As the General Manager for Vizrt, Asia Pacific, my team and I support a diverse range of countries, including Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, Sub-Saharan Africa, India and more. And while we have seen individual countries deal with the pandemic’s impact on business in different ways, the overarching theme we have seen in these areas is the drive to rise to the challenge, solve problems safely and efficiently, and maintain some semblance of normal business. To that end, across the board, we see a shift in how organizations approach workflows and the use of high-performance, remote AV production tools to manage and overcome the disruption.
In early 2020, Asia, in general, fared well. With early lockdowns, most regions were in good shape by mid-year, and heading into 2021, positive progress was being made. But now with the new virus variants, most of Asia has been going into a new set of lockdowns similar to those in Europe and the US last year. Thailand has been in a tight lockdown since April, and Sydney, Australia, is in what is probably its most stringent lockdown to date. There are signs of these restrictions loosening toward the end of the year, which continues to test Asia’s resilience.
Throughout the ups and downs, Asian countries have been relatively upbeat. India, for example – one of the hardest-hit countries in the world – has remained resilient. Despite everything that is going on, India works to keep business as usual. The attitude within India has been one of, “We’ll, we’re going to have to live with this, and we can’t stop life.” This view of the situation has been an eye-opening and inspiring experience.
New tools for the new approach
Obviously, lockdowns create enormous challenges for production studios. One of the first shifts we recognized was the increase in the investment and use of VR and AR technologies. With the very limited capability to bring people to facilities, organizations developed unique ways to capture the audience’s attention and tell their stories in compelling new ways. Customers wanted to create eye-popping, differentiated environments, and engaging look and feel for their productions. When collaboration became the most difficult, the need for more creative and elevated content rose significantly.
For example, we saw increased use of Vizrt’s virtual studio technology, which puts two people from two different locations into a virtual environment, making it look like they are in the same space. The audience sees a face-to-face interview, even though the talent might be countries apart. With live events and productions not possible, our customers were looking at technology to better engage audiences and make productions as memorable and interesting as possible.
We have also seen a lot of investment in disaster-recovery and cloud-based collaboration solutions. Disaster recovery for a production studio means that no one can access the facility, but the show must go on. How can they continue the production?
In some cases, recovery could be a completely cloud-based replication of all the content. In other instances, it could mean that access to a physical facility is prohibited, but others are open. A company may have a studio in Perth and a facility in Sydney. But if Sydney is in lockdown, the crew in Perth can take over a show or a project remotely and keep things running.
A lot of our customers, who had a media asset management (MAM) system in place, were the ones who had the advantage of shifting to a new remote-production model. Those organizations could give VPN access to their teams, and everyone could access all content from home. Many MAM clients called us and asked for help to open their systems to remote-production capabilities and expand their systems. An open, flexible, and capable MAM system saved many productions over the last 18 months.
We also see full-on live productions in the cloud with the ability to switch live shows from home. With a monitor and a keyboard, people are controlling our cloud-based live production suite and producing shows live from remote locations. We see many work-from-home production teams log into their systems, browse the archive content and anything ingested that day, cut together video clips, and then send it off to the video server ready to play out – all that post-production and prep work done from home.
Project scale has changed over the course of the past 18 months as well, often including a focus on only the necessary aspects of production. The dynamic ability to scale up and down project tools as needed, and at a much lower cost, allows customers the ability to meet immediate business and production demands. As the pandemic brought tighter budgets, the need to critically choose how, when, and where to deploy elements from the Vizrt solution suites grew and flexible access was our response to that. However, the need stretches beyond budget cuts and social distancing, and allows customers a more scalable, adoptable workflow.
Production beyond the pandemic
The pandemic forced broadcasters to look for remote and cloud-based solutions, but what was initially an emergency response ended up advancing the acceptance of robust remote technologies and proved the concept. When production teams do return to their studios, no doubt a much higher level of remote connectivity will stay in place, especially with remote sports and news productions.
The ability to remote to the talent with a minimally staffed OB truck and with much of the crew connecting from home or other locations can have a significant, positive impact on workflows and budgets. COVID may have forced the market’s hand, but the silver lining has been the acceptance of a new way to approach production.
As a solutions provider, our own Vizrt team has adapted as well. We now routinely log into systems remotely to help configure and support customers. We can now provide complete online demonstrations, sales, installations, deployments, and system training remotely – which is amazing because just a couple of years ago, we would have said this is impractical, if not impossible. But like our customers, we had no choice but to innovate, adjust, and re-define how we do business.
By the time we all finally emerge from the lockdowns and the social distancing, robust remote asset management, cloud-based production tools as-a-service and work-from-home production platforms will have become a more integral part of our workflows than we could have predicted. Without the expense and constraints of physical facilities, these network/cloud-based tools will unquestionably spark an even higher level of production collaboration and creativity.
Like the lessons learned for India – and indeed all of Asia – we must learn to live with this challenging situation, and we cannot stop life. And for the broadcast industry, as they say, “the show must go on.”