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COMMENT: How the industry can redefine itself amid the pandemic

By 24th June 2020 No Comments

Tata Communications global head of media and entertainment services Dhaval Ponda on the future of production post-lockdown.

For the last few months, lockdown measures introduced to stem the spread of Covid-19 have had many of us grounded in our homes. As such, most of us have turned to our TV sets and digital platforms for entertainment during this time. 87% of US consumers and 80% of UK consumers revealed that they’re consuming more content than ever before, according to a recent report from Global Web Index.

Many in the media and entertainment (M&E) industry have enjoyed a sudden and significant uptick in customers as a result. Netflix, for example, saw a 15.8 million net increase in its global subscriber base, doubling what it and Wall Street had predicted for that quarter. However, the reality is, until a cure or vaccine is found and deployed worldwide, social distancing will be the main line of defence against the virus. This means content creation strategy has to change for many traditional M&E organisations.

Most of what we watch on traditional and digital entertainment channels – from BBC dramas to Premier League football – relies on hundreds of cast and crew members, as well as a live audience at times. These conditions make social distancing measures more than challenging.

But because we’re all experiencing the current situation together, viewers have been responding positively to clever and inventive new ways of delivering content.

The M&E industry has a rare opportunity to reflect and adapt their business models for a new era in entertainment – we need to revolutionise our approaches to customer experience management, demand planning and revenue generation.

As with most modern business challenges, digital transformation with an ecosystem of agile, secure and fast technologies is the answer.

Remote production

While the whole M&E industry has been hit particularly hard by lockdown restrictions, live sports and live entertainment events have been the most affected.

With so much demand for content, people in the M&E industry are doing their best to bring content to viewers while working from home. As such there have been many attempts to pivot to a remote production model. While the majority of the live content still require a skeleton crew on location, most of the work is done by remote workers.

For example, many hosts are now broadcasting from their living rooms (pictured above). They’ve swapped out their huge crews, live bands and laughing audiences for their spouses and children and are talking to their celebrity guests over video chat.

In the sports arena, football bodies such as the Premier League, German Bundesliga league and South Korean K league have gained a lot of attention in their attempts to resume “closed-door” games. Although even with no audience and smaller crews, players and crews still have to be cautious, and are subjected to numerous Covid-19 tests.

It might look simple enough, but more goes into remote production than meets the eye. Live action has to be captured perfectly before being seamlessly (and quickly) transferred to the central studio of the broadcaster. That’s where the rest of the team and equipment are present to edit the raw content and send it for production.

But by virtualising the entire environment and using media orchestration on the cloud, teams can create cloud-based content workflows that allow content creators and stakeholders to manage the video production chain end-to-end, remotely.

By migrating to cloud, remote teams can integrate and automate their usual workflows tasks such as file delivery, transcoding videos for OTT platforms and frame-accurate editing seamlessly in virtual environments – without having to transfer feeds between physical workstations.

The rise and rise of esports

Other than remote production, an interesting direction many sports franchises have gone in is the esports route. In April, the NBA (one of the first high-profile organisations to suspend activity due to Covid-19) hosted a players-only virtual basketball tournament.

Huge stars such as Kevin Durant and Spencer Dinwiddie played ‘NBA 2K’ against each other live on ESPN. Not only did the tournament keep sponsors, broadcasters and fans happy, the winner received $100,000 for a Covid-19 related charity of their choice.

However, just because esports are social-distancing-friendly, doesn’t mean there aren’t many factors to consider for M&E organisations. The tournament still required multiple cameras, cutaways, reactions and commentary that needed to be captured and edited in real time.

So, esports on broadcast television require robust digital broadcast infrastructure and connectivity capabilities – something not all M&E firms are equipped for.

When it comes to esports, organisers need to focus on:
• Low latency streaming solutions: This is especially important when you’re hosting live competitions with players in different geographies
• Decentralised cloud gaming: This allows you to host games in multiple locations without needing to install expensive hardware in each spot

Necessity is the mother of invention

The ideas and innovations found now will have significant effects on the M&E industry long after this pandemic is over.

I believe around 75% of broadcasters will look at adopting remote production post-coronavirus. The benefits of less travel will become both a money saving strategy for firms and a perk for employees, all the while also being good for the environment. And the money firms save can then be reinvested back into their digital transformation journey.

As for right now, every M&E firm’s first priority should be migrating their workflows to cloud. Aside from making their content accessible anywhere, some modern cloud services give companies access to AI-enhanced metadata that will improve their customers’ experiences through features like personalised and multilingual content.

Investing in these tools today will all go towards making the M&E industry more flexible and future-ready, geared-up for a new era of entertainment.

Dhaval Ponda is global head, media and entertainment at Tata Communications.

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