The latest issue of TVBEurope focuses on all things audio – from on-set, to post production, to capturing sound at the top of a mountain. With live coverage becoming one of the fastest growing areas of content consumption, Russell Johnson, Director of Hitomi Broadcast explores the recent challenges broadcasters and content producers have been faced with.
Read the full TVB Europe article here>
Live coverage is one of the fastest growing areas of content consumption, creating fierce competition for audience share and in turn placing pressure on production environments to deliver stunning content, faster turnarounds and greater cost efficiencies than ever before.
There are two major shifts occurring in the world of live production, and they are closely interlinked. First, the industry is dealing with the transition from baseband connectivity to IP; the second is the growing interest, particularly in recent years – for obvious reasons – in remote production. One is not dependent upon the other, but IP does make large-scale remote production much more practical, flexible and exciting.
With so much competition for consumer eyeballs, broadcasters and content producers are building on quality, making their programmes more engaging and more richly featured. There are more cameras; in sport, there are more replays; virtual studios and augmented reality give designers free rein to break beyond the bounds of the studio. At the same time, there is a recognition that quality sells. HD is now a given and many producers are routinely creating content in 4K and high dynamic range (HDR) ultra HD; for the archive and for post production flexibility, if not for immediate transmission.
Immersive audio has also been adopted bringing with it a proliferation of microphones and the need for complex mixing to handle so many channels. Carrying multiple video and audio sources over potentially long distances for remote production does introduce several challenges. Synchronising all these sources adds a layer of complication, and one that cannot be ignored.
Complex video paths and format converters inevitably introduce latency into the system, meaning that pictures and sound need to be synchronised at the point of delivery. The SMPTE ST-2110 standard with its ability to handle audio, video and data independently is a major step forward, but confirming synchronisation will always be vital to delivering a high-quality production.
The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of remote production and shown its effectiveness for many elements of live production; replays and highlights being just one example. Many broadcasters and production companies have had to become used to remote production and find ways to make it work for them. Furthermore, to accommodate travel restrictions and social distancing, we have seen major broadcasters around the world presenting their flagship programmes with hosts at home rather than at the venue. International sporting events – such as the Tokyo Games – have taken place with pundits in their home bases rather than on location.
Adjusting to life during a pandemic has changed the way we handle production, and it has changed the interaction between the faces on our screens and the content itself. Circumstances forced us to find ways to make remote production work, but when restrictions are fully lifted the core advantages in flexibility and economy will drive a comprehensive appraisal of what works and what does not. The genie is out of the bottle: remote production is here to stay.
As SMPTE ST2110 production capabilities grow in scope, so more options will become available to content producers in terms of how we support live production. JPEG XS allows high quality, relatively low latency signals to be sent in limited bandwidths and when combined with 5G, it means cameras could be switched on and connected to a remote control room very quickly indeed. All this will impact the way we work and what is possible.
However, the fundamentals of television will not change. Storytelling will remain at the heart; we will want to be engaged with the content, whatever it is, and expect programme makers to take us through whatever the event is. That is true for drama, it is true for news, and of course it is true for sport.
Behind the scenes, IP connectivity will make all this much easier to deliver, but it will still need the skills of experienced, talented and committed people to produce the engagement and quality that an increasingly demanding audience expects. The art of entertaining people is essentially best performed by humans.
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