The launch of Sony’s Virtual Production solution has thrown a spotlight on the possibilities of remote production. But, as David Davies discovers, plenty of other vendors are gearing up to make the most of this particular revolution.

Sony Professional Solutions Europe’s recent announcement that it is to launch Sony Virtual Production certainly caused its fair share of ripples in the broadcast media world.

Sony Virtual Production: Red Bull Alpenbrevet

Sony Virtual Production: Red Bull Alpenbrevet

An on-demand, cloud-based production service that allows events to be captured and live-streamed without the need for expensive OB infrastructure, the service was launched at the Red Bull Alpenbrevet motorcycle race in Sarnen, Switzerland.

The choice of the Red Bull event for the launch was deliberate. The remote location of the race in the Swiss mountains meant that deploying a sizeable physical production infrastructure was always going to be problematic, giving Virtual Production the chance to prove itself.

Indeed, by using Virtual Production’s cloud-based services and 4G connectivity, Red Bull was able to capture and live-stream the entire event using only a number of camcorders and a single laptop to access the virtual switcher GUI.

Sony Professional’s Head of Marketing and Communications Stuart Almond says the new solution resonates with “today’s appetite for exceptional content and the shift towards multi-screen and multi-platform watching, [meaning] that media companies are challenged with finding new ways to get content to audiences faster.”

The service was designed with two key objectives in mind: to remove the need for dedicated on-site production infrastructure; and to enable use ‘anywhere, anytime’.

Stuart Almond

Stuart Almond

Almond explains how it works: “The camera crew on location uses wireless transmitters to feed a virtual production switcher that is hosted in the cloud. At the same time, a vision mixer, based anywhere in the world and using an ordinary web browser, logs into the Virtual Production service. From there, he or she can switch the camera feeds, add graphics, logos and captions, and stream the output to YouTube, Facebook Live and more. It is even possible to cut pre-recorded packages into the stream.”

The Virtual Production solution fuses two specific notions that Sony holds about this new era of production – firstly, that it should always “be accessible through the cloud-on demand” for optimum flexibility; and secondly, that it should be open “to any content creator with the desire to stream live”.

Market potential
Sony, however, is not the only one seeking to grab a piece of the live production market. Plenty of other vendors are bringing all-in-one virtual production solutions to the market.

TVU Networks is set to launch a cloud based, multi-camera production solution, TVU Producer, at IBC this week.

TVU Producer is designed to enable anyone to produce multi-camera video from live events for output to web and social media platforms. TVU says it can cover a wide range of events, from live sports and eGames competitions, through to concerts and religious services.

TVU Networks CEO Paul Shen says: “The consumer appetite for live content is strong. However, the cost and complexity involved in covering live, multi-camera events is often a barrier for content producers; as a result, multi-camera productions are often confined to large premium events.

With Producer, TVU is providing a flexible, economical and simple to use alternative that can be used by any operator – regardless of training – removing the need for expensive equipment rentals or large headcounts.”

Meanwhile, Grabyo has also been adding to its video production portfolio for some years now. Head of Marketing Aaron Duckmanton says its video production platform is “entirely cloud-based, accessed through a web browser from anywhere at anytime. Production teams are able to log-in from any machine and access their content library, create and distribute video clips, and produce live streams. All that is needed to access Grabyo is a laptop or desktop computer, and an internet connection.”

Grabyo Producer

Grabyo Producer

Specific elements of the Grabyo platform include Grabyo Producer, which is a collaborative live production suite to support remote broadcasting anywhere, at any time; and Grabyo Studio, which is designed to help publishers maximise their assets with a set of live clipping tools that makes it possible to add creative sets, layers and effects to short videos taken from a live stream input, then ‘distribute [them] within seconds.”

The initial impetus behind virtual production may have come from OTT and streaming services, but traditional broadcast service providers are sure to join the party, says Duckmanton: “We expect most broadcasters, rights holders and content creators to continue the migration to virtual production.

Consumer demand for online content will not slow, and the market will only get more competitive, leading to the need for as many productivity and output gains as possible. Linear TV broadcasters also see the value in complementing their offerings with OTT video, an area which will only grow if OTT continues to win viewers. This may lead to broadcasters seeking out a solution for all production tools.”

Across the board, he says, production teams “need to keep up or risk being left behind by viewers. Virtual production allows teams to manage, create and distribute content quicker and easier than before, using [fewer resources] and, importantly, create more quality content for multiple platforms. What’s more, a virtual production tool hosted in the cloud allows teams to work remotely and collaboratively, which is important as teams look to grow and create global video strategies.”

“We expect most broadcasters, rights holders and content creators to continue the migration to virtual production.” Aaron Duckmanton, Grabyo

Diversity of production
It can be easy to fall into the trap of perceiving remote production largely in the context of live-streaming of sports or news events. But, as well as being suitable for application to other live content, it also offers potential for post.

Matthew Allard

Matthew Allard

Streambox’s Matthew Allard notes that remote production can differ depending on the application. “For post-production, there is the need to collaborate and review during projects. Clients off-site need to be involved in editing, colour grading, and other production tasks. 

For broadcast there is acquisition at locations, without a full crew or even reporters/commentators in some cases. In all cases, remote production means that some of the key stakeholders are co-located, so content must be transported and shared – preferably in real-time.”

With this in mind Streambox has devised a series of solutions for streaming media that apply to post-production and broadcast, as well as enterprise, education, houses of worship and government.

For acquisition and contribution, there is a range of hardware and software encoding systems, including Chroma which is capable of 4K, UHD, 2K and HD video. Says Allard: “Streambox encoders are notable for their reliability as they include bonded network support and a reliable transport protocol with minimal latency.”

“As IP networking technologies and processes continue to evolve, more organisations will have confidence in using remote production processes.” Matthew Allard, Streambox

Increasing confidence
Many believe that early successful examples of remote production are bound to fuel momentum behind the movement.

The market emphases of the vendors servicing the virtual production revolution will continue to vary, as will the decision to offer subscription or pay-as-you-go models. Sony’s Virtual Production solution, for example, is offered under a pay-as-you-go model.

The stability of IP-based infrastructures will also be key. Allard notes that “as IP networking technologies and processes continue to evolve, more organisations will have confidence in using remote production processes and even find new ways to enhance production workflows by adding in sources that were not practical in the past, for example.”

And the potential for non-traditional broadcasters, in particular, is likely to know no bounds. “Put simply,” says Almond, virtual production solutions “open up opportunities for content creators looking for professional solutions without broadcaster budgets. Thanks to the scalability of cloud-native on-demand services, virtual solutions [will continue to] remove the friction associated with production workflows, offering new efficiencies and increased content value.”