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Premier League trial suggests cloud-based broadcasting can aid net zero efforts

A proof-of-concept staged by Premier League broadcast partners and technology vendors has suggested the use of cloud production technologies and workflows could reduce the environmental impact of live soccer coverage.

The BBC, BT Sport, NBCUniversal, Sky Sports and SuperSport worked together with English soccer’s top flight, various technical partners including Amazon Web Services, Blackbird, Hitomi, Microsoft, M2A Media, Singular.Live and Zixi on the initiative, which formed part of the IBC’s Accelerator Media Innovation Programme.

The group said that although industry initiatives such as Albert had helped contribute to a ten per cent reduction in the emissions generated by a single hour of television, there had been little research to see what the impact of the shift from satellite to fibre and cloud distribution was. Furthermore, there was little research into how remote production could allow broadcasters to share assets without impacting the quality of their coverage.

Traditionally, soccer broadcasts have relied heavily on onsite equipment and staff to capture, process, and manage live games. Most of these resources are hosted in outside broadcast (OB) trucks, with only a select few functions, such as on-screen graphics taking place off-site. For major events which have multiple production teams, the carbon footprint created by travel, transportation, and energy can be significant.

“The future of our planet depends on a collective effort to become carbon net zero,” said Andy Beale, project lead and chief engineer at BT Sport. “We wanted to tangibly experiment together to understand the alternatives to traditional OB production in live sport, in order to make carbon metrics more readily available so companies can benchmark what they are doing and help motivate them to do more to reduce their own carbon footprints.”

Remote production essentially virtualises various elements of a television production, such as video, audio, and graphics, into a cloud-based digital environment that can be accessed from any location with a sufficient internet connection. Advances in cloud and networking technology mean it is a viable alternative to conventional approaches and it was used effectively by BT Sport during the pandemic.

Remote production reduces the amount of onsite equipment and staff required on site, simplifying OB operations, reducing costs, and lowering emissions. Broadcasters are able to cover more live events because they have more resources and are able to apply more advanced production techniques to more events.

The cloud also makes it possible to share resources between different broadcasters who can then add assets such as camera feeds into their own workflows. This avoids duplication and further reduces emissions.

The IBC-led group wanted to put many of these theories to the test and staged a proof-of-concept at the Premier League game between Liverpool and Newcastle on 16th December, alongside a conventional broadcast.

By comparing and contrasting the two operations, the league, broadcasters and technology firms will acquire energy consumption data and determine whether collaborative remote production techniques that feed into multiple workflows are a viable long-term option.

“It’s impossible for the media and entertainment industry to become more sustainable without qualitative data,” said Mark Smith, the leader of the IBC Accelerator initiative. “The team behind this unique collaboration helped create all-important metrics by analysing the carbon footprints from high-profile Premier League games, providing actionable data so the entire industry can do its part to help solve the climate crisis.”

The group plan to release more insights through a technical paper in the near future but initial findings show that cloud-based remote production can eliminate the need for on-site equipment by as much as 70 per cent. With 5G becoming more commonplace, this could drop even further for some events.

“The promising results from the trial show that the industry goal of a drastic reduction of emissions through means such as cloud production workflows is very much attainable,” added Inga Ruehl, executive director, production services and operations at Sky. “If the industry continues to work together towards this goal it can make a huge difference.” Sports Pro Media

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