2021 predictions: A look towards the year ahead
2021 will continue to be shaped by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the industry in 2020. In fact, these events forced the broadcast industry to evolve faster than at any time since it began almost a century ago, with what usually would be five years of evolution packed into a 12-month period. As the landscape has shifted, broadcasters, service providers and vendors are now rethinking their priorities over the course of the year.
Growth in new technology investment
Live production faced unprecedented challenges in 2020 due to the cancellation of many live sports events and the remainder taking place without attendees. Social distancing measures also created fresh challenges for live production. This in many cases forced broadcasters to go into survival mode, both financially and in terms of making broadcasting work in the new environment. Consequently, many planned infrastructure investments were put on hold or delayed.
The necessity for investments remains however, and dependent on an improvement in the pandemic situation this year, we could be set to see a growth in new projects, particularly around the move to IP technologies.
Delivering projects in new ways
Despite the challenges of 2020, there were still many infrastructure projects, inclucing some very large ones. Some broadcasters had commitments which they could not circumvent, for example, moving premises. Others saw the pandemic as an opportunity to embark on transformational projects at a time when they would cause minimum disruption to live production due to so many live events having been cancelled.
Travel restrictions have led vendors to find new ways to deliver timely projects by utilising virtual meetings and remote training, configuration and testing. Nevion, for example, has been able to deliver significant projects during 2020, aided by the fact that its key products are largely software based and therefore able to be managed remotely. Due to the positive impact this has had on project efficiency and effectiveness, this remote approach to project deliveries in 2021 is likely to continue, even as the situation around travel improves.
Work will be done on improving “from-home” production
Many shows had to be created with many contributors and some production teams working from home because of the pandemic. The use of best effort technology, including office tools like Skype and Zoom for ingest and home-broadband network connectivity, kept shows on air, but it resulted in a real degradation of production values, which are key differentiators for broadcasters. Indeed, some broadcast content was arguably of lower production quality than that of many professional vloggers.
Broadcasters will want to keep “from-home” production (not to be confused with “at home production”, i.e. traditional remote production) in their toolkit even when the pandemic situation improves, but a responsibility will sit with the industry in 2021 to start improving its production values. This is a multifaceted task but will involve, for example, exploring the use of alternative broadband connectivity (including potentially 5G) and orchestration across locations including homes.
An increase in interest in Cloud and 5G
From distribution, to playout and increasingly into the MCR, cloud technology has been moving upstream in 2021. The next step is using cloud in live production. Already, small scale productions can be done in the cloud. For example, Nevion’s parent company Sony offers virtual production solutions using up to six camera sources, professional quality switching and reliable streaming. 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 generating a lot of buzz in the industry. At present though, it’s only an enhanced version of 4G. The real game-changer for live broadcast production will be when service providers offer QoS through guaranteed bandwidth, which may not happen for a few years.
Consolidations in the industry
In recent years the need for solutions with broad footprints has accelerated the process of consolidation among vendors. For example, Sony’s acquisition of Nevion is part of that shift. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has added impetus to consolidation because of its impact on many vendors’ finances, which has affected small, media and large vendors. As a result, we can expect further changes in the vendor landscape in 2021.