When the COVID-19 global health crisis hit, the broadcast industry quickly adapted. Live remote production increased, especially for sports events. A recent industry report found that when covering live events, broadcasters are increasingly turning to remote production, with 39% of those surveyed already employing remote production or remote integration model (REMI) workflows. Almost half of those surveyed (46%) indicated that REMI/at-home technology is one of the most important trends for their organization in the future.
Today, a majority of live sports events is remotely produced in some capacity. This trend is expected to continue in the future. Live remote production not only increases operational efficiency and cost savings for broadcasters, it also enables them to unlock the production quality and to invest in and produce more content.
Examining the Benefits and Challenges of Live Sports Remote Production
One of the biggest reasons broadcasters are implementing remote production workflows for live sports is because it drastically simplifies the production workflow compared with an on-site studio or outside broadcast truck. Beyond reducing the number of people needed onsite and reducing the cost, it also helps to produce more content for tier 2 and tier 3 sports and improves the live production of tier 1 sports by using more cameras within the venue.
Indeed, more and more cameras are now based on IP technology, including PoV and PTZ or embedded cameras connected to 5G transmitters. Thanks to these new production setups, broadcasters can provide better sports coverage. These camera setups are easy to control remotely and give viewers an immersive view of the venue, covering every angle of the field. For instance, small cameras and transmitters are frequently used in tight spaces, such as the inside of a racing car or a racing boat, allowing viewers to get up close with the action.
Of course, there are challenges with remote production, such as ensuring good connectivity.
About 99% of remote productions are based on IP technology. If the network is not stable, remote control will be impossible. Using a reliable transmission technology, broadcasters can guarantee a strong connection between the field and the studio.
Furthermore, latency can be an issue during a live remote production. Broadcasters need a solution that will provide the lowest possible transmission latency between the venue and the studio. If there is a substantial amount of latency, it will be difficult for broadcasters to manage camera switching and can impact the quality of experience for viewers.
The Projected Impact of 5G on Live Sports Remote Production
5G technology has been a game changer for remote production, offering even more capacity and better coverage than 4G. The feedback thus far from broadcasters, production companies, and TV stations using 5G technology has been extremely positive. During the Summer Games, 5G technology was used successfully for the live video production of the opening and closing ceremonies as well as for the coverage of several Olympics events.
However, 5G is currently in the initial stage, with the first deployments of 5G standalone networks expected in early 2022. The second phase of 5G will be revolutionary, offering broadcasters quality of service with reserved bandwidth and allowing them to ensure an outstanding quality of service for live sports events.
This upgraded version of 5G will be available at next year's FIFA World Cup in Qatar as well as the upcoming Winter Games in Beijing. Enhanced 5G standalone technology will also help to reduce the transmission latency and will change the way broadcasters use the 5G technology for their production. The new quality of service and the improvement of the 5G coverage will improve the responsiveness of remote productions.
Given that the 5G standalone technology will offer increased services on top of higher bandwidth, we anticipate a significant increase in live productions relying on 5G in 2022 and beyond.
Broadcasters are Embracing Live Remote Production in the Real World
During the COVID-19 crisis, the broadcast community largely embraced the concept of remote production for live events. The PGA Tour is one such success story.
One of the PGA Tour’s production goals was to limit the number of people on the golf course. PGA Tour produced multiple golf tournaments events, including one at Seminole Golf Club near West Palm Beach, Florida, in REMI style with handheld cameras, a drone camera, and a camera in a plane flying over the golf course. Each camera leveraged a specialized bonded-cellular transmitter to get signals from the course to a production facility hundreds of miles away.
Advancements are also happening in the real world with 5G remote production. This past year, Greece saw its first live television broadcasts via 5G. During the final of the Greek Cup, broadcaster Cosmote TV successfully controlled two robotic cameras from a remote studio and transmitted high-quality audio and video via 5G.
The robotic cameras utilized 5G ultra-compact HEVC transmitters in combination with a high-performance transceiver to transmit HD images and sound from the stadium in perfect synchronization and without any delay.
Thanks to the low latency enabled by the 5G network, Cosmote TV was able to control the robotic cameras in real time. The innovation displayed by Cosmote TV is a sneak peek of what’s to come in the future as broadcasters transition from using traditional infrastructure to 5G networks for live remote production.
The COVID-19 crisis accelerated remote production workflows for live sports events. Since the start of the pandemic, more and more broadcasters are adopting remote production for live sports. Under a remote production workflow, broadcasters can utilize PoV cameras to a greater extent and can directly embed cameras in tight spaces in order to provide a unique, close-up view of what is happening.
As 5G deployments heat up, it will be interesting to see how remote production further evolves for live sports.
Ronan Poullaouec is Chief Technology Officer & Co-Founder at AVIWEST.
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