How COVID-19 Changed Remote Production for the Better

Sébastien Audoux, Head of sports digital content, CANAL+ Group

How COVID-19 Changed Remote Production for the BetterSébastien Audoux, Head of sports digital content, CANAL+ Group

I cannot say how many meetings I have attended on the topic of remote production over the past ten years, but I can tell you what boiled down to cost efficiency. In the beginning, the driving force behind remote production was the need to save money, even more so in live sports broadcasting, where ballooning rights fees were frightening an already troubled business model.

The concept was quite simple: instead of sending 100 people on-site to produce a football game, you would send half that many people—or less—and try to maximise the usage of your HQ facilities at home. With the progress brought by fibre optics and telco hubs, it became indeed more economical to send back feeds from the individual cameras rather than dispatching an entire OB truck to fabricate the end product.

This solution quickly gained much popularity in larger countries hosting numerous high-end sports events and with the fibre optics infrastructure to support remote production. 

In Australia, Fox worked with Telstra in 2017 to build two hubs, and the project may well have saved money from year one, despite the investment in the new infrastructure.

The path seemed clear. It was about investing in a top-notch HQ with the latest studios and galleries along with new automation gizmos, and everybody would be happy. 

And then, COVID-19 happened. Cities and countries were put on lockdown everywhere, along with the fancy HQs that took millions to build. Of course, sports stopped at the same time, but television still needed to make sports shows happen while realising that remote production as we knew it could only take us so far. The truth is that high-speed fibre optics, the basic tech that powered remote production, was a match made in heaven with cloud technology and new software-based video production tools that would propel remote production to the next level.

"The truth is that high-speed fibre optics, the basic tech that powered remote production, was a match made in heaven with cloud technology and new softwarebased video production tools that would propel remote production to the next level"

Today, you can produce a multi-camera event with only a few laptops. Live sports production as well as postproduction, both once heavily hardware-based workflows, can now be safely moved to the cloud and onto software solutions. If you pair them with AI, you can automate parts of the job, sports highlights, or near-live clipping, for instance. These tools are also more agile and easier to evolve. If you build a good old-fashioned studio today, chances are, you will build a 4K one, but 5 years from now, should 8K become the norm, you will be stuck with 4K or obliged to spend millions on a hefty upgrade. Software solutions are easier to scale from project to project.

But even that is missing the true advantage of remote production 2.0. Giving power back to the editorial team is the real game-winner here. Of course, call me biased for working in sports editorial for two decades, but after years of cutting back on on-site editorial teams, the true power of remote production actually lies elsewhere. 

It took a pandemic to realise that remote production surpasses cost-saving issues: it is really about producing more on-site in a much more efficient way.

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