Sustainability with Remote Production

  • With Larissa Goerner, Grass Valley

Sustainability with Remote Production

By Larissa Goerner, Director of Product Management Advanced Technology, Grass Valley...


Sustainable workflows with distributed remote production   Over the last couple of years, remote production has brought on a paradigm shift in the way content is captured and produced. The reality of at-home or remote production capabilities, in which only a small amount of equipment and fewer staff are required on-location, is gaining popularity at a stunning rate. The time and cost savings, not to mention the positive impact on the environment that comes from sending smaller crews, less equipment, and fewer (and lighter) vehicles around the world, are just some of the main reasons.

Remote production has many flavors, including distributed production in which staff, such as the director, technical directors (TD), replay operators and sound engineers, are in different locations, rather than in the same room or production hub. This team could be distributed across a country, multiple countries or even across continents. There could be numerous production centers for each task and in some cases, hubs can be located in the individual homes of production staff.

There are multiple ways to work on a distributed production, with one of the most efficient requiring high-quality processing close to where the action happens and having the crew work with proxy videos. That means that the source video streams are compressed to about 1.5 Mb/s or even lower while still at a high enough quality that the production crew can make the right decisions for the viewers’ best experience. This low bandwidth allows distributed crews to work over the public internet and make significant financial savings on high contribution links.

Sustainable production workflows - such as those with distributed teams - are vital to maximizing resources and delivering high-end productions more cost-effectively. Not only does working more sustainably offer an alternative to large and complex outside broadcast (OB) set-ups and having extensive technical and creative teams on site, but it also allows production staff to support more live events in a day. Broadcasters and content producers can loop in the best operators and editors in the business, leveraging their skills across more live productions.  For niche sports or smaller productions that want to produce more coverage or create their own material, distributed workflows offer a more cost-effective solution, keeping overheads to a minimum without compromising on the quality.

When people work at a central hub, they usually also work on the same productions. As a replay operator or highlight editor works more frequently on the same content production the quality increases. The decrease in travel demand and increase in workflow consistency that remote production models enable ultimately leads to better content. Less time spent traveling not only frees up time for more creative-focused tasks, but it also means less fatigue, less time away from home, and a better work/life balance.

For broadcasters and content owners who are already charging ahead with remote production workflows, the step to distributed production is not that big, and the commercial advantages are apparent. At Grass Valley, we have seen a string of successful distributed productions, such as Activision Blizzard’s deployment of GV AMPP (Agile Media Processing Platform) in Spring last year. The cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) platform enabled the esports leader to keep its Overwatch LeagueTM and Call of Duty® LeagueTM matches on air with truly distributed remote production. Pulling in around 60 people in the overall cloud-based operation, including casters/talent, observers, production, and technical crew, GV AMPP Master Control enabled all operators and talent to work from their homes.

Production for Grass Valley’s own GV Live Presents: Engage 2020 event last October, also ran with a distributed team. The event was spread across seven sites and two continents, including the main studio in Florida, with everything from animated graphics, live video feeds, and master control orchestration through to pre-recorded live video feeds, interviews, and panel sessions handled entirely in the cloud.

The new GV AMPP System Dashboard was pivotal to the smooth running of the production, providing an overview of the entire infrastructure deployed to put the live newscast together. It let us bring lots of different components - the main production switcher, multiple clip players, and a secondary mixer - onto the same screen, so we had a clear view of exactly what was happening across the entire workflow. Taking a virtual, cloud approach also freed the production team from being in a single physical location. We had a small production crew of three, including the director and technical director (TD), in a COVID-safe environment at the Florida studio, audio and master control were handled from the UK, and clip playback out of Belgium.

From our experiences with GV Live Presents, as well as enabling our customers to run with distributed productions, we have found the following three points to be of critical importance:

  1. Choosing the right tools and not compromising on quality: with the launch of GV AMPP, we enable customers to work from anywhere with the highest quality and no compromise and only pay for the time the equipment is in use.
  2. Understanding your requirements: once you have pinpointed your requirements, select the production tools you need and ensure your people are well-trained to use them. 
  3. Strong communication: it needs to be clearly communicated who does what and when things should start/end, with one or two technical people on hand to help with set up and support during the event.

We have truly reached a new era for how television can be made, especially right now, where people cannot sit in production suites or OB vans next to each other. COVID-19 has further underlined the need for flexible productions, but the benefits go farther than the need to operate safely in pandemic conditions and keep content flowing. Distributed production also provides critical sustainability benefits both commercially and environmentally.