Remote production and live sports

The technology is likely to see far more adoption now.

MUMBAI: As sporting events came to a standstill due to Covid2019, technology came to the rescue for broadcasters. Ensuring social distancing, channels have adapted to remote production swiftly. Though it's not a new trend, the pandemic has given it a boost.

In remote production, the PCR is located far from the actual location of the game, wherein a director, who is controlling it, decides which feed to take from the ones he is receiving from cameras positioned at the stadium. Besides stadium feed, the director also receives the commentators' feed who are being patched live from their home as well as the graphics team. The director assembles and mixes all the feed from different locations to get the final output.

Bodhitree Multimedia co-founder and director Mautik Tolia, who had a 12-year stint at Neo Sports Broadcast, says: "On a theoretical level, remote production is easy to happen, but on a practical level, it would face some challenges with respect to bandwidth and connectivity. To execute the whole thing seamlessly is quite tricky but will have to start making these experiments amid the ongoing crisis.”

He adds that it will cost 20-25 per cent of the traditional production of live sporting events.

Many international companies such as TVU Networks and Dalet Digital Media Systems are providing highly equipped, low-latency, long-term and good broadcast quality solutions.

TVU Networks VP – product management Matt McEwen says, “Even though sports are not back just yet, the production crews have already been using this technology to create live coverage from home with sports talk programmes. They are already becoming familiar with this technology and there is no doubt that this technology will continue to be used as live sports resume.”

In India, Star Sports and Sony Sports have indulged in remote production for non-live chat shows.

A source close to a leading sports broadcaster says, “Remote production for non-live chat shows is already going on. Our main concern right now is to keep viewers engaged and market whatever property we are able to create." However, he adds that the decision on remote production for live sports will only be taken when there is a clear idea from the various governments’ and sports federations' decision to open for the usual sporting calendar.

“Broadcasters are looking for an easy way to access the content; something which is accessible through the internet that even if the bandwidth is bad they should be able to work on it,” says Dalet Digital Media Systems regional sales manager Rahul Goyal.

McEwen explains that live remote production is already possible using commodity internet connections and cloud-based production tools.  This has not only significantly reduced the cost of production but has also made it more flexible with what can be achieved.

He further adds, “For instance, IP connectivity has made it possible to have live coverage from virtually anywhere...even someone’s home! Crews working on production don’t even need to be in the same location. Lower costs and increased flexibility should result in more event coverage which will please audiences.”

Echoing the same view, Goyal says, “Remote production had started before the Covid2019 crisis. When we talk about remote production, it’s mainly to use fresh video from different sources or acquiring various files from somewhere and working on editing and VPN platforms to get the final output.”

Well-versed in live sports production, Tolia explains that remote production works with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning and has gained prominence in games like football. A technologically advanced camera tracks the ball and different players in the game. This is done when the computer is fed with the data of ball movement from the cameras placed at the stadium that sends the captured feed to PCR.

TVU Networks’ McEwen believes that eventually all sports events will benefit from it. In particular, niche sports and other events that were previously not covered live will benefited.  

Marquee events such as Olympics 2020 and Euro Cup have either been cancelled or suspended by a year or indefinitely. Even if some sporting events take place across the globe, they are going to be closed doors. In-stadia fans create drama and fuel the enthusiasm of TV viewers and of course boost players’ morale.

McEwen says, “As we transition to IP and commodity internet connectivity, it is much easier to expand coverage to areas where it may have previously been too expensive to provide coverage. For instance, it may be possible to add live coverage of fans during a game even if they are not at the event itself. Low-cost, highly efficient, and robust encoders now exist that make this possible. It is also possible that fans themselves could utilise smart phones to contribute to a production as the camera and encoding technology on these devices have become so good, especially when combined with suitable transmission technology.”

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