At-Home Production for Live Sports: The Wave of the Future Is Here
No trend has had a greater impact on the live-sports-production industry over the past two years than the exponential growth in the use of “at-home” production models. By using IP-based technology to enable at-home workflows, sports-content producers are able to cut costs by reducing onsite resources while boosting production capabilities by connecting the remote production with the power of the broadcast center.
For several years, NBC Olympics and others have been home-running camera feeds and other sources to a central control room located at the broadcast center, where the show is cut and integrated. However, the use of this model has skyrocketed over the past two years at such operations as the Big Ten Network, ESPN, Fox Sports, Pac-12 Networks, TWC Sports, and Univision. As a result, events that never would have been produced before — especially college Olympic sports — are being televised and streamed to fans, while higher-profile events are trimming costs using the same philosophies.
SVG put these groundbreaking workflows under the microscope at last month’s TranSPORT gathering when representatives from Pac-12 Networks, Fox Sports, and a diverse group of transmission vendors took the stage for a panel titled IP and At-Home Production: Poised for Adoption. Here are a few highlights from the eye-opening session:
Why did Pac-12 Networks opt for the at-home production model in building out its operation?
Scott Adametz, Pac-12 Networks, Director, System Architecture & Technology: We are making more with less. The whole [reason] we went with this approach was budget. We had to produce this content because leaving this content on the floor was not an option. But we didn’t want to do it and lower quality. These are not A-level events; they are events that wouldn’t otherwise be produced or would be streamed only.
How is Fox Sports expanding its use of at-home production?
Keith Goldberg, Fox Networks Group, VP, Global Operations & Transmission Services: We are taking the lead from Big 10 Network, who has done 220 events this year [using at-home production] and is shooting to do 300 next year. It is taking a page from the RSN business in how to do a low-cost, high-quality production. Some of these productions that we and others are doing will start becoming more mainstream. They may be third- and fourth-tier events right now, but I think that will start creeping into higher-profile events. I’m not saying a Super Bowl will be done that way, but, if it makes sense technically and from a cost perspective, I can’t see why this wouldn’t continue to grow.
Why now? Why are at-home productions seeing such massive growth today, and what took so long?
Rich Wolf, The Switch, EVP: Obviously, budgets are tight. But, also, networks like The Switch have a network that deals with the enemy in transmission: outages and latency. If the fabric of a network is designed smartly, you can integrate remote and broadcast center seamlessly.
In Europe, who do you see as the early adopters of at-home production workflows?
Larissa Goerner, Net Insight, Remote Production Expert: In terms of the trend, we were thinking it would be a lot of private broadcasters first, but it’s really been the public broadcasters in Europe that are starting [at-home production] first because they are really facing a lot of cost pressures and are making use of their own networks for this purpose. On the one hand, you have these tier-two and tier-three events [doing at-home production], but, on the other hand, we also see a lot of broadcasters going to these big events — Olympics and World Championships — and using remote production as a way to reduce traveling staff onsite and shipments of equipment — especially from Europe to Rio.
It’s all currently going into a fiber-based environment. We don’t have the luxury of the backbone like you have in the States. We have a problem of getting that last-mile access everywhere, but it’s getting better. Bandwidth access is getting easier.
How are these workflows being deployed for colossal events like the Olympics and World Cup?
Jason Warman, Aspera, Senior Sales Engineer: We are seeing [at-home production] around large one-time events. Some is for the primary production, and some is for the second screen. At the World Cup, there was a need to have a large number of second-screen streams going, and, even if you could roll all the equipment out into the field, it still wouldn’t have been enough to get every stream in the format you would like. Being able to keep that transcoding and delivery in the cloud or back home and using public networks to do it was very big.
Wolf: We are also seeing different trends where very rich data comes back. Now you can integrate your file-based workflow for your edit and graphics. You don’t have to build out and send people out. That allows for centralized workflow for graphics and production.
Where does satellite comes into play for at-home production over fiber?
Matt Scalici, PSSI Global Services, GM: However remote it may be, [satellite] is there. If a tightrope walker wants to cross the Grand Canyon, there is probably not a [fiber] node there. The thing about satellite is, you can pretty much drop it wherever you need it and it can be rather instantaneous. Satellite certainly isn’t applicable everywhere. Nor should it be. The production of sporting events and other live events is growing, so, whether our market share is shrinking a little [according to SVG’s TranSPORT survey], the fact is that the percentage that we do we will always have to do. There simply aren’t economies in fibering golf courses, small-college venues, or non-traditional sporting events like bike races or marathons. So there is a place for both of us. In addition, in the traditional venues, if you want to get your reliability numbers into the stratosphere, you probably want us both there.
Aside from cost reduction, how do you see at-home production helping broadcasters produce live sports content?
Scalici: Obviously, economics seems to be the primary driver of at-home production: people looking to save cost on less important productions. But, in the case of Fox and several other clients, they have multiple distribution channels, and now they can take something like the US Open or Super Bowl Week that lasts several days and carve that content up in a number of different ways for a number of different outlets. In that case, you may still be doing your primary broadcast in the traditional way with an army of production people and a big truck, but there are several other secondary productions that may be best done back home in a controlled environment.
How does the tone and operation of a Pac-12 Networks control room in San Francisco differ from a traditional truck-based production in the field?
Adametz: It’s unique walking down the hall and opening a door to see a game being done in Oregon and then walking 10 ft. to open a door to see an Arizona women’s basketball game. The sense of distance goes away because you are talking to someone on an intercom just as you would [in the truck]. It takes a special kind of person to do it, though, and that is our biggest challenge: finding someone who understands that you are not going to have that in-person meeting with the coaches or a camera crew meeting to see who is strong and who is not. But that all goes with the reliability of the network, the trust that, when they take camera 3, camera 3 will come up or, when they talk to someone onsite, that person will respond.