While getting prepared for life post-pandemic, let’s start thinking about what we have learnt so far and how the broadcast facilities of the future should look like.
We have first discovered that many broadcasting and production functions could be performed remotely, including from home, and that the requirement for highly-centralised in-house operations is not a real necessity. This obviously comes with many challenges. Centralised in-house operations offer higher security and control of a broadcaster’s business which is a critical priority, especially for state broadcasters, and this is well understood from a national security perspective. What we should thoroughly study is how we can securely future-proof our facilities and decide what should be on-premises, inside the building, and what can, or probably should, be outside the building. We have to rethink what systems and functions can be accessed from where, and what physical and cyber security measures and strategies should be adopted.
Larger entities should implement distributed infrastructures and facilities in multiple buildings, or campuses if possible, that can operate independently with active backups and synchronisations of media assets, databases, schedules, and business systems. They will then be able to move their operations from location to another, or distribute their staff and operations between the multiple facilities. This will ensure the continuity of business in case of issues or restrictions affecting a specific facility, including eliminating or reducing physical interactions among their teams, and thus minimize the risks of infection in cases of pandemics like what we are currently facing.
While geographical distribution of facilities should still be considered when planning broadcast operations and infrastructures, primarily for disaster recovery purposes, we have also to plan now for the more extreme scenario of moving out ALL our operators, from ALL facilities, at the same time. Talent was generally acceptable to be out of the office, with solutions for remote contribution via telecom links, but having technical operators out of the building is new to all of us. This needs to be addressed now in new broadcast systems design.
Our broadcast and production facilities need to have the ability to adapt to change quickly and constantly. They should be as efficient as possible, allowing better sharing of content whether working within the building or accessing it from home or remotely. We need to think about implementing profile-based environments in which people have profiles where their roles, responsibilities, and the shows they work on move with them as they move from one task to the other, and also from inside the office to home. Our work environments should be agile, with no specific location to work from. This will offer not only resilience to broadcast operations in adverse conditions, but also higher productivity and opportunities to utilise the technical and human resources much more efficiently.
Remote production (REMI) capabilities for our facilities should be seriously contemplated. This has been recently promoted and generally implemented in a “centralised remote production model” where all the production team is in a control room far away from the shooting or event production venue for better productivity and cost efficiencies. With restrictions on people’s movement and travel, limitations on gathering, and the need for physical distancing especially in enclosed spaces such as OB vans or control rooms, we should now consider a “distributed remote production model” which allows for talent, operators, and production staff to work remotely from home or elsewhere, not from within the central production control centre. Higher-bandwidth and lower-latency communication networks and technologies will allow for such topologies and operational models.
Control room automation should also be considered as it offers tremendous benefits for streamlining productions and cost savings especially in formatted productions such as news, sports, or game shows. It will also be the backup plan when the team should be out of the building for any reason, and we can then continue working with no or very limited staff on-premises.
Hasan Sayed Hasan is Managing Director of Master Media and Chairman of the Arab HDTV and Beyond Group