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Innovation and determination: How the media tech industry dealt with a year of lockdown

TVBEurope talks to key figures about how the media tech industry has dealt with a year of lockdown and the innovation that has been driven by the pandemic

Around the world many members of the media tech community have spent the last year working remotely because of the pandemic. Last week the UK marked one year since entering its first lockdown while countries in Europe are still moving in and out of lockdown. TVBEurope spoke to key industry figures to find out how the industry has dealt with the various lockdowns over the past year, and what the next 12 months hold.

A key theme across almost all the conversations is pride in the resilience of both the industry and those working in it. Tributes were paid to staff members who have kept calm and carried on in the trickiest of circumstances. And a sense of determination to continue to deliver the best for broadcasters and streamers has emerged across the industry. As Ronen Artman, VP of marketing at LiveU says: “With great innovation and determination, we have seen an industry respond in truly inventive ways, thinking differently about how things can be achieved.”

That idea of thinking differently has been key to the industry over the past 12 months. “It’s been very interesting to see the way the broadcast community has responded. We have seen a wonderful level of technical innovation and customers working in really inventive ways to keep – or get – things on air. In fact, we’ve seen our technology used in ways that we hadn’t even thought of!” says Dave Letson, VP of sales at Calrec.

“The media industry has managed incredibly well since the pandemic, given that they were working with reduced staff and needing to abandon much of their 2020 editorial plans,” agrees Clear-Com president Bob Boster. “There has been a lot of flexibility and creativity demonstrated through the projects and trends sparked by the industry’s response to the pandemic, while also maintaining coverage that has significance beyond the global situation.”

The rise of remote

One of the biggest developments of the last 12 months has obviously been the move to remote production, a move that some broadcasters had been reluctant to do pre-pandemic. “Covid-19 has changed the world as we know it and pushed remote production further and faster than previously imagined. I think we would all agree that remote production threw broadcasters a lifeline during lockdowns with the creative use of cloud service,” says Tedial’s CTO Julian Fernandez-Campon.

“The capability to produce programmes and manage media remotely, from acquisition to enhanced-delivery, has allowed the entire broadcast and media community to continue delivering content, and now that it has proven successful, technologies such as cloud-based infrastructures and hybrid deployments, which give broadcasters the flexibility they need will continue to evolve.”

Rob Malcolm, chief product officer at Imagine Communications agrees that remote working very rapidly moved to the top of most broadcaster’s agendas. “Broadcasters quickly realised that they had to maintain their station outputs and content creation to the highest standards, while protecting their staff and talent,” he says.

“The realisation that you could have the processing of a signal in one place while controlling it from a different location, with no more than a web browser for full monitoring and control, was the transformational moment. Software-centric systems could be hosted in machine rooms or in the cloud but run from wherever was convenient. Ad sales teams and channel controllers could all work from home, with campaigns, traffic and schedules automatically compiled for software playout.

“‘Agility’ has been a popular buzzword over the last couple of years,” Malcolm adds. “The pandemic has brought home what we really mean by agility. When an unprecedented and unexpected event forces dramatic change, the businesses that succeed are the ones who adapt in a smart, efficient, visionary way.”

The importance of the cloud

Of course a lot of that remote production and remote working has been driven by the cloud, which before Covid-19 was something that the industry was still somewhat hesitant about. “Many had dipped their toes in the water but were hesitant for reasons that have since proven unfound,” states Bill Admans, SVP operations, Ownzones Entertainment Technologies. “The pandemic forced the industry to move to the cloud overnight. The ability to share media and collaborate using workflow tools in the cloud is like a breath of fresh air for creatives longer tied to physical locations. Productions can work in real-time with crews and vendors spread across the globe with the confidence of reliability and security.”

But it hasn’t just been the industry that has changed over the past 12 months, viewers have changed their habits as well. “The stay-at-home culture saw demand for streaming services and capacity rapidly outstripping the increase in provision. One of the media industry’s biggest pain points has been to deliver these media experiences more reliably and affordably. In May last year, a poll by TVBEurope and MediaKind found that consistent broadcast quality across all devices was the most important element for an operator when delivering streaming services,” says MediaKind’s VP portfolio, Stuart Boorn. 

“The media industry has also shifted content distribution models to enable new offerings, such as pop-up VoD services. Virtualising the management of these experiences meant content owners could manage resources with greater agility and allow their users to scale up a whole line-up of services in a matter of seconds. While the media industry has missed in-person events, enabling innovations and digital capabilities has introduced viable, scalable hybrid opportunities for the future, which will be very exciting and reach wider, more global audiences.”

While wanting more content to keep them entertained during lockdown, audiences have understood that broadcasters have had to change their ways of working. We’ve all seen the major shift to video conferencing that news channels and even entertainment shows have undergone in order to get contributors on air. “Certainly, the principle of ‘the show must go on’ has seen a wide-ranging change in what is considered acceptable or even normal,” says Neil Maycock, CMO and general manager, playout, Grass Valley. “Pre-pandemic, computer desktop video was rarely seen on-air, whereas now almost every news interview is done this way. We may well see these new standards of acceptable quality extend beyond lockdowns and social distancing as they have a very attractive cost profile.”

Working together

“Broadcasters need more than ever to work out how they can save money or earn new revenues,” agrees Ciaran Doran, Rohde & Schwarz’s director of marketing, broadcast and media. “We’ve been finding that broadcasters are now more open to implementing software defined workflows that are modular or can be virtualised – the crisis has injected more impetus to this programme and so there is now no question that they should go in this direction, it’s only a matter of time and resources to make it happen.”

Above all, the media technology industry has shown its resilience over the past 12 months and kept broadcasters and streamers on air, and entertained viewers in need of escape. As Yvonne Monterroso, director product management, at Dejero says, we should look back in awe at what the industry has accomplished over the last year. “With live broadcasting, and news in particular, broadcasters didn’t have the luxury of stopping to regroup like many other industries – news had to go on. When news stations and studios were forced to evacuate or scale back people in-house, journalists had to deliver the story. We witnessed people finding creative ways to remain dependable and professional, no matter the circumstance,” she concludes.

Part two of TVBEurope’s look at the year of lockdown will be published tomorrow, with a focus on how the media tech industry will fare over the next 12 months.