Greenlight TV: Is remote event production sustainable?
23 July 2021
Last year, as the coronavirus pandemic took hold globally, Isle of Man-based production company, Greenlight TV, had to rethink its production techniques in order to continue to deliver high quality programming, under lock-down conditions, starting with their remote production and live stream of the USA TransAM series. Here, Production Manager, Aisling Ridout, discusses whether this new way of working is sustainable long term.
As lockdowns across the globe ease and more people return to work, how has the live event production landscape changed, and will it be this way forever?
It has been stated on so many occasions but 2020 really was an unprecedented year. It was one of the toughest periods in living memory of the broadcast industry, and none more so than for live sports production. In the midst of the global Coronavirus pandemic, events were being cancelled across the globe and with Island borders closed we were forced to innovate and had to rethink our production techniques in order to continue to deliver high quality programming for our clients, under lock-down conditions. We needed to come up with a solution to deliver content for those clients who were able to continue with their events - in a safe and affordable way.
Utilising bonded Sim-card technology and with some serious investment in new equipment, we were able to produce remote live coverage of our events, all from the comfort of our base in Tromode.
Now, as some form of normality returns, we are very unlikely to fully return to the old pre-pandemic ways of covering live sporting events. This has changed the way we will work forever, and the benefits are plentiful.
Live production has traditionally been costly, labour-intensive and resource heavy. Pre-Covid we were travelling around the globe with large teams of production crew, and freighting tonnes of cumbersome broadcast equipment to event locations, arriving days ahead of the event to run cables and rig outside broadcast set ups. The logistics, infrastructure and costs were phenomenal.
With the global economy on the brink of an economic recession, more than ever we are under extreme cost pressures. Remote production allows for a more affordable live production solution for clients and broadcasters. We can reduce staffing at events, reduce travel and enhance our operational efficiencies; our staff are less fatigued from travel, they are less affected by jet lag, and they are able to spend more time with their families.
Additionally, with much stricter health and safety regulations we need to consider the risks associated with on-site activities. Gone are the days where several production crew were squeezed in to outside broadcast trucks. Spacing people out and reconfiguring trucks to manage social distancing is not a viable option, it is just too costly. Formula 1 have adopted a remote production strategy and have reduced on site staff from 250 to just 60 for their productions.
Further cost savings can be made as event set up costs are greatly reduced. Our lead-in time for our events is reduced, allowing for more efficiencies in other areas of the business. We have capacity to manage multiple back to back events from the same live studio.
With remote production we now have greater flexibility with the people we can get access to. Our crew and talent can be sourced from wherever they are in the World. For our TransAM series coverage we have production crew on the Isle of Man and engineering support from both New York and Nova Scotia. This allows much greater flexibility for our productions. Our commentary teams can be located anywhere in the World, they don’t necessarily have to be at the racetrack. We have a truly global collaborative approach.
Remote production has not only increased our flexibility, it has increased our creativity. No longer do we have the limitations of wired cameras; we can benefit from the mobility of untethered cameras – providing better coverage of our events with no additional costs.
There is a growing demand for content and remote live production allows us to meet this demand. One-fifth of sports fans around the world now seek out sports content on social media, an uptick of 45 % over the past three years. Our new workflow allows our editing teams to access footage instantly and create fast turn-around short and long form content for social platforms almost immediately. With our remote solution we are able to provide more captivating viewer experiences. For the TransAM series viewers watching on the App can select individual onboard cameras and watch live.
The remote production solution is eminently scalable, we can react quickly to our client’s requirements and scale accordingly.
The environmental impact of live production is also a consideration, and by reducing the requirement for crew and equipment to travel to various events and venues across the globe we are also able to significantly reduce our carbon footprint, allowing us to continue to improve our goal towards sustainable productions in the future; Greenlight is a registered member of Albert, the authority on environmental sustainably for film and television.
There are, however, some challenges with this new way of working. Overcoming latency is a fundamental challenge, any lengthy delays in the broadcast could prove to be a problem. We recently covered an event in California from the Island with only a 4 second delay over 5,000 miles. As remote technology develops latency issues will only be reduced. We are relying on good cellular coverage at event locations, without this we are unable to deliver. Connectivity and network performance at the Tromode base is also a key consideration. We need to ensure we have a dedicated and reliable system in place. We have worked closely with Manx Telecom and have increased our connectivity at the Tromode office to accommodate the extra demand.
Communication between the remote production team, the onsite production team, the track-side camera operators, the on-site commentators, and the producer is extremely important, and it comes down to reliability and latency to ensure that the whole production runs smoothly. We are utilising a cloud-based intercom system to communicate between our locations, the system is robust and comes with very little latency.
There is no doubt that 5G will increase the consumption of content, and with 5G networks in place we can react quickly to fill that demand. Production quality will no doubt increase with 5G, and with larger, more affordable, bandwidth available to us we can take programming to the next level. With 5G more of our viewers will be able to consume content both at home on large screens as well as on the move via second screens. There are endless possibilities as more data streams become available.
As with all changes in the broadcast industry, as costs reduce and equipment becomes more accessible for all, more and more organisations and companies are accelerating their efforts to build new production models. In an already competitive industry sector, remote production can arguably allow more clients to access sports event coverage that they previously weren’t able to. We need to constantly innovate and ensure we are at the forefront of the latest technological developments, and as competitive as we can possibly be. Afterall, you are only as good as your last production.
Remote TV production is not just a cost saver, but a production necessity in order to protect the industry as lockdowns lift and more events come back on-line. Remote production solutions allow fewer resources to be deployed in the field, and allow for contributors to work independently, and more importantly in this landscape, safely.
Needless to say, there are huge benefits across the board with remote live productions, benefits for broadcasters and clients, benefits for companies and benefits for employees. It is safe to say that remote production solutions are not going to go away.