With everything from the 2020 Summer Olympics to Tour de France and the Indian Premier League (IPL) postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a major impact on not just the sports federations but also broadcasters. However, in a bid to cut losses, sports federations and broadcasters are experimenting with big-ticket events held remotely with players but without a live audience thanks to remote production.
London-based sports marketing agency Two Circles estimates the sports industry may lose a US$61.6 billion in revenue this year. Kickstarting remote production could help minimise this loss in revenue.
“To start with, a majority of the sporting events will be held behind closed doors,” Dhaval Ponda, Global Head of Media & Entertainment Services, Tata Communications, told indianexpress.com over a phone call from London. “There will be no spectators, but the event will take place. It will be broadcast live to audiences within their home, so they can watch it on their TV, tablets, or mobile devices.”
Ponda, who has been with Tata Communications for well over 12 years, says the sports federation understands the need to adjust to a new environment. “The sports industry has been forced to use technology as an innovation to bring back audience engagement which will be missing if you have events behind closed doors,” he explains. Tata Communications is in close conversations with the majority of top sporting federations in the US, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the UK for the deployment of remote production. He expects sporting events to start from the first week of June, even though from behind closed doors.
Usually, at a time, when the IPL or Wimbledon is going on, there are hundreds of professionals on-site with heavy equipment and hardware to produce a match in high-quality video. But remote production is the complete opposite. It is a technology that allows broadcasters and content owners to remotely produce an event taking place thousands of miles away, and the broadcasting and the production team would be situated within their home country or even within their households. For example, if a cricket match is happening in New Delhi, the production and the broadcasting team could be in London.
The advantage of remote production is that it allows the production team and crew to work from a safe environment within their households without compromising the quality of a broadcast product. The concept is not new, it’s just become more relevant.
For Tata Communications, the backbone of the technology will be its global video connect network based on the infrastructure the company owns and operates globally using submarine cable systems. Ponda says a portion of this infrastructure is dedicated to live video.
According to Ponda, remote production has been in testing for the past few years and now the technology is mature enough to be fully deployed. “Remote production enables a very low latency transport of multiple live videos feeds from location A to location B, where the production can take place before distributing to our households,” he explains. Tata Communications has previously partnered with Star Sports for remote production of Pro Kabaddi League (PKL).
Ponda says tier-1 broadcasters are usually the first to deploy remote production because they have scale and resources, but he’s also seeing a growing number of interest among tier-2 and tier-3 broadcasters. Tata Communications directly works with the owners of sporting federations to deploy remote production when they are about to kick start their events again, and would be available to 40 or 50 different broadcasters across the world.
Although Ponda counts several advantages of remote production, he says there are still some challenges to overcome. “When you have 300 people working in a certain way with tonnes of hardware around them, and they’re located on-site and then you put them in a remote location, there is a change in the workflow.”
But the biggest challenge centered around remote production is to get right the stream latency. “The top challenge is the very fact that your team is actually thousands of miles away from the actual location. When you are doing this low latency live video transport and if there is any issue on one leg, there’s a real-world possibility that you are looking at a blank screen.”
Sports industry may have been the first to adopt remote production, but the technology is fast gaining ground in eSports. “A number of US broadcasters have actually deployed eSports using remote production tools,” he said.
The long-term impact of the current crisis on the sports industry is still very much unknown, but it will drastically change how we consume sports content in the future. Ponda says broadcasters need to look at new ways to engage audiences. He emphasised on a solid digital strategy that needs to be there to increase the viewership of sporting events on digital platforms.
“We are now looking at scenarios where the sporting events will come in a different format. Because if you think about the viewing patterns, the audience who is sitting at home is now very much comfortable and getting used to digital OTT platforms. And the viewing pattern on these platforms is significantly different. So it is a significant departure from just watching a match and then switching off,” he says.