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26 August 2021

Triage mode ending for cloud production post-pandemic

While there is a consensus that we are squarely in the era of remote production, as echoed during a panel discussing simplifying remote productions at this week’s Streaming Media Connect event, there is also a belief that most in this sector are thought to still be in a state of prioritization due to the pandemic. In other words, most companies have likely gone through several iterations of production workflows, and these workflows will continue evolving for as long as the pandemic persists.

We can sugarcoat this sector all day long, but we are infinitely more interested in hearing about the problems brought to light by lockdowns, and how they were overcome. Ben Ratner, Technical Director at publishing and ad tech SaaS provider Maven, stressed that the lack of quality broadband connections for the remote talent was one of the most glaring, which rather complicated appearances on both live and prerecorded streams. Ensuring that guests have the right gear was paramount, but it was interesting for Ratner to see more talent bringing their own lights to remote recording sessions.

Live X’s Anna Cowdery, Senior Coordinating Producer at the US production and studio specialist, noted how much of the early work was in client education – trying to reassure panicky customers that their businesses were going to survive, and that they were capable of producing video in this new manner. Cowdery added that even though Live X has been using remote production techniques since 2018, the overnight jump to fully remote was dramatic.

Marty Jenoff, President of content provider Focal Point Productions, picked getting the basic equipment needed to presenters as the main challenge, particularly with producing video for the education sector. School systems were trying to host live lessons for remote classes, but teachers hosting classes often had their own children at home. This led to poor stream quality, and awkward workarounds using odd-hour scheduling or asking presenters to work from different locations, which was difficult in the middle of a pandemic.

Blackbird’s Webster, VP of Strategy for the Americas, cited producing quality content as the main challenge for the cloud video editing platform provider – and still is today. LiveSports’ President, Jef Kethley, agreed, saying that while you can now do everything that you could do in a Master Control Room (MCR) or production truck in a cloud-based equivalent, which has been a boon for LiveSports’ production of live tennis, the next step is getting clients to properly understand those capabilities.

The conversation then turned to the production workflows used by each speaker – the collection of hardware, software, and services used to capture, transport, and produce these videos. Live X’s Cowdery said that after a few weeks of lockdown, the company took stick of the tools it was using.

It looked at Haivision’s mobile apps for SRT streaming, and ended up developing its own app called Rivet, to provide to talent. This would let the talent contribute their own streams to broadcast facilities, while having return audio and video in the same app – effectively a professional-grade SRT-based Zoom. The willingness to build its own tools was attributed to the unique circumstances of the current climate, by Cowdery.

Blackbird’s Webster thinks that 95% of news and sports could be done in a cloud environment without any hesitation, which is rather good news for the cloud-based production platform. SRT, RIST, and Zixi are solving video acquisition problems, Webster noted, and once you have that video in the cloud, there are a myriad of production tools you can bring to bear.

There was also the question of audience expectations, which was raised by Ratner, who said that while they might not care all that much about the video quality, those same viewers also have no idea how much work goes into producing video. Ratner is a big fan of Riverside, a tool for recording video interviews, and made the point that before the pandemic, a tool like Riverside would have been dismissed. Now, given expectations, it can be just the right one for the job.

Next, we explored the different needs for live and non-live production. Blackbird’s Webster pointed to Adobe’s $1.28 billion acquisition of (see separate story in this issue) as an indication of the value of the Review and Approve (R&A) market, where different editorial inputs can be embedded into the editing software while the editor works.

Non-live content has immense value, and Webster noted Blackbird’s win with Bloomberg as an example, where some 2,700 journalists will be able to use Blackbird’s platform to create video – a more powerful medium, in this day and age. Cowdery added that cloud production technologies can make live content a lot more accessible too, by creating clipped highlights that can be captioned and sent out nearly immediately through social media feeds too. Reversioning video was also cited as a major non-live requirement.

Webster brought up a fairly existential question of what constituted live content, with Ratner pointing out that pre-recording an incoming live feed and playing it back out over broadcast was how we all saw the original moon landing. Cowdery added that many in the events space are still too nervous to go live, and fallback on prerecording sections that are then streamed live. We suspect that no amount of technology would solve those pre-show jitters, however.

Sticking with events, Jenoff said that remote production in events is here to stay, as both a way to reach larger audiences, and to attract better talent and speakers. Cowdery added that we might not ever reach the point where production execs feel comfortable running a flagship from home, but high-level talent is much more willing to do appearances when they do not have to leave the comfort of their own home.

Webster extended that point, saying it applied to the ability to hire the best directors and producers, because they are now so accessible. Kethley said that five years ago, the main driver for going remote was to save money on travel expenses, due to having to ship all that gear between fifty tournaments each year. Now, it was clear that the quality of life improvements from not making the production staff follow all that gear around the country was the main focus. It is also easier to hire such staff when they can work remotely.

A final point came from the percentage of live video that the panel was handling. Webster guessed that it’s around 50%, while Kethley’s workload is completely live – with a separate team handling the non-live functions. Cowdery thinks around 90% of Live X’s workload is live, while Jenoff said Focal Point’s is closer to a 50% split. Ratner, meanwhile, said Maven is only live for around fifteen minutes a day, with the rest pushed to VoD as it best suits the application.