Making the Media Podcast with guests Darren Long and Peter Russell

For an industry that has traditionally relied on studios and OB trucks filled with expensive equipment staffed by large, on-site teams, the move by broadcast organizations to a distributed production model is a major departure. The transition is revealing tremendous potential and offering significant benefits in how content is collected, edited, and delivered.

Unlike remote production, which transfers production from venues to a central facility supported by remote workers, the distributed working model is supported by talent that can be located anywhere in the world. Distributed teams collaborate and share production resources—including equipment, facilities, and talent—in real time. Thanks to decentralized workflows and cloud-based production tools, distributed production is expanding, and users are experiencing a wide range of benefits including a more efficient and scalable workflow, a flexible and diverse workforce, less equipment and studio space, and lower costs.

Darren Long, TV Executive, and Peter Russell, ITV Studio Director of Technology, recently shared their views of distributed production and its advantages on two separate episodes of Avid’s Making the Media podcast—one on streaming revolution, the other on new ways of working.

“The future really is exciting because we've worked out that actually, we don't need to be all sitting in our offices,” Long says. “We’ve got opportunities to cover events remotely. We’ve got opportunities to grow our business outside of probably where we were thinking three years ago.”

How did we get to distributed production workflows?

The COVID-19 pandemic fast-tracked change already taking place, forcing immediate innovation industrywide. Quarantines, social distancing rules, and travel restrictions drove media organizations to generate new broadcast production workflows and advance technologies for team communication and remote connectivity.

There were successes, failures, and lessons learned. But the overall result is a mentality that is critical to the industry’s future: the need to be inventive and discover possibilities regardless of geographic area, role, and purpose.

“We all had to sit down and think differently about our approach and that time is now echoing through where we are now and has enabled us all to think slightly differently to what we would have done three to four years before,” Russell explains. “Where we are going from here has to be different. If this isn't the time for change then I don't know what is, and there is an acceptance.”

Long echoes Russell’s sentiments, adding the pressing need to continue to push forward.

“I think we’re in sort of this new world of discovering obviously greater opportunity,” Long says. “And from a technology point of view, that means we still need to build out some infrastructure and some opportunity to grow our business now past where we were traditionally.”

Why is distributed production a good thing?

The benefits of distributed production are vast, involving expanded and more diverse talent pools, less expensive facilities and hardware, and broader flexibility and capability.

Distributed teams save on the costs of labor, large crews, expensive equipment and hardware, and studio and office space. Media companies can deploy the flexible and scalable workflows they require only when needed and only pay for what they use.

“What this is going to change is that move from our traditional sort of CapEx-heavy buying equipment that sits there for 90 percent of the time, probably not doing anything, and 10 percent of the time doing something, so that we’re going into a much more consumable world,” Long says

More diverse and effective talent

One of the biggest benefits of distributed production is the ability to tap the best person for a role no matter where they are in the world rather than being limited to a geographic area. Employers are not constrained to recruiting production staff who live within driving distance of a facility.

“For remote production,” Long explains, “If you look at it now, you could get one crew doing two football matches, where traditionally you would lose a whole crew for three days—travel up day, rig day, and then a live day, and then a travel back day. That’s three days of really brilliant people who were completely out for that period of time. You don’t have that now.”

Instead, one crew can cover both football and rugby and even multiple other events. Distributed production provides for a much more flexible workflow.

“You've got the ability to suddenly say, ‘Actually, you know, I need that editor that we used last week sitting in Glasgow at the moment—not a problem! So, let’s just get him, deliver the content to him, and we’ll get him to edit it and deliver it back.’” Long says. “And that’s where the opportunity really grows now.”

Improved work-life balance

“The fact that people within productions and operations and technology now have a more flexible life, a better work-life balance is great,” Russell says. “You can see that with the quality of the work and the ideas and creativity that's kind of coming out that that flexible life is affording that more.”

In fact, ITV created guidelines to address the distributed working model.

“Across all of our sites, ITV has a smart working policy in regards to working how you want to work, when you want to work, in the way that fits your world as much as ITV’s,” Russell explains. “We’re just starting to get a handle on having a proper strategy around that from a technology point of view, and where it fits, and where it absolutely doesn’t.”

Impact of the cloud on distributed production

The cloud is a powerful tool that has provided more options for broadcasters, opening up providers, suppliers, and talent not accessible otherwise, says Russell.

“I think it does diversify your output. It does bring new ideas that you hadn't necessarily had internally,” Russell comments. “It does bring a fresh set of eyes or a fresh set of experiences that means that everything is just approaching in a slightly different way, and I believe that's to the massive benefit of not just ITV from a technology point of view, but as a whole.”

The cloud won’t make on-site production completely disappear, Russell adds. He believes a hybrid version will remain of both on-prem and cloud workflows.

“While there are new challenges with [the cloud], the benefits far outweigh those, and I think those can be mitigated,” Russell says.

The need to remain inventive

Long says organizations must decentralize and adjust to a new way of working using innovative toolsets available.

“If you don’t innovate, if you don’t keep thinking, then guess what? You’re going to be the next company that people remember failed,” Long says. “And I want to make sure that this industry keeps [innovating] and those companies that are out there today never rest and are constantly thinking, ‘How do we make things better?’”