More than a year after COVID-19 sent shockwaves through news teams worldwide, once-strange notions of remote access and distributed teams are par for the course. So that begs the question, what's next?
In this episode, we ask: What's the next evolution of distributed news production? What technology and workflow changes are needed to support this shift? And perhaps most important, how do we get the skeptics on board?
Listen to Hear:
- How SVT pioneered remote production long before COVID made it a necessity
- Why broadcasters need to come to grips with being small players in a big world, not big players in a small world
- The big bets SVT is making in anticipation of massive digital disruption from outside the broadcast industry
Our Guest This Episode
Adde Granberg, CTO of Swedish Television (SVT), has worked in the television industry since 1991, starting as a sound engineer at Swedish youth channel ZTV before running a broadcast consultancy where he specialized in live events. He joined SVT in 2010 with a remit to improve the technical infrastructure and workflow at the station. He was responsible for managing the remote TV production for the 2012 London Olympic Games and the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and is currently moving SVT towards an IP- and cloud-based future.
Will the audience see something different if you do remote production seven camera football from home or on site? I don't think so. Will you lose any viewers because you did remote production?
Adde Granberg, CTO, SVT
Mentioned in This Episode
The Future Direction of Television News
In this white paper, produced in collaboration with TVTech, we look at the shifting technologies, attitudes, and influences changing TV news in the post-COVID era.
Read the white paper
News Production from Anywhere Webinar Series
Newsrooms everywhere are staying competitive by moving production workflows to the cloud. Watch this three-part webinar series to learn how.
Craig Wilson: Hi, and welcome to the Making the Media podcast. My name's Craig Wilson, and thanks so much for joining me for the latest episode.
Adde Granberg is our guest this week—the Chief Technology Officer of the Swedish public broadcaster SVT.
They were pioneers of remote workflows long before COVID came along, and Adde has some big ideas on how they need to adapt to the rapidly shifting broadcasting market. So we're talking cloud, we're talking digitalization, disruptive workflows, and methods of distribution.
But that's enough from me, let's hear from him. And I began by asking Adde to outline his role and a bit of background to SVT.
Adde Granberg: SVT is the biggest TV house or production house in Sweden. It's a public service company. We've been a public service company since 1956. We are really big on the digital market as well, with SVT Play on the VOD market, as well as we have a terrestrial channel distribution. So we are in the middle of a disruption as well. But we are fully public service financed through the tax bill, so everybody is paying for us. So we need to cover everybody's needs and interests around that.
And I'm Adde then, and I'm the CTO of SVT. It's a fantastic role. I used to say that I'm in charge of everything with a cord in [it], and if the thing with a cord in [it] needs some kind of specialist, I'm even having the crew.
And we did that change on SVT three years ago. So before that it was three kinds of architectures or structure you could say. It was operations, where you have the common operations of a company—computers, the backbones, etc. Then we have SVTE, which is SVT Interaktiv, which is our public services—public online services, I should say. And then we had the production.
But we really found out that—I should actually say that I found it out—that this kind of system now merging together, the backbone will be the network and the network can be in the cloud or it could be on my premises. But production, which in the old times were quite easy infrastructure with BNC cables, architecture was simplified going digital into computer centers, into regular hardware and software-as-a-service business, which is the online services for the public wherever they are. We need to merge that. We need to understand that.
And the basic idea behind it was the metadata that we create when we decide a show to be transmitted on SVT, that metadata should follow in the process out to distribution for the end user. So you don't need to put on more metadata from the camera or manually in the process when you put on capture, etc. So to build a system around that kind of thinking was the idea.
And we are definitely not there, but we have the possibility now because everything is in the same group to discuss it. But that kind of issue we have as a legacy company is enormous, and that's, boy, what I'm struggling with every single day at my job.
But that's what SVT are and what it is. And we are still very, very popular, one of the most popular public service companies in Europe compared to what the audience think about us.
CW: So that kind of, I guess, creative tension, shall we say, between traditional broadcast engineering and networking, as you say, are kind of coming together. And I guess that's a challenge that to an extent within the industry is universal. It's not necessarily something that SVT are facing alone.
AG: No. And we had a big discussion just last week. Are we rebuilding the broadcast industry, or are we reconstructing everything as [if] it was new? And that kind of legacy is really, really interesting. And I think we need to reconstruct everything.
Because today it's so easy to get into the broadcast industry together with an iPhone, or a smartphone anyway. You can start to film in 4K, you can edit, you can put on captions, and you can transmit it on the YouTube platform. Everybody can do it. And especially if you're under 15—it will take you two minutes and then you learn and fix it.
And we are still, back in my company, where we need a fixed machine doing a fixed thing in a fixed architecture and so on.
So we are in a big transformation inside that legacy discussion—which I love, but I'm a little bit stressed about it. Now I'm happy, because I'm financed through a tax, so I think I get a little bit more time than if I were not financed by tax money. If I was financed by commercials or something else, then I think I would take down the production facilities rented in from town and have another kind of discussion internally.
So this is a big challenge, especially when you're a legacy company.
But I think around that question it's more interesting what we can gain from being a legacy company. Because of the tableau of things, the channel structure, how easy it is to relate to the time and date and watch your show instead of having a library like Netflix.
Netflix is fantastic, I love them, but it's still a video store where you can go around in the video store at home when you like to do it. But it's still quite difficult to find the right movie. It was not easy in the video store, and I should say it's even trickier when it's online and you can't see the back on all the tapes standing back beside each other, that you have to navigate it. I think that's the kind of problem we need to work more on.
Then of course my crew. I have three other people working with production. They need to adapt to new technology. They need to understand what the technology in an iPhone can do for the television industry, not what the television industry can do for an iPhone. So we are changing everything.
And coming back to that, we all watching—or actually listening—to this feel that NAB in Las Vegas or IBC in Amsterdam is the big shows. And I love to go there, and I love to be invited to cocktails and standing chatting about the TV industry. I love it. I was the star on that floor.
Today in the broadcast industry, I'm the smallest piece of corner in the digitalization of the IT world. And that game changer—for the industry, for me in my role, for who I am and what SVT are in the bigger complex—I think that's the biggest challenge we are facing: to accept that, to understand that, and to adapt to that.
CW: So when you talk about the trade shows there—and of course there are other trade shows which deal with that other side of the coin as you've kind of described it there—what do you think the attitude is of those types of organizations when you approach them and say, we're SVT, or, we're this broadcaster? What kind of reception do you get from them? Are they receptive to the kind of things that you want to do? Or are they kind of dismissive because you're a small player?
AG: Unfortunately, I'm a small player, but I get big data, so I think I can use that.
But I think still that the attraction and the awareness of SVT is very big. And the people in Sweden love SVT or hate it, but they have a relation, still. Everybody cares about it in one way or another. That's a quite important key, and I'm sitting on that key and I would like to keep the key in the digitalization world. So of course that's an attraction.
Then I think it's a lesson to learn from both sides, which is really, really important. Because you can take Netflix again as an example—I think that's a fantastic VOD service, but it's not a live service, and it's definitely not a broadcast on demand service. So we have sides to learn from from both the old history and the new history.
But I think we still need to understand in the broadcast industry that we are a small player in a big world, not a big player in a small world. Because I think we start to build our own standards, and we are still [in] 2021 figuring out how we can produce in 4K and distribute it in 4K, 50Mb. But on the other hand, in the production facility I should have 4K and 4Gb streams. And I do a lot of things for me only and then I distribute it in pieces like this.
We're still doing that. Why are we doing that? I cannot believe. I don't understand it. Why can we not start to produce as we would like to distribute the formatting?
So that kind of mindset—we are not there yet, and I don't understand why not. I don't know if that makes sense, but it's a big—why don't we produce in the same format that we would like to distribute it in?
And that's what [an] iPhone does. That's exactly what it does. It's really disrupting us, but we don't look at it in that sense, and we need to look with other eyes.
CW: One thing I know that SVT has done is lots and lots of remote workflows. Never mind what's happened over the course of the last year or so, but the nature of the scale of Sweden is very large—a much, much larger country than a lot of people think it is—is one thing. You have multiple sites, you have multiple people in lots of different locations, but you've also done lots of remote workflows around sporting events.
And so I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the kind of thing that you've done to enable those kinds of workflows, and then where you think that sits within the bigger picture now.
AG: SVT sold out the OB fleet before me starting at SVT 15 years ago, maybe more—20 years ago—because they saw it was a big investment coming. And I at that time was on an OB truck company building OB trucks.
I figured out quite fast that Sweden is wide country, it's a long country, and the OB truck costs €5 million to put the technology into it. You put it on the road and you spend a lot of time on the road with it and you pay a lot of insurance because everything you put on the road is out for an accident or risk and then you should drive 100 kilometers and then you should have one day rigging and everybody [in the] crews should move there.
So when we started to talk about remote production, it was more like, how can I use the effectiveness of the system I bought so I can really do a one-hour show there and two-hour show, later do another show there, and we stay at home to work?
It is an industry that I used to go to the set arena to do the sports. And we couldn't see that the sporting arena, quite often football games, haven't changed for the last 15 years. Why should I go up every single time to look? Should I have the camera here yesterday? I should have the camera here again. And then we put it up, we put it down. The next time I go up again. Should I have the camera there? Yes, I should have. We have done that for 50 years! Come on, we know how to do that.
And when you go into the OB truck, you cannot go out of the OB truck. So why should you be on site? It's enough to have a cameraman putting up the camera if you don't fix it there. So that's actually the basis of that starting up.
But everybody hated me because of that, because I was taking away the traveling, defined things with working with television—I was removing that. But I needed to do that because we didn't have all the trucks on SVT. That was the simple reason. It was not more or less like that.
And then we had the Olympics upcoming. We had 60 accreditations. Should I spend 30 of them on the technology crew, or should I spend five on the technology crew? Yeah, with remote production I needed five instead of 30 and I could have journalist instead. So that was a big success for SVT. That's how it started.
So in the basics, it's an effectivity of the systems to use them. Then of course, what we can see, we can use the crew as well. You're not working for one football game; you work for eight hours. [That's a] big change as well. So we need to work like that. And for most of the world outside the broadcast industry this is a no brainer, but inside television it's been a huge challenge for us.
And then we adapt the same thing as well on the news. So today we have one cloud production with regular technology, but it's in a cloud that has connected 14 studios. And then we have two places where we have the control surfaces. But it means that I have redundancies, which is enormous for us right now.
So now when COVID hit Sweden and rest of the world as well—OK, I could have redundancy on two places, technology on two different kinds of places, but nobody cared about them except for a few engineers. And then I can have studios placed out in Sweden. And everything was independent of everybody so I didn't need to have studio technology and control surface on the same area, and everything was connected to everything. So when someone gets sick in the north part of Sweden, then the host, OK, the host in the south part of Sweden could take the same show, because he was not only reading the news with the running order.
So [what] that kind of driver has done, it's possible in Sweden to really—I should not say taking care of COVID—but we were really prepared for that kind of thinking or being at home to work.
Then, I'm not the person thinking the best environment to mix a big concert is in my living room together with my children. I don't think that's a good thing. And as well I need to have the connectivity 100 percent controlled, because it's not so nice to be sitting at home doing a concert or directing a news show and the connectivity goes down. Then you're very low. I think that we need to consider as well, but we are so prepared to do that.
Nobody really loves me for this, except for the network guys sitting at home setting up the network. But the crew working with it is a big challenge, if you don't think that this is a good evolution for it. And I think in the future this is a no brainer.
CW: One question on that, not so much on the technology side, but more on thekind of team and and spirit side. How do you address those kind of things where people aren't together? They're working together, but they are, you know, physically apart. How do you try to handle those kind of things?
AG: It is a tricky question, I think. How could I push SVT as far as we did?
That's because I'm really into production. I am a director. I've done the UEFA Champions League. I've done all the championships in ice hockey. I've done big events. And I've been running slow motion. I've been running sound engineering. I'm a vision mixer. And I love being on site, but it doesn't give an extra [bleep] to be on site, to be honest.
So I know that it's a paper product. It's not free when you're saying we need to sit beside each other. That's not true. It is not true, but we really will like to think it's true. That's one driver. And I've been saying, honestly, it's no more grassy field: it's work.
You can give it even tougher to say it's a factory. And then some people say, "It's really terrible to work in a factory." And some will say, "It's fantastic to work in a factory—I know when to start, and I know when I can come home to my children, I love my family, I love to have fixed time."
But most of the television workers say, "It's a process ongoing. and I really love to go away, and I don't need to take care of the children, I don't need to take care of my husband or wife, and I don't need to deal with kindergarten, and someone else taking care of my clothing, and I like to take a beer afterwards. That's important drivers."
[Will] the product for the audience be better? I'm sorry to say it will not happen. Will the audience see something different if you do remote production seven camera football from home or on site? I don't think so. Will you lose any viewers because you did remote production? How much money should you spend, then, for the big industry in a small world? I'm not sure that we have done that right.
So that's one driver, to talk about this and say that an apple is an apple, so it's not important to really be sitting beside each other. But I love to do it! But when COVID came, when we couldn't seat beside each other, is that a problem? Has it been black on my television? Have people stopped watching TV? Have the sports gone down? No. Nothing has happened. And nobody cares how we do television, as long as it's shown on the screen. That's what I mean, and that, I think, is a key finding where we have to open up.
CW: I want to go back a bit again and talk about the sort of digitalization workflows that you mentioned before and how you think you can now capitalize on these kind of things to transform SVT even further from where you are today. What's your thinking around that?
AG: Oh, it's a big question you are on now. And you really should open a little bit of my future. I should give you a perspective of maybe two years from now. Could be one year, if you ask me; if you ask my crew, it's five years. So take or give one to five years—and I hope one year.
I think we will produce TV in the same quality as the output, in hardware that are the same hardware as we put hotels.com in, with the software-as-a-service taking care of the television, mixing, synchronization, sound control in a digital workflow. And then we have a control workflow where we just make this happen and send signals to a production workflow which does not include any broadcast brands' logos in the hardware.
That means that software-as-a-service will be the shift. So it would be basic hardware, basic—of course, quite complex hardware, and of course we are working with moving pictures so it's a lot of bandwidth, but we need to rethink how we do that and we need to do software to do that. So I think that will redefine the business.
And that means as well to work with a standard like 2110 is fantastic right now. I don't see that as a future, unfortunately. I need to adopt to a standard that hits the audience, not hitting me that I need to convert for the distribution site. We need to rethink. As far as 2110 takes us, it's still inside the broadcast industry with people thinking that the broadcast industry is the world—and the broadcast industry is a part of the world, where other standards can help us be better, more effective, and really relate more to the audience that really is going to watch what we're doing.
I think we are stuck changing cables again and thinking the network is the solution for it. I think we're hitting the wrong target. I know I'm aiming quite high right now and I think maybe I can upset someone, but I think we are in a grace period to understand what the digitalization could do for us.
Because the workflow we doing right now with 2110 is the same as we did in 1956 when we started SVT. We need to rethink. If you invented the television today, when iPhone or Samsung's new phone was on the market, we would never, ever build our own standard 2110. That's the problem—and I think that's the future.
CW: So how do you go about trying to get there? How do you prove what you think is going to work?
AG: I'm developing a few systems, I'm trying, and I'm talking to a lot of companies. I'm forcing them to rethink or test my theories, trying to really have this kind of discussion. Because I think to have the discussion with you right now, Craig, and to have that kind of questioning, is questioning me, questioning my theories, but pushing the market as well. That's one way.
Then I think what is happening as well is when we are putting in the TV technology, the broadcast technology, into a computer center, nobody working with the studio or actually in the control area needs to think about that. But today in the architecture we're building up, everybody's thinking about the brand. It's a UX question. I would like to build my own UX, suiting me, who's pushing pictures, etc.
So we need to rethink the industry. Really need to rethink and rebuild, not reconstruct. I think that's a big challenge. And I'm trying to do that at work as well. But of course we can't do that in five years or two years. It will take quite long time.
But my job is to look in the crystal ball, not to look in the past. We have plenty of people looking in the past, which still make the jobs going on.
CW: But one thing I think you're looking at doing is you're looking at doing some kind of news trial of workflows in the cloud. What would that involve?
AG: Regular hardware, two kinds of workflows.
One workflow still when I'm pushing the cameras on, what kind of UX I would like to do is sending up steer signals to a total digitalized workflow where no coax cables or anything is included, so with the processing in the cloud, and it's on my premises or not.
And as well where it's a workflow where you can spend money on time and quality. The more money you spend on capacity, the better quality and the more live you can go. And if you don't have that money or capability of capacity, you can spend less money on capacity and maybe not do live transmission—wait five minutes to transmit and use that as buffer times.
So we are rethinking the way we actually will produce and really do big tests on that, which is fantastically interesting, really interesting. And the thinking behind it is the IP technology behind distribution, which you put in the production side. It's fantastically interesting! But we really take the knowledge and capabilities we have from this distribution side and put it on the production side. So it's really interesting. We'll see if my brain is working or not in the upcoming month!
CW: What about things like studio facilities? What do you think the long-term kind of future is for those?
AG: I love it. I think they will stay forever. The reason for that is it's a black box where you can create the best world you need to create.
Even if you would like to have a digital world, it's good to have a black box where you can put the light where you need it. Outside my window the sun is shining right now, and when the sun is coming in you will have an overexposed picture, etc.
We have a controlled arena. So the black box—call it whatever you need—will definitely survive. I think it's the most effective way to do some kinds of show. Not all, of course, but it's quite good to have something to put in, even if you would do a virtual reality world, etc., because of its controlled surface. So I think the studio will survive quite long.
But the way we produce it will not change. So I think even if you are in controlled studio environment or you're out in the field, you need to have the same production workflow.
The good thing is if you're in a studio connected to your own or someone else's computer center, the capacity will not be a problem, so then you can transmit live in the best quality you need without thinking about spending money on capacity. But then when you go outside you can really take big choices: Should I spend the capacity on big fiber connectivity, or can I have 5G connectivity? You can really spend money on what you need. So that's really interesting.
And then the next thing for me, the countries that are listening to this and have arenas which are not connected to fiber connectivity, you have to rethink and call someone up. Because when you know you're going back to the same place day after day, someone would love to invest in fiber, 100 percent, because you would love to pay for it every single day. The problem might be if you only have rights for one year or one season, of course you don't spend a fortune on it.
But this is a market that has been working quite well in Sweden for quite a long time, and I see it coming in Europe. But it's the future to have fiber or 5G connectivity, so I think that's really a market where we need to be more mature.
CW: A couple of final things maybe. What are the areas of concern that you have about this workflow that you're doing? Does it worry you that you may upset people in testing this stuff out?
AG: That the way we produce doesn't need TV engineers anymore. It is a UX that I can build for my children. Because it's a software. It's a hardware in the computer center where my network guys need to set it up together with the team that developed the software.
Then of course I need a cameraman. Of course I still think that for upcoming years we need to have a physical camera, and we need microphones of course. So at this stage of recording we need something to collect the picture and we need something to collect the sound. The rest will be disrupted. That's my concerns. It will not happen in Christmas 2021 but 2025, maybe.
My concerns are SVT, again, as a legacy company—which I'm proud of, I shouldn't say anything else, I'm proud that we have a fantastic legacy—we need to understand that in the same time that someone else understands us and disrupts us, otherwise the disruptor will kill us. So that's what I'm afraid of, and that's the challenge in my work as a CTO on SVT to see that and try to do what I can to support that and do the change we need to do.
CW: Adde, I absolutely love your passion, and it's great to speak to someone as passionate as you are. I do have one final question. It's a question I ask everyone in the podcast. What is it, if anything, that keeps you up at night?
AG: It's my children—and why we don't do a show that I can understand how TikTok works for them, how Snapchat works for them, and how they connect to each other. Not from my perspective as a broadcaster, but from their perspective of their minds working and how they will see the future. That keeps me up.
And on the other hand, as well, for the broadcast side of things, then, of course, if you look at me as a professional, a CTO, I think we are too focused on our own standards, so we don't see the world outside us. That keeps me keep me awake during nights, and that together is the future, I guess.
CW: There is so much to take out from that chat. Thanks to Adde for sharing his thoughts and please let us know yours. Get in touch on email—we are at email@example.com—or on social my user name is @craigaw1969 on both Twitter and Instagram.
If you want to know more about some of what Adde spoke about then check out the show notes. There you can find links to a TVTech whitepaper on the future of news and also a recent webinar series on what you need to consider when moving workflows to the cloud.
Next time on the podcast, we're talking change with the Head of Change for News at one of the world's best known and largest broadcasters: Charlotte Eimer from the BBC in the UK. Let's hear a short clip.
Charlotte Eimer: Journalists spend their life asking difficult questions, challenging, looking for the propaganda, looking for what isn't being said. It is a tough crowd when you're trying to do change, and there is always a sizable minority who can be very resistant, very cynical. You know, having said that, it's human nature. No one likes feeling that they're losing control of their working life or any other change that you haven't planned yourself. So I think really what change leaders need to be is emotionally intelligent and resilient.
CW: Definitely an episode that's worth subscribing for, so please do that on your podcast platform of choice to get notified when it's released. And of course you can leave a review, rate us, and please share the podcast with your friends and colleagues.
That's all for now, thanks for listening, thanks to our producer Rachel Haberman. Join me next time for more in-depth discussion about making the media.