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The broadcast industry was truly transformed by the events of 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to shape the landscape in 2021. Andy Rayner, chief technologist at Nevion, believes the sector has undergone drastic changes much faster in the last year than at any point in the previous century, compacting what would have been five years of evolution into 12 months. Such a shift has led vendors and service providers to reassess their priorities for the upcoming year.

Growth in New Technology Investment

“Live production was turned on its head in 2020 due to the pandemic, bringing the unprecedented situation in which live sport events were almost entirely cancelled. This forced broadcasters to go into survival mode, both financially and in terms of making broadcasting work in the new environment,” said Andy.

“Consequently, practically all planned investments were put on hold. However, as optimism grows regarding an improvement in the situation around Covid-19 in 2021, it’s likely that a surge in projects, particularly relating to a shift towards IP, will take place, as the need for these investments has not gone away.”

Changes to Project Delivery

While 2020 marked the cancellation of many projects, some broadcasters still had commitments which they could not circumvent, for example, moving premises. In the midst of live event cancellations, others saw the pandemic as an opportunity to embark on transformational projects at a time when they would cause minimum disruption to live production.

With widespread restrictions on travel, vendors have increasingly utilised remote configuration, testing, training and virtual meetings to deliver projects on time. Andy said, “Vendors whose key products are largely software based, and therefore amenable to be managed remotely, have been at a distinct advantage in being able to deliver projects successfully. Even as the situation for travel improves, the renewed efficiency and effectiveness on projects means that this experience is likely to be carried into the coming months.”

Upgrading From-Home Production

Nevion at home workflows

Contributors and production teams had to adapt to working from home in 2020 due to the pandemic. The use of best-effort equipment, including office tools like Skype and Zoom for ingest and home-broadband network connectivity, kept shows on air, but Andy notes that it resulted in a real degradation of production values, which is normally a key differentiator for broadcasters compared to other content competing for eyeballs. Concerningly, some broadcast output was arguably of lower production quality than that of many professional vloggers.

“‘From-home’ production, in contrast to ‘at home’ production – that is, traditional remote production – will prove to be a useful tool for broadcasters post-pandemic, but the onus will be on the industry to improve production values,” he said. “This is a multifaceted task but will involve, for example, exploring the use of alternative broadband connectivity, potentially including 5G, and orchestration across locations including homes.”

Growth of Interest in Cloud and 5G

Slowly but surely, in recent years cloud has been making its way into distribution, playout and into the MCR. In 2021, the next step is using the cloud in live production. Already, small scale productions can be completed in the cloud. “Indeed, Nevion’s parent company Sony has demonstrated that it’s now possible to carry out virtual production using up to six camera sources, professional quality switching and reliable streaming,” said Andy.

“Initiatives like the VSF’s Ground-Cloud-Cloud-Ground (GCCG) and AWS’s Cloud Digital Interface (CDI) are laying the groundwork for larger productions with a multi-vendor soft-eco-system. 5G is also yet to reach its full potential. The real game-changer for live broadcast production will be when service providers offer QoS through guaranteed bandwidth, which may not happen in 2021.” 

Trend for Industry Consolidation

While consolidation has been a long term trend in the broadcast industry, the financial pressures brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has placed a renewed focus and need for small and large organisations to be brought together. As the impact of the pandemic continues into this year, Andy says that we can expect to see the vendor landscape evolve and develop further in the coming months.