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The new gold dust: Taking the glitz of awards shows to the cloud

Jerry Cole, director of production services, The Switch, explains how the indomitable growth of cloud-based production and delivery tools for major awards shows means rightsholders can offer viewers more glitz and glam than ever before

As the world’s film glitterati descend on Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre this weekend for the 95th Academy Awards, broadcasters around the globe will be preparing for end-to-end live coverage of one of the most prestigious live shows on the annual events calendar. While the ceremony broadcast will doubtless be delivered mainly via traditional production and transmission set-ups, much of the related shoulder programming being streamed and posted before, during and after the show will be produced via the cloud.

The appetite for coverage of these tentpole awards shows has skyrocketed over the years, with viewers of a whole range of award events globally wanting rolling coverage of the red-carpet arrivals, fashion cameras, press rooms, balls, and the main ceremonies themselves – available across streaming platforms, social media, and parts of the main broadcast. As such, the production and delivery tools and technologies bringing these events to screens globally have had to evolve rapidly to meet demand. 

Pop the hood on any awards live production, and you’ll find a highly complex technical and logistical workflow bringing the magic and glamour of these shows to life. Despite the typical tropes you would expect from these events – designer dresses, shining trophies, and glitzy ceremonies – production companies have long relied on a harsher ‘cold iron’ production approach that includes OB trucks, miles of cable, and squadrons of crew members on site.

Yet the sheer quantity and mechanics of all this equipment and staffing brings a challenge in and of itself: renting the gear is costly and accommodating swathes of production personnel descending on stadiums and venues across the world takes a financial and personal wellbeing toll. Plus, in such a fast-paced environment, it takes extra care to ensure production crews and cables don’t make it into any camera viewpoint and dampen the glamour of the broadcast. The ability to now minimise potential intrusions has contributed significantly to an inexorable growth in cloud-based remote and distributed production models – not to mention the cut in shipping, transport and travel costs. 

Maximising content using the cloud 

Another huge driver of the shift to cloud-based workflows for awards rightsholders is the branding opportunities and monetisable ‘moments’ of an awards show. While the winners’ speeches and stage performances will dominate headlines for days after the event, on the night, content from the red carpet and behind the scenes is where brands and rightsholders are looking to capitalise on viewers’ desire to see beyond the ceremony. They rely on cloud workflows to create viral moments that are instantly delivered to platforms like YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, or Smart TV apps.

This shoulder programming side of the awards shows is where cloud-based production has become an invaluable tool. With directions from rightsholders and brands, production crews can instantly clip, produce, and distribute a segment to the rightsholder – whether it’s highlighting a designer purse or dress or distributing an entertaining exchange or interview moment from the red carpet. 

These types of rights are becoming increasingly lucrative, particularly for brands that can’t afford to sponsor the main event but want to promote a perfume or bag on the red carpet. The consumer appetite for this more informal and personal content from their favourite personalities is also soaring. The power of the cloud means that it takes minutes or hours at most – rather than days – to produce these clips and edit them into a social-ready format that can then instantly be delivered to either a single, or up to 20 platforms, instantaneously.

From viral fashion moments like Kim Kardashian wearing Marilyn Monroe’s dress at the 2022 Met Gala to Jennifer Lawrence’s infamous tumble at the 2013 Academy Awards – these short-lived yet high-impact news moments are made only the more memorable thanks to the instantaneousness and flexibility of the cloud. Often, they are the most memorable moments of an event and replayed over and over.

Streamlining onsite production

Increasingly, awards rightsholders are also searching for ways to minimise the onsite presence of large-scale production teams and set-ups while reducing the cost and operational toll of a fully onsite set-up. Historically, rightsholders have relied on trucks filled with switchers, sports-ready replay devices, and mobile units – all staffed by production crews and producers who must be flown in and accommodated nearby for the duration of the event.

The beauty of the cloud and distributed production is that if you have an event in London or New York but want to source the best production crew and it is available in, for example, Los Angeles or Burbank, all the traditional production functions can be hosted in the cloud. This means the producer and ‘above-the-line’ crew – including directors, editors, and production staff – can be located anywhere in the world. As long as they have a laptop and internet connection, they can access the full spectrum of production and editing tools.

While the cloud approach is increasingly being adopted by the big awards rightsholders, it’s also quickly becoming an invaluable tool for smaller awards shows that may be on a tighter budget – yet still aim to achieve the same quality and production values as a global show like the Emmys or the BAFTAs. Cloud gives them a way to get close to that level.

While cameras and microphones will always be needed onsite, it’s far more cost-effective and builds a much better workflow to operate parts of the ceremony and shoulder programming in the cloud. The indomitable growth in use of cloud-based production and delivery tools has significantly refined and improved how awards shows are produced – while also considerably extending the amount and type of content that can be shot and delivered to users’ screens. With the constraints of cold iron productions removed, the only limit is the rightsholders’ imaginations.