From remote production to distributed production
By Olivier Suard VP Marketing Nevion
Transforming live production
There is a growing appetite for content across all demographics, and the demand for live experiences is especially high, with viewers prepared to pay for the right content. However, with the growing competition for the viewers’ attention, the pressure on revenue and the escalating costs of broadcasting rights, broadcasters are looking at ways to manage production costs without compromising quality and creativity.
This has led in recent years to the increase in popularity of remote production, whereby the bulk of the production is done from the broadcasters’ central facilities rather than on-site. This not only save costs by not having to send so many people and equipment on site, but also leads to a better utilizing the resources they have in their central facilities, including of course the production staff.
Remote production has been making high-profile sports events more cost-effective to produce. But it has also made it commercially viable to cover events with smaller audiences (e.g. lower leagues or less common sports). For example, HDR (now NEP Denmark), a service provider to the broadcast industry, used a remote production solution based on Nevion equipment and software to enable the professional coverage of Danish horse racing – not a sport that attracts a large audience, but one which can be profitably broadcast with the right production cost structure.
In fact, remote production is part of a much more fundamental movement, which has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need for social distancing: distributed production.
Whereas remote production is simply about shifting production from the venues to the main central facility, distributed production is much more ambitious. It’s about pooling, or “federating”, all available production resources (locations, studios, control rooms, equipment and people) in such a way that any combination of resources can be used to produce content in real-time.
This ability to produce live content in a collaborative manner, almost regardless of geographic constrains, is a hugely attractive prospect for broadcasters, not least because it brings unprecedented nimbleness and cost-effectiveness in production.
An early example of this was Norway’s TV 2, which used a solution provided by Nevion to federate their two main production sites, in Oslo and Bergen, to enable content to be produced using resources from either location. This, in fact, proved to be extremely useful during the COVID-19 pandemic, when staff could not travel between the two locations.
Enabled by IP network convergence
Remote production, and by extension distributed production, have been facilitated by the increased adoption of IP technology in media networks. It’s the first time in broadcast history that the same technology is used in both LANs (local area networks) used in the facilities and WANs (wide area networks used to connect locations). However, to realize the full benefits of this convergence, there is a need to have convergence at every level. That is why, for example, work is on-going to adapt the LAN media transport standard SMPTE ST 2110 to work in a WAN environment.
It’s also key to have equipment and systems that can leverage convergence. That is the case for example of Nevion’s software-defined media node VIRTUOSO that can work both in a LAN and as well as an IP media edge device for the WAN.
Most crucial of all, the network management needs to be able to handle seamlessly all the LANs and WANs in the production. For example, Nevion’s orchestration and SDN control software, VideoIPath can control flows between any source and destination across a converged network.
A key factor in the success on remote or distributed production is scalability. Modern live production involves a number of video, audio and data flows, and volumes of traffic (driven by increasing image quality with 4K/8K, HDR, HFR and WCG) not seen in a traditional SDI environment.
In order to cope with such demand, it is essential that to get the network architecture and control right from the start. This requires real expertise and experience in IP media networking – not just IP networks. For example, Nevion has designed and delivered solutions that are handling 10,000s of media flows per day.
Low latency compression
Despite the availability of more cost-effective transmission capacity, the demands of modern remote production mean that, in many situations, some form of video compression is needed to reduce bandwidth requirements.
Video compression is always a compromise between image quality, compression rate, and latency. Low latency is crucial for remote production, and even more so for distributed production, where signals may travel multiple times between locations as part of the workflows.
Traditional CODECs like H.265, H.264 and even JPEG 2000 with their total multi-frame end-to-end latency are not ideal for this.
More recently, new low latency CODECs have emerged, including JPEG 2000 ULL, TICO and JPEG XS.
Of those, JPEG XS has emerged as an ideal candidate for remote and distributed production. JPEG XS achieves pristine multi-generational compression with ratios of up to 10-to-1 and a latency of a tiny fraction of a frame.
For example, in November 2019, Riot Games used Nevion’s JPEG XS implementation to remote-produce from Los Angeles the esport final of the League of Legends taking place in Paris – 9,000 km away! Nevion also provided JPEG XS in a recent distributed production project involving the federation of resources between 11 European sites.
5G and Cloud
While broadcasters have historically been understandably cautious and risk-averse when it comes to introducing new technology in live production, the need for business transformation and indeed recent crisis management, has brought the idea of virtualizing production resources to the fore. Indeed, the talk now is not just about “pooling” resources, but even of Cloud processing.
The future of live production will most probably involve a mixture of “ground” and Cloud resources, connected though LAN, WAN and 5G networks.
The decisions made right now by broadcasters, even for the smallest IP projects, are likely to determine whether they can eventually leverage the potential of distributed production.