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Remotely possible

Philip Stevens offers his predictions for remote production in 2018

As far as our American friends are concerned, remote production is nothing new. That’s because, of course, they call any outside broadcast (OB) a ‘remote’. But in the context of this look ahead, the term ‘remote’ covers the practice of controlling aspects of an OB – cameras, audio, graphics, talkback and so on – from the warmth and convenience of a studio facility many miles from the venue of the event.

Rio 2016 was probably a landmark for remote production. A good number of broadcasters despatched minimal crew numbers to Brazil while directors, vision mixers, audio engineers and the like stayed at home. And the reasons are obvious. In these days of increasing travel and accommodation costs, any reduction in these expenses makes good sense. However, and more to the point for broadcaster professionals interested in maintain their craft, the remote production technology was a winner in Brazil (if you’ll excuse the play on Olympic words).

Not only that, the fact that studios and production galleries ‘back home’ can be used for several different events during the same day makes even more economical sense.

One survey revealed that savings of up to 40 per cent can be achieved by using remote production. That, by itself, should please financial directors!

On the technical side, the latest developments in transporting signals mean that high security and low latency via IP circuits or over fibre is a reality. And with the ease of establishing connections with built-in redundancy, there is a reduction (even elimination) of the possibility of a disruption to the transmission. Previous problems associated with audio have been addressed and overcome. And the all-important no delay communications between studio and location are largely a thing of the past.

With all the positive factors in mind, it seems reasonable to assume that 2018 will see an increase in remote production. Two major sporting events during the year – the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang and the World Cup in Russia – are prime targets for the technology. In fact, plans are already well underway for the coverage of some events in South Korea using remote techniques. Of course, most Host Broadcaster operations will probably continue to use traditional production techniques, but some Rights Holders and sub-licensees are planning remote production for their unliterals.

It is unlikely that major events such as top tier football will see a wholesale switch to remote production when it comes to match coverage.

At least, not yet. There is still a desire to have production teams close to the action for those high-profile matches.

However, even that may change at some stage – maybe not 2018 – but a little later. Last June, UEFA broadcast the first uncompressed UHD remote production trial during its European Under-21 Championship Final in Poland. Live camera signals from Krakow were delivered to BT Sport’s facility in London, where the production team was based. Hailed as a successful trial, could this mark the start a move towards more significant European-wide fixtures being covered in this way?

But, as has already been proven, coverage of an event provided by up to around eight sources is well within the capabilities of the technology.

And that is good news for previously lesser followed sports because they will stand a better chance of that all-important exposure. And for broadcasters, the reduction in costs, means these sports can be economically aired and so readily compete with the OTT offerings which threaten to take away ‘traditional’ viewers.

With all those factors in mind, the continuance of – and further developments relating to – remote production seem inevitable for 2018.