With every passing year the question of environmental sustainability becomes more pressing, and when it comes to addressing climate change, everyone is accountable. In the last few years, scaling back environmental impact has become a priority for the broadcasting and media industry, particularly as the technological capabilities and tools for measuring the carbon emissions of television productions and video content advances. Now, the industry is exploring a variety of strategies to ensure it takes a more responsible approach to broadcasting, content creation, exchange, and delivery.
According to one RTS panel estimate, each hour of television produced results in a carbon footprint of 9.2 tons, which is roughly equivalent to two households’ annual consumption of energy. This startling figure is the average across all genres with the exception of drama which is four times higher. Clearly for the broadcasting industry, the task ahead is monumental, but not impossible.
The television and film community can look at ways to power its studios with renewable energy, while significantly cutting back on the emissions that they can directly control. On the operations side, industry stakeholders can find ways to eliminate many forms of waste, including the use of single-use plastics.
Sourcing is also an essential component when it comes to forging a more energy aware broadcasting industry. This is because up to 90% of emissions can be attributed to its supply chains. To address this challenge, the introduction of sustainability criteria into its procurement documentation can help broadcasters mitigate the adverse environmental and social implications of business activities across supply chains.
Content creation at the service of sustainability
Today, new technological advances are helping to make sustainability within the broadcasting industry and productions media more achievable. It is anticipated that cloud-based technology will contribute towards improving sustainability and limit the environmental impact of live broadcasts in particular: several sports broadcasters including BBC Sport, BT Sport, Sky Sports, Premier League Productions, IMG, Super Sport, and NBC Universal, in collaboration with the studios and industry consortium Albert, are experimenting with multi-provider cloud technologies to create a more environmentally responsible production chain.
Film production is also benefitting from supporting technologies and solutions that can help the industry adapt to greener operations. In recent years, the wider adoption of virtual production technologies has helped to reduce, and in some cases, eliminate the travel associated with the film and TV production process.
Virtual production studios and sound stages enabled by virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) use LED walls and green screens to render every possible location on to a given set. They can also be used to replace the need for physical props helping to significantly reduce material waste.
With sustainability fast becoming a core element of their strategic roadmaps, broadcasters and streaming service providers need to first consider the carbon footprint associated with their streaming processing solutions, and then identify the ways to mitigate it.
They also need to optimize their processes to reduce the power consumption of both hardware and software by implementing best practices. In the near-term, broadcasters and streaming service providers should think about exploring the end-to-end solutions that reduce storage, bandwidth, and hardware requirements in a bid to make their services more sustainable.
Measure the impact, then reduce it
Studios and industry consortiums like Bafta’s Albert and the European Broadcasting Union are leading the way in terms of devising certification schemes and offering green production guide toolkits that advise the Media and Entertainment industry on making more responsible environmental choices.
In the case of Albert, the consortium's toolkit comprises of a calculator and carbon action plan which allows broadcasters to measure their carbon impact and then radically reduce it. At the start of each project, production staff are asked to fill out an estimated carbon emissions questionnaire which considers the entire production life cycle: transport, travel and accommodation, energy, materials and their subsequent disposal are all factored in.
Productions which employ the toolkit benefit from a straightforward user experience and the holistic assessment allows them to build a complete picture of their projected impact. Given that the average Tent Pole film production generates 2,840 tons of CO2, such toolkits are invaluable as they provide the means and expert guidance to help production staff rethink their approach to energy usage and sustainability-centered operations.
It encourages conscientious decision making on questions of sourcing renewable energy, eliminating the use of diesel generators at soundstages, backlots, and production locations, maintaining energy efficient and low carbon buildings, and ensuring that only electric vehicles are used where possible. The underlying philosophy of the calculator and carbon action plan is to unleash the transformative changes necessary to contribute to a more sustainable future.
Taking the lead on climate action
Today’s content creators have, for the most part, forged their careers in a virtual age. As a result, many of these broadcasters are thinking creatively about the ways in which they can leverage the latest technological advancements to take a lead on climate action and bring about a more environmentally friendly production environment.
Broadcasters and streaming service providers can accelerate the mission to greener operations with reduced storage, bandwidth, and hardware requirements. And on the operations side, valuable tools and practical guidance can empower screen industry professionals to identify and act upon opportunities for effective climate action throughout the entire production process.
Achieving a truly environmentally friendly broadcasting industry continues to be a work in progress. A shared sense of responsibility combined with the right tools, guidance and clean technology can set new standards for the industry when it comes to building sustainability into creative and business processes.
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Erik Reinhard is Distinguished Scientist at InterDigital. Previously he held the same position at Technicolor, as well as various academic positions at universities and research institutes in Europe and North America. He was founder and editor-in-chief of ACM Transactions on Applied Perception, and authored books on high dynamic range imaging, color imaging, computer graphics and natural image statistics. He enjoys research that spans different disciplines, including color science, high dynamic range imaging and human visual perception. He has published more than 100 papers in these areas, and was member of more than 50 program committees. He was program co-chair of 6 conferences and workshops, including the Eurographics Symposium on Rendering 2011. He delivered key notes at Eurographics 2010, the Computational Color Imaging Workshop 2011, and the IS\&T European Conference on Colour in Graphics, Imaging and Vision 2012. He has been a speaker in more than 15 courses and tutorials, of which 10 were delivered at SIGGRAPH. He is currently member of the ACM Distinguished Speaker program, and associate editor for ACM Transactions on Applied Perception.
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