Coming Full Circle, Digital Production Workflows Are Moving to Linear

The line between linear and digital production workflows is blurring.

Before you lose your mind: no one is suggesting that the Super Bowl will one day be covered by four cameras and a 2M/E switcher. However, newer, smaller, cheaper, faster digital workflows that were previously relegated to alternative platforms with smaller audiences are making their impact felt on traditional television.

Niche content creators — who were previously producing shows with a single camera, maybe two, for an online-only audience — are developing live programming with professional quality, and it’s changing how those events are being distributed.

“These kinds of production workflows were developed three or four years ago to answer the call of content production needed for digital tiers,” said Jeff Jacobs, SVP, production planning, strategic initiatives and business operations, MTV Music Group, during the Broadcast Minds panel held during last week’s CCW+SATCON. “But the fact of the matter is, digital tiers simply didn’t have the ROI and the revenue that linear television had. The budgets weren’t going to be there. So people had to scramble to come up with these alternate production workflows, and now, today, some have come 360 [degrees]. Some are now taking these alternate production workflows that were developed for digital tiers and bringing them back to linear, enabling content to be further distributed on all screens.”

According to Steve Hellmuth, EVP, operations and technology, NBA Entertainment, the NBA D-League has come full circle itself. The league originally began streaming live games simply so coaches from the NBA could watch potential prospects play. Now the broadcast quality has grown to the point where D-League and WNBA games produced with what were previously considered “mid- to low-level workflows” are now airing regularly on NBA TV.

Another prime example comes on the college side and the Horizon League Network, which is supported by WebStream Productions. Prior to 2006, the mid-major college sports conference was struggling with television exposure, paying a pretty stiff bill to get eight to 10 games aired in a regional-sports-network package.

Along came WebStream Productions, which offered the ability to produce all of the conference’s football and basketball games for a fraction of the cost and make them available to anyone online.

“As we grew this company, we’re not that far away from regional TV,” said John Servizzi, CEO/founder, WebStream Productions. “That’s when we started cooking this idea that we could offer our product to regional TV. What if we took that show, threw it on a satellite, and said, ‘If anyone wants it, take it’? What we found was, there was interest.”

Cost-effective, user-friendly gear has made the advance of “mid-level” productions possible. As a result, the baseline of what is expected from even a digital-only production has been raised dramatically.

“One of the things we talked about in online video in the beginning was that it just has to be good enough, and I don’t think that’s so true anymore,” said Kathryn Jones, CEO, VirtualArtsTV, which produces socially interactive live entertainment programming, including musicals, plays, and concerts. “There has to be a need for an experience that’s tailored for what people have come to expect online. Yeah, we are taking content right now that’s not so commercial, but the goal is to make it super commercial. There’s tremendous work being done that’s super niche-y but [has] a really passionate audience.”

As for that gear, Servizzi feels that there is a lot of good product in the market and the key is finding what gear works best for you personally.

“The reality for me is that it’s never really been about the paintbrush; it’s really about the artist,” he said, noting that his company typically uses JVC and Sony cameras, ChyronHego IP for graphics, NewTek TriCaster production switchers, NewTek 3Play replay devices, and additional gear from Ross Video. “I think there’s a lot of really great tools and you can go to trade shows and chase every shiny thing and flashing light and spend all of those dollars. But the reality is, you haven’t made your show any better until you sit down with the people who are making your show and enable them to do their job better.”

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