Glenn Adamo, Managing Director of Production Services at The Switch, writes for Insider Sport to discuss how remote production will help rights holders safely resume live games
Televised live sport across the globe may have been put on hiatus by COVID-19, but TV audiences’ appetite for real-time action remains strong. Sports fans anticipating a summer line-up of top-flight league football, cricket, F1, the UEFA Champions League and, of course, the Tokyo Olympics Games, have had to make do with archive rebroadcasts, esports alternatives and on-demand sports documentaries. But these events can only assuage the immense demand for genuine, physical live sports for so long.
Sports leagues and broadcasters are determinedly looking for ways to bring live sports back on-air as swiftly as possible. Germany’s Bundesliga already resumed its season behind closed doors on 15 May, F1 is aiming to restart in July under strict safety conditions, and the Premier League is reportedly in discussions to bring free-to-air games to YouTube, broadcasting from empty stadiums.
However, the coronavirus crisis presents far from a short-term challenge. Even once restrictions have been successfully lifted, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for some time. International travel and large gatherings could take years to return to what they once were. Meanwhile, broadcasters and sports leagues must be able to prioritise the welfare of staff, players and fans.
Scoring with Remote Production
Remote production (REMI) offers a practical and compelling choice for getting live sports back to our TV screens while minimising risk. It is a deliverable and proven option that makes it possible to produce live sports with fewer technical and support staff on site – ensuring social distancing guidelines can easily be met – while offering greater flexibility.
By drawing on remote capabilities, broadcasters and leagues are now able to centralise production at their home studio or a dedicated third-party location, such as one of The Switch’s production studios around the world, with pared down crews and lower equipment requirements at the venue. This innovative approach involves broadcasters transmitting camera feeds, audio and equipment control via private fibre network, at low latency, to a centralised facility. From there, operators have the capability to remotely configure cameras and other equipment at the event site.
As lockdown is relaxed, REMI offers an easy route for leagues and rights holders to give fans what they want now: live sports on their TV. The advantages are clear, particularly for those partnering with a service provider that understands live sports and has the technical expertise to support seamless remote production. With the health crisis continuing to evolve, remote production – pioneered over the past few years by The Switch and other innovators – makes more sense than ever.
Looking beyond the lockdown
The advantages of remote production extend far beyond minimal on-site crews and equipment. This model offers cost savings of up to 30 per cent or more, meaning broadcasters can massively improve efficiency and even broaden their focus to include delivering services in new and diverse ways, from streaming to social media.
Remote production also addresses the fact that fans are consuming live sports in different ways, especially under current conditions. Under strict stay-at-home orders, consumers are viewing more online content, streaming platforms witnessed a 43 per cent jump in viewership in the week commencing 29 March. Meanwhile, leading esports streaming service Twitch recorded a 60 per cent jump in viewership in March this year, according to analyst Stream Hatchet.
By managing production at a central location, broadcasters and rights owners also have the ability to cover multiple events in one day. This will be critical as sports leagues rush to resume as many games as possible in a compressed time frame.
This ready-to-go solution has already been deployed by major sports networks and rights owners, such as NFL Network, which leveraged The Switch’s remote production capabilities to produce and deliver a 10-game US college football schedule in 2019.
REMI also offers the potential for far higher quality production, with the ability to support more camera feeds and specialty equipment such as SkyCam and RF cameras. Furthermore, having a group of experienced technicians covering a series of games for the same league means they know what to expect, what to do and, critically, will have established great communication – all highly valuable assets for rights holders.
Ready, Set, Go
Remote production has been gaining traction for some years but it has become clear that its time is now. REMI reduces fears surrounding staff wellbeing and safety, ensuring crews can remain in their home location. By centralising crews and drastically reducing travel, the impact on work-life balance can be transformed, making careers more sustainable, and less stressed teams happier and more productive.
There is a real opportunity for leagues and rights holders to hit the ground running and salvage what is left of their seasons with a remote approach. As the sports industry deals with its ‘new normal’, remote production also provides scope to boost cost-effectiveness and innovation with new dynamic services.