The Definitive Guide to Remote ProductionTurn on the TV and flip through the channels. It won’t take long till you come upon a live program or segment being shot far away from the studio. Whether it’s an awards show, a sporting event, concert or even a news story, live remote production has long been a staple of television. The same is true of non-broadcast video productions—although perhaps to a lesser degree.
However, with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote production has undergone a series of changes, some of which have been dramatic.
For instance, as the world first came to grips with the severity of the pandemic in spring 2020, major televised sporting events were postponed or cancelled outright. For example, the Summer Games were postponed till this summer based on World Health Organization projections about the pandemic, and the 2020 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, better known as March Madness, was simply cancelled.
The impact on live remote production was huge. For instance, consider that Olympic Broadcasting Services used 1,000 cameras to deliver 7,000 hours of HD coverage of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. That simply vanished in 2020.
Cancelling the 2020 NCAA basketball tournament, took its toll as well, although smaller when compared to the Olympics. In 2018, mobile production facilities provider NEP and Bexel deployed 10 mobile production trucks that traversed six states for CBS leading up to Final Four coverage.
In fact, remote video production of sports and entertainment came to a grinding halt in the spring and remained that way till mid-summer.
Recent History of Remote Production
To resume production of remote events, new workflows that accommodated lockdowns and mandates to social distance had to be identified. Fortunately, video producers were not starting from scratch.
As far back as the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, NBC pioneered the concept of REMI (or remote integration model) production, a strategy to reduce the amount of remote production resources needed on site by leveraging production personnel and technology available in a centralized production facility—in this case in Stamford, Conn.
Over the years, NBC, other networks like ESPN and Fox Sports, sports leagues, athletic conferences and schools have advanced the concept to its logical conclusion—in some instances doing away with nearly all on-site production resources except for cameras and backhaul tech and otherwise relying entirely on a centralized production control facility.
More recently, the need for a brick-and-mortar centralized production control facility has begun giving way to the cloud where virtualized equivalents of video production switchers, audio mixers, graphics, slow-motion replay and playout servers are available.
While video producers had many good economic, workflow and productivity-related reasons to move to the cloud and go virtual prior to COVID-19, the health and safety concerns raised by the pandemic made doing so that much more attractive.
Remote Production Today
At the same time, REMI (also known by names like “at-home,” “homerun” and a variety others) productions, especially those in the cloud, are changing the equation and point to a future where fewer and fewer production personnel will be physically present at a venue or a brick-and-mortar production studio.
COVID-19 is not the only reason responsible for the growing uptake of cloud-powered virtualized remote production workflows. Rather than requiring significant capital outlays for a full-featured remote production vehicle, the cloud-based alternative is based on a pay-as-you-go model.
Further, enabling valued production personnel to work from home dramatically reduces the travel, lodging, meals and other expenses associated with sending personnel to venues.
From the point of view of production quality and efficient use of personnel, transitioning to the cloud for live remote production means the best talent available can take on productions regardless of where they are located. It also means the same production crew may be able to produce more than a single show in a day.
Perhaps most importantly, when it comes to the wider world of remote video production, cloud-based, virtualized remote production opens up professional video production workflows and results to the a huge group of video producers. Not only are the most commonly used video production tools virtualized and available in the cloud, but they also are priced at a level that makes professional video production available to churches, government agencies, educational institutions and others who may be facing budget constraints.
How Remote Production Works
No single blog, much less a portion of a blog, can describe the intricacies of how remote production works. However, from a high level, it’s possible to describe a few different approaches being used and address a few of the issues involved.
OB/EFP—Outside Broadcasting (OB) and Electronic Field Production (EFP) broadly describe remote production commonly used to produce and contribute sports, entertainment and other live TV programming for broader distribution to the public via a broadcast or OTT network.
Signals from multiple cameras strategically positioned around a venue are routed to a production switcher where a technical director (TD) executes the commands of the director, switching between shots and integrating pre-recorded segments, slow-motion replays, graphics and text. The production switcher’s main output feeds the contribution pipeline—satellite, fiber or both—while auxiliary outputs are commonly used for other versions of a show, such as those for foreign markets.
Audio has a complementary workflow relying on a variety of mics that are mixed with an audio console. A variety of communications systems, including wired or wireless intercoms, IFB, in-ear monitoring–separate from the audio mix—is used to communicate with talent and production crew alike.
Aside from COVID-19, the biggest issues facing this level of remote production at the moment include the transition from baseband video to IP for signal routing, demand for higher resolutions, such as 4K and 8K UHD, and support for High Dynamic Range (HDR). Not only does each come with its own set of demands, but they also must be integrated into existing workflows and tech pipelines.
REMI/At-home—REMI or at-home production works in much the same way as traditional OB/EFP except for the fact that no mobile production studio is used. Rather, camera signals are routed via dedicated fiber, satellite or even the internet to a brick-and-mortar production center equipped with all of the production technology that would be found on site in a production truck.
Centralized production reduces or eliminates entirely many of the expenses associated with remote production. Further, it means production staff can be used more effectively and efficiently—in other words, no travel and relying on the same people to produce more than one event in a day.
As a result, this approach to remote production can be more affordable, at times making it economically feasible to produce niche sports and events that attract relatively small audiences and less ad revenue.
Like on location mobile production, REMI/at-home production faces the challenge of workplace health and safety in the era of COVID-19. Another issue, depending on the location of the event venue, can be the cost of connectivity to transport camera signals to the production center.
Cloud-based—Similar to the REMI/at-home production model, this workflow takes things a step further by virtualizing the production functions done on premise in a centralized production control facility.
Hardware production switchers, replay systems, graphics and text generators, playout and audio mixers are replaced by their virtual equivalents running on CPUs and GPUs in the cloud and playing out from cloud storage.
Leveraging the cloud for remote production in many instances means producers pay as they go without facing the upfront capital expense of a remote production truck or centralize production control facility.
For that reason, cloud-based remote production has become a favorite for many first-time video producers, like churches and community groups, and those with fewer financial resources, like high schools, community colleges and universities.
Frequently, the production staff for these types of productions can be volunteers and students, which means producers must be prepared to offer basic production training on a recurring basis.
Hybrid—Especially during the pandemic, some production companies have employed a hybrid of OB/EFP and REMI/at-home or cloud to maintain on-site production presence and control but distribute some production positions and capabilities away from the close confines of a mobile production truck where social distancing is easier to maintain.
Advantage and Benefits
For viewers, the primary advantage of remote production is it takes people to the site of an important, interesting or fun event to witness something they otherwise would likely miss.
For video producers, the financial benefits cannot be ignored. For example, national TV ad revenue in the U.S. for the Super Bowl was $336 million in 2019; the 2019 World Series ad revenue reached $191 million; and the NBA Finals, $288 million, according ad spending data compilation from Statista.
The benefits of remote production extend far beyond financial, however. For churches struggling to meet the spiritual needs of their congregations during the pandemic when social distancing and lockdowns made attending in person impossible, or nearly so, remote video production was a godsend.
An article examining the findings of research firm Barna Group’s State of the Church 2020 project published online in June 2020, found 53% of practicing Christians reported watching their church’s worship service online in the past four weeks. Forty-two percent said they listened or watched a message from a religious leader of any type online.
Remote production also has helped event organizers fill a vast void left by COVID-19 as conventions and conferences ground to a halt during the pandemic. Writing in May 2020, Forbes senior contributor John Koetsier reports 6Connex, a provider of virtual event environments, saw a 1000% increase in virtual conferences since the beginning of the pandemic.
Remote Production Solutions
TVU Networks offers acquisition, production, communications and transport solutions that take advantage of IP (Internet Protocol) transport of video and audio. In many instances, they have contributed to the success of remote productions.
TVU Producer is a cloud-based video production platform supporting multi-camera live remote production that enables video switching, audio mixing, graphics and replay of recorded segments.
To support real-time live communications with talent, guests and production staff alike, TVU Networks developed TVU Partyline. A cloud-based solution, TVU Partyline makes it possible for producers to integrate real-time interviews with conversational interaction among up to 16 interview participants with internet connections into their shows. Applied differently, it supports IFB and intercom communications, enables virtual press conferences and makes it possible to put many virtual fans in the stands for events staged at venues.
TVU Anywhere is TVU Networks’ broadcast-quality live transmission app for mobile phones. It enables live video shot with Android phones and iPhones and iPads to be transported to the cloud where TVU Producer can be used to produce multi-camera shows.
The TVU Remote Production System (RPS) was designed specifically for REMI/at-home remote production to transport up to six synchronized SDI sources from a fixed location like a stadium or arena over private or commodity internet connections.
Real World Examples
Everyday around the world TVU Networks technology is being put to work to overcome remote production challenges. A few examples include:
La Carrera Panamericana—KMG’s remote production of the La Carrera Panamericana met the challenge of producing live coverage of the grueling 2,200-mile road race through remote stretches of Mexico with TVU One, TVU One Nano and TVU Anywhere. (Click to read more.)
Cybathlon 2020—BBM Productions’ coverage of the races, which were unable to be held in Zurich, Switzerland, due to COVID-19. TVU One, TVU Anywhere and TVU Partyline assisted BBM Productions in coverage of the 51 teams from 20 countries that participated. (Click to read more.)
U.S. Open—Tokyo’s TV Asahi turned to TVU Network’s TVU One and TVU RPS for its first-ever IP-based transmission of live coverage of a sporting event. (Click to read more.)
Paik Father: Don’t Stop Cooking—South Korea’s Munhwa Broadcasting Corp. (MBC) used TVU Network’s TVU Anywhere and TVU Transceiver to produce its weekly live reality cooking show featuring one of the country’s well-known entertainment personalities. (Click to read more.)
Grec 2020 Festival of Barcelona—Barcelona, Spain, broadcaster betevé relied on TVU Networks’ TVU RPS for live, synchronized multi-camera production of streamed and broadcast coverage of the Grec 2020 Festival of Barcelona. (Click to read more.)
Despite all of the challenges COVID-19 has created for video producers over the past year, remote video production has delivered the information and entertainment audiences have needed to cope with the realities and stress of the pandemic.
It’s helped religious leaders ease the burden by allowing them to engage with congregants seeking spiritual support during services streamed live on the internet and via social media. Remote production also has played a key role in enabling speakers to offer their expertise during virtual events that have replaced in-person conferences.
Overall, remote video production has made a tremendous contribution to society during the pandemic, and in many instances remote production technology and tools like those from TVU Networks have helped to get the job done.