “There is literally no more important topic now than sustainability. We all need to take our personal and corporate responsibility for ensuring that we are carbon net zero, to ensure the future of our planet.”
The ultimate aim of the POC for the challenge set out by the team will be to showcase different techniques and technologies that can be used to reduce the environmental impact of a live production versus traditional OB workflows.
In addition, the Champions behind it want to introduce tips and tactics that anyone can use to help serve as a blueprint that can be used across the industry.
Champions BBC Sport, BT Sport, Sky, Albert, Premier League, Premier League Productions, NBC Universal, Super Sports.
Participants AWS, Microsoft, Singular.Live, Hitomi, Zixi, Blackbird, M2A Media
This has already been done in detail and with great success in the UK TV and film industries by albert, whose work has helped contribute to a 10% drop in the amount of carbon one hour of TV contributes to the atmosphere (from an equivalent of 10.2 tCO2e/hr in 2017 to 9.2 tCO2e/hr in 2019). In doing so it asks a range of extremely detailed questions regarding everything from the number of flights taken to litres of paint used on set.
Now, as part of the Accelerator, the same level of forensic detail will be applied to live production, with a particular emphasis on the new cloud workflows that are enabling more remote productions; lowering carbon footprints along with the amount of people and vehicles necessary at an event.
“We have the opportunity to really go in depth and develop an understanding of what cloud production means from a carbon footprint perspective,” comments Jo Finon, Manager of Responsible Productions at Sky.
“We don’t actually know what the connectivity footprints are, it’s been out of scope for Albert. So it’s really exciting to take them on a journey with us and to start lifting the lid on what kind of footprint we’ve previously had on traditional satellite uplinks, then remote production, and now with cloud production.”
Assessing cloud carbon
There has already been some excellent work done in this field. Sky, for instance, has gone carbon neutral for all its UK sports OBs this year and also produced its first net carbon zero football match in September, reducing its emissions by 70% and offsetting the remaining 30%.
(The important distinction between the two is that achieving ‘carbon neutrality’ is simply a case of purchasing the equivalent amount of carbon reduction credits to balance emissions, whereas ‘net zero’ involves a concerted attempt to reduce emissions with any remaining balance then being offset.)
The move towards cloud production, however, throws up several issues as the data on power consumption within data centres, and the way that different cloud workflows impact them, is largely unknown.
Mike Ward is head of marketing at Accelerator participant singular.live. “One of the black holes for us is that we’re a cloud platform, entirely digital cloud native, and so we make assumptions that therefore we are a more environmentally friendly platform than say, going out buying graphics hardware and shipping it around the world. But we don’t know, because we don’t get any measurement from any of our cloud providers. And Sky and BBC and BT Sport were saying the same thing; we just don’t get that data back from them.”
One of the powers of the Accelerators is that collective action tends to make industry sectors and individual companies take notice. Both Microsoft and AWS are now onboard and have pledged to share their data, opening what has up to now been a black box with the aim of producing metrics that can be used to inform future decisions regarding sustainable productions.
The gut feeling in the industry is that cloud production is more carbon friendly. For example, the equipment at the new breed of centralised production hubs in the industry tends to be left on 24/7 even if it is only used a few hours a day as the risks of it not booting up are unthinkable. Cloud workflows are much better at utilising shared resources across different productions, but all this has yet to be quantified; as has all the other more traditional aspects of a live broadcast, from the fuel in the generators to the food that is served to the crews. This is where albert will come in.
“It was really important to us to get albert involved,” says Ward. “We can make this a tool that is available for the industry so that there is a resource available, there is a way companies can benchmark what they are doing, and they can get tips for how to implement things in their production.”
A Premier League POC
The POC for IBC Digital will form the basis of a forthcoming albert report and is constructed around two English Premier League matches, taking place over a packed schedule of matches in the coming weeks on one of the Champions’ channels.
“What all us broadcasters have in common is the Premier League, we are all rights holders, so we are using that high profile coverage to investigate what the cloud footprint looks like and examine the nuances around our various productions and our add-ons,” explains Finon.
“We are all taking a very similar feed and adding our own elements on or using it in a different way. We do one thing, the Radio 5 Live guys another, the BBC cuts it for highlights on Match of the Day, and so on. So we’re taking the coverage that we all share but looking at our individual ways of working and examining the complete workflow.”
The team of Champions have been joined by the Premier League itself and by its broadcast arm IMG/ Premier League Productions, as well as international EPL rights holders NBC Universal and Super Sports in South Africa, who will be taking and customising the global feeds.
The net zero production for the POC will operate in parallel to the main production, so will not feature a full camera roster for instance. But care is being taken to construct it in a way that ensures the data it provides is scalable up to the typical full production.
Finon hopes that it will achieve the same 70% figure as the September game “or better,” while Ward hopes it will not only provide the data for an actionable report, but that the effort will ripple outwards and help encourage further vendors and suppliers to make changes towards sustainable operations. Ideally this ripple effect can reach beyond the industry too and start to further engage the viewing public.
“Our industry is generally innovative,” he says. “Now the eyes of the world are on sustainability, we can put all these really smart people we have in our industry together, get focused on it, and lead by example.”