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Broadcast, Digital & Media, Future Trends, Sport Business | Aug 27, 2020

The latest Leaders Linked brought together a trio of experts to discuss the advancement of remote production – and how sports organisations in particular have adapted to the new realities of content creation and delivery during the Covid-19 crisis.

Ian McDonough, CEO of cloud video editing specialists Blackbird; Arsenal FC’s Senior Product and Engineering Manager John Dollin; and Scott Gillies, Chief Technology Officer at newly-launched video game and esports TV network VENN joined us for a – remotely-produced – session examining the ways in which more content is being delivered quicker than ever, in complicated circumstances.

Whereas pre-Covid, remote production was largely about reducing costs by not having to fly large crews to events around the world, now the term has become a catch-all for content produced, edited and distributed from home. Production suites are now in studies and bedrooms. Locations have changed and so have hardware requirements.

As McDonough surveyed the remote production landscape, he homed in on three key advances: First, that “the kit is key”; producing content on off-the-shelf laptops has become the norm. Second, making archive material rapidly accessible from a central election, to allow for quick splicing and clipping, has become vitally important. And third, an accelerated migration to public cloud, with the security, sustainability and convenience benefits that brings.

In a wide-ranging 50 minutes of discussion, other key pointers for remote production best practice emerged.

Educate your talent

Dollin is pleased with what his team at Arsenal were able to achieve both during the lockdown period and when live football resumed in July. Initially operating without the capability for remote editing, a trial with Blackbird tools swiftly turned into a larger agreement.

An early iteration of workflows revealed some unexpected challenges, such as some editors working from home off 2MBs of bandwidth. Even before editing, new workflows were created, adapted and systems knitted together to allow tasks such as finding archive material, encoding, file downloads and colour grading to be completed to the right standard.

And on the other side of the camera, valuable time was spent training and guiding players, staff and broadcast talent to ensure they were able to set up their own lighting, find the right backdrop and location for connectivity within their homes and, often with the help of family members, operate cameras. “You’ve got some innovative stuff happening there,” Dollin reported, “such as using WhatsApp as talkback, or a GoPro with an iphone filing it so you can see what’s happening.”

Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Skype were all integrated into the club’s cloud video mixer, while social distancing best practice was adhered to throughout thanks to some creative camerawork and even the use of drones.

Watch what the streamers are doing

As sports organisations have scrabbled to produce content remotely, the world of esports, gaming and streamers can provide a few handy cues. As VENN’s Gillies put it: “Esports and gaming is all about having home studios and remote contribution, and being able to link in in non-traditional ways.”

At VENN, which effectively launched as a remote operation last month, many of its contributors are remote by design. “VENN.tv is a new kind of network for the streaming generation, aimed at esports and pop culture generation and audiences,” Gillies explained. “The gaming industry has done a tremendous job of thinking about community in entertainment – how to have shared experiences on networks that don’t always support it. We want to be there with that spirit of what the intention is.”

Get set for further leaps in technology

McDonough spies further significant technical improvements on the horizon, but anticipates the rise of flexible working to have an equally important impact on remote production. “The genie,” as he said, “is out the bottle there”. Gillies agreed and predicted some “amazing leaps” over the next two years, as bandwidth upgrades continue.

Dollin, meanwhile, is hopeful that the spirit of lockdown continues – “people pull together when they’re up against it and I’ve seen that across suppliers and vendors”. He added: “We were in a pretty good place anyway and we were trying to get to a point when we could do remote production. It’s on everyone’s roadmap anyway. Necessity is the mother of invention and Covid brought it up to high priority. There’s always going to be a need to edit certain assets back at base – but this is definitely going to be something that people continue because it’s convenient.”

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