Op-Ed: The Process of Restarting Live Sports

Sports professionals, leagues and broadcasters around the globe are united in their drive to get more live sporting action back on our TV screens as lockdown restrictions ease. Many of our customer are looking to remote production models, which are proving invaluable in helping them to achieve their goal.

As the NHL, NBA, and others follow European soccer leagues in resuming or starting seasons that were interrupted by the pandemic, adapting to new ways of producing live content is front of mind for broadcasters and production services providers. Remote, offsite sports production had been successfully leveraged by many of Grass Valley’s customers pre-COVID-19, while for others, the pandemic has accelerated the roadmap to adoption. The inherent flexibility of remote models means our customers can operate in a variety of ways as they adapt to an unprecedented shift in the way live sports production is handled.

Choosing the right remote flavor
The most straightforward way to address the new approach to live sports production is through a centralized production model. Broadcasters, production companies, and truck operators are looking for ways to support live events while minimizing the risk to staff, and this approach makes a lot of sense. With the bulk of the equipment in a central location, or even in the existing fixed studio at the producer’s home base, this model also accommodates the restrictions on staff numbers at a venue.

We don’t expect to see arenas packed with passionate sports fans for some time yet; today, the camera operators are among the few people in the stands. Using a centralized workflow, production teams can operate seamlessly with just camera operators and technical support at the live event venue.

Some Grass Valley remote production solution users are taking this one step further and leveraging a distributed production approach. Simply put, this model breaks the mold of an offsite team being together in one physical location. In a distributed production, the director and technical director (TD) aren’t necessarily located in the same place, and others, such as those controlling graphics, replay, camera control, etc., can be located away from the hardware they are controlling. With just a control surface and an internet connection, production staff in multiple locations can plug into wherever the main processing system for their equipment is located harnessing the power of the internet.

Crucially, a high bandwidth internet connection is not required, as only control signals — and not the many HD video streams being controlled — need to go back and forth. Using this approach, empowers the production team to do their jobs from anywhere — even their homes.

John Carter

Making offsite easier
Regardless of the flavor of remote sports production being used, the internet and IP technologies are central to making it work seamlessly. Thanks to its inherent flexibility, IP makes changes within a broadcast truck or facility easier than ever before; organizations are not locked-in to a specific way of doing things, based on the products they’ve purchased.

For example, Grass Valley’s DirectIP (uncompressed) and DirectIP+ (compressed) camera transmission capability allows a setup with a greatly extended distance between the camera at the venue and the camera control base station. Field-proven across distances of almost 12,500 miles (20,000 km), this is a real game-changer for remote production. Leveraging DirectIP allows everyone other than the camera operators to be located at a centralized site — or in a production truck that is some distance away from the venue.

Creativity comes to the forefront
In addition to adopting a range of remote working approaches, we’re seeing Grass Valley customers making more creative use of their existing equipment.

Our Maverik and Kayenne production switcher panels — operated by the TD — offer a great example of how Grass Valley solutions can help users to deliver the high quality, immersive content that fans expect — regardless of where and how they are working.

UK-based production truck vendor Telegenic, for instance, has built a remote operations control center where the actual production switcher duties are split between the director and the TD. While the two crew members are physically separated, the modular Maverik panel has been physically split and separated as well, making a safe work environment possible. Here, the director handles the easier job of switching between cameras, while the technical director handles the more complex switching to and from replays that have animations before and after.

A new shape for sports production
COVID-19 has made remote production a more prominent fixture in the live sports production landscape. Many of the adaptations that have been imposed on sports broadcasters and production services providers are likely to remain as permanent features of live sports production environments, even when restrictions are a thing of the past.

A smaller crew at the venue and production teams working in multiple locations will become more commonplace going forward. Eliminating the need for the production team to travel between event venues allows them to cover multiple events in one day – this is increasingly valuable as consumers demand greater volumes of first-class content. Additionally, a reduced need to transport personnel and large amounts of kit makes the remote approach more environmentally friendly.

Despite the constraints of COVID-19, these new ways of working have been field-proven in challenging conditions, delivering clear benefits that go beyond the context of the pandemic.

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