‘Don’t Do Remote Production for the Sake of Doing Remote Production’

remote production
(Image credit: Sony)

In a recent TV Tech Talk, moderator Wes Simpson discussed the latest challenges, opportunities and trends in the growing field of remote production, also known as “REMI.” The following is an edited transcript of his discussion with Deon LeCointe with Sony, Steven Bilow with Telestream and Dan Maloney with Matrox Video.

Tech Talk

(Image credit: Future)

Wes Simpson: Remote production got a big boost from the pandemic, but what factors are driving broadcasters to continue growing their remote production capabilities going forward from today? 

Deon LaCointe: There's two things, first it's the technology and the fact that it's possible now. IP technology for video has been around for a long time but I think a lot of people think about streaming applications, transport streams, and so on, but recently with the advent of technologies like 2022-6, 2110, people now feel way more comfortable building broadcast infrastructures that allow that connectivity to drive their actual environments. 

And then there's the cost aspect. They now have the ability to do things like resource sharing or remote production (REMI), where you can deploy a minimized amount of equipment and personnel on site to capture your content. You have the ability to share resources from production to production. 

And I think, hopefully, this starts to diminish more and more over time. But I think the pandemic was a big driving factor. It's the elephant in the room—I think there's still the continued drive for protective measures by keeping a large number of people away from each other and just minimize the amount of people that are in a control room. So I said two, but really it was three.

Steven Bilow: Deon said something really important when he mentioned having fewer staff on site, and being able to do more remotely with the newer technologies because when I think of it from a business perspective, everybody is always buying new equipment because there's new technology. 

But what you really want to do is be able to make the most efficient use of that capital investment as you can, and one of the reasons I think remote production is going to continue is because people now can, not only when they make a capital investment; they're able to do it maybe in a little bit larger scale than they could before because you're now able to use the equipment you buy, the software you buy, the trucks and you build across a larger number of potential events. 

In the old days if you wanted to do some sports production or you wanted to do a live event, you needed to bring your truck in and you needed to set it up and everything. We still have to do that for live events, but you have so many fewer people on-site that you can now take the capital you invest, say, in building a truck or building internal infrastructure, and you're able to deploy that in a way where you can actually, let's say, do multiple shows in a week that you could never do or even potentially do multiple shows in a day.

Dan Maloney: The only thing I would add is that the pandemic specifically forced content creators, producers to to get creative and do whatever they could with spit and bubblegum to try to keep the show going and keep the events rolling. And they developed a lot of good content, despite the fact they had limited technology. 

So that really opened their eyes for what was possible, and once they got the taste for what was possible, now that the restrictions are removed or slightly removed, they can go ahead and really start experimenting with less fear than they might have in the past because they were able to do it in We've seen a number of sporting and news events are being done remotely, so it's growing and the world is your oyster. But if you're doing it just for the sake of doing it, you should probably rethink what your outcomes are.

WS: Are there any applications where remote production is not a good idea? 

DL: My response to this or similar questions is: Don't do remote production just for the sake of doing remote production. Everybody runs their business differently; everybody knows when they have a primetime show, and they don't want to put it at risk. If you're going to deploy a traditional production truck, I think there's a certain financial threshold. 

We've seen the Olympics was done in remote production. We've seen a number of sporting and news events are being done remotely, so it's growing and the world is your oyster. But if you're doing it just for the sake of doing it, you should probably rethink what your outcomes are. What efficiencies are you achieving? What benefits and objectives are you achieving? Because it's still not an easy thing to do and a lot of thought still has to go into it. 

DM:  I just want to add that although the technology might be there, if your creative staff—the directors and some of the staff running the equipment aren't—and they're much more comfortable being in a live environment and getting content produced that way—then maybe you don't force it down their throat. So there really is a people aspect to it as well.

SB: There are some tasks that might still best be done on-site, or at least I haven't seen people trying to do them too much remotely, for example, camera shading. If you’ve got a truck with 16 cameras on it, you've got to shade them and I think there's still a place for camera operators to be sitting in that truck. And even if it's just one guy shading cameras, there are certain tasks that are still best done on site.

WS: What about the things that we all do when we're doing live events or even doing pre-recorded events in terms of monitoring and maintaining and watching the video to make sure that things are happening the way that we expect them to go? What are some of the techniques for monitoring these feeds remotely and entering and exiting cloud environments and things like that?

SB: As far as monitoring goes, let's say for example, you have camera operators on-site, but other people are doing editing and building packages all remotely and you have this choice of who's using what equipment, what people you want, maybe have a broader selection of who you want to use on your team who’s producing the predictive killer shots and you want to fly them around.  You really have the choice now of having your absolute best creative people, anywhere you want in the world. I'm not downplaying the creative aspects of this because there are people who do things that I admire that I could never do. 

But I think if you look at the creative side of things, there are more choices in terms of the creative people that you bring into a production than you do having the technical people who have to debug a problem, for example. 

So I think, in the broad sense, being able to monitor a lot of distributed systems remotely—whether it be 2110 or 2022-6—you have things spread out remotely and you need to be able to monitor them from a central location for example. And the reason I think that is, is because you can have your best people creatively anywhere you want in the world, but you don't have that big of a choice of the best technical people in the world. So what you want to do is maybe centralize them and have them centrally monitor a distributed system. 

DL: If I can add to that, coming at it from a little bit of a different angle, the goal of building out these remote production environments or production-at-a-distance environment is that to try to emulate an in-facility production as closely as possible. So, you want to emulate those workflows. You don't want to put the broadcast engineers or your production staff in a position where they can tell the difference, and now they have to operate differently. 

WS: What about latency issues?

DL: We kind of dealt with this a few years ago, when REMI was really coming to maturity, and we came up with a term called "operational latency." If you're a technical director, you're sitting in front of the switcher. You're bringing in a whole bunch of remote feeds... How long does it take between when I switch from source A to source B before I see the changeover in my multiviewer? 

And I think there's two ways of looking at it: One is, where is your equipment deployed? If in a traditional REMI—and I use the word "traditional" loosely—you have your cameras deployed to the field, the signals are all coming back from multiple sites, so there are potentially different network latencies that are coming in. 

If your switcher and your processing hardware are back at headquarters, as the signals land in the switcher, when you switch your signals, you shouldn't see any latency because the latency has already been taken up from the network side, from traversing the distance. If your panel is located at headquarters, but your switcher, your processing, is located at the remote site, that's where you could see a difference switching from source A to source B. 

Now the key to remember is, as long as it's going into the switcher in time, then you're good because all of the signals are fine; they’re timed and they're good to go. And then there are technologies within 2110 where they put in the RTP timestamp in the stream. There are systems out there that can make those frame accurate so you can line things up. So you should be good on having your signals coming in and being lined up correctly within the switcher. 

DM: I'll give you one of the examples where we as equipment vendors should try our best to minimize latencies for  things like talkback, when, for example, if a production director is remote or, excuse me, in studio or back at headquarters, and he's talking to his camera operators, you don't want him to be 15 seconds behind. 

But when you're looking at a one-second latency or so or less, then that's usually quite manageable. If they have to do small adjustments, you know, frame-accurate cuts for example, everything is in sync coming in, doesn't matter if things are all delayed by the same amount, no big deal. But the interpersonal discussion—if you’re using Zoom or Skype or some other type of, not even a professional means of talkback back to the camera operators—that's very low latency, so trying to bring those things back in as low latency as possible is an important task we strive to achieve.

WS: Among the trends—going full-time remote or a hybrid model or back to all in-person, what do we see going forward? 

SB: I don’t think we’re ever going to go back to all in-person.

DL: Interestingly enough, I'm seeing a mixed bag. I'm actually seeing a lot of broadcasters going back to all in-person and I think that kind of follows what you're seeing going on in corporate America, where we're being told "it's time to come back to work." 

So, it's not that the amount of remote productions have gone down, but definitely you can walk into a lot of broadcast facilities, like here in New York, you go to our control room and there's a full complement of personnel in there. I don't have percentages, but I can still see that there's some that are moving in that way. And there are others who are still like, "No, we're still working out of our living rooms, and we have the technology to do it.” I think it's going both ways right now. 

DM: There are people going back and there are other media production companies that are going to be perfectly happy to remain remote. And they build a business on that versus some of the more traditional operators who are like, "well, we know how to do things the old way and we're comfortable doing that." So it's here to stay in various capacities at various organizations. 

WS: I think you've got a good point there. So one of the things about a lot of these remote and hybrid workflows is that they really rely on high-speed high-availability data links, so I don't see that trend going away. 

DL: I think broadcasters were all hoping for a significant drop in the costs of fiber connectivity, with telcos between different facilities. If you're coming from a sports venue, or doing election coverage or something like that, and if you look at it in a smaller timeframe, like a two-to-five year timeframe, you might argue that the cost hasn't come down at all—in fact, you might argue it went up. But if you look at it in a broader timeframe, 10 years or more, the cost of the links have actually come down so I give the telco some credit there. But the broadcasters are still going to have the rest of your links for your big primetime events—you're going to have dual, you're gonna go terrestrial and satellite. 

But I also think a lot of interesting things are happening in the way of 5G. All the stadiums in the NFL are talking about 5G connectivity, but then you have to figure out, well, you're not going to use the 5G connectivity that's being used by the fans, right? So you’ve got to figure out, are you deploying 5G for the production environment? The technologies are coming along, but it always just comes down to cost and implementation. 

You can access the full hour-long webcast here. 

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched digitalbroadcasting.com for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (www.tvtech.com), the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.