Contactless content – is remote integration now more relevant than ever?

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Production CentreRemote Production

The case for remote integration (REMI) has always been strong, but now, in a world where we’re all adapting to the threat of COVID-19, it seems to make more sense than ever.

Remote integration – also known as ‘at home’ or ‘home-run’ production – is where the camera signals and audio feeds captured onsite at an event are transmitted back to a production facility’s control room for integration. For Gravity Media, this would be at one of the Production Centres we have located in all major markets worldwide.

Lower cost, higher quality

A typical remote production solution offers an operationally flexible, modern and durable workflow that reduces onsite costs. By moving video switching, audio mixing, graphics, replays and show production into a central broadcast facility, smaller, more affordable mobile units can be used at the venue. Onsite, only video and audio acquisition hardware (e.g. cameras, microphones and transmission interface) is required, alongside far less engineering support and crew.

Having fewer staff travel to the event location generates secondary benefits too. With no lost days sitting on planes, key personnel are available for more work on consecutive days, and can be deployed on specialist assets at the Production Centre, such as telestrators and advanced graphics tools.

What’s more, by having the central control room liaising with any number of small, agile mobile units on the ground, multiple events can be produced on the same day, rather than valuable resources being tied up at just one location.

Finally, using the same Production Centres and crew regularly means output quality improves through familiarity, as well as greater consistency from project to project, and access to backup equipment to ensure glitch-free production. 

The new dimension

And then there was COVID-19. In March 2020, large-scale events across the world felt the immediate and devastating impact of the pandemic. Tournaments, concerts, film shoots, entertainment shows and more – all were cancelled overnight, and the 2020 broadcast and production calendar effectively ripped up.

For a few nervous weeks that followed, with vast tranches of world society on lockdown, there was almost no activity in our industry at all. Kit left in storage, staff placed on furlough, production facilities shuttered. But as lockdown started to ease and the world began turning once more, REMI really came into its own.

The fundamental principle of fewer onsite personnel needed per shoot has been the difference. With mobile units modified for pandemic use – including zoning, ‘sneeze screens’ and lots of PPE – we’ve been able to get back up and running in all global markets, supporting clients in locations a far afield as Perth in Australia and Paris in France.

Indeed, enhanced hygiene practices now pervade all our working environments, be they full remote production or hybrid setups – such as for this year’s French Open, where we built two production control galleries in our London Production Centre so our UK-based client didn’t have to travel to Roland-Garros. The two-gallery installation meant the client could run dual teams throughout the tournament, to mitigate the risk of coronavirus impacting their production. We also reconfigured most of our London facility for them, to create dedicated production offices, breakout areas, green rooms and makeup, so that their teams could continue to work comfortably and safely with all studio comforts at their disposal.

Quick to adapt

As much as 2020 has been a year defined for many businesses by survival, it has also helped cement the role of new, smart technologies in TV and film production. Take our work with the Supercars series in Australia: core operations based in our Sydney Production Centre have supported onsite operations in Darwin, Townsville, Tailem Bend and beyond – venues as much as 4,000 kilometres apart. Not one fail in technical delivery in any of the services provided, and all delivered on time and on budget. From remote control rooms and studio hostings, to remote race control and remote QC, each vital production element has been delivered flawlessly from afar to keep the 2020 season on track.

In football, interactive crowd noise has been an option for viewers ever since the players resumed combat behind closed doors. Bespoke, team-specific chants, songs and noise samples have been captured from archive footage, to bring the vibrant atmosphere of top-flight football to living rooms around the world. Engineer-controlled soundboards can contain over a dozen different audios for specific situations: whistles and boos if the referee makes a bad call; the nervous rise in volume as a team builds an attack; the groans of agony as the shot sails wide.

These are the hallmarks of an industry quick to adapt. Creative, innovative thinking to keep productions up and running and audiences entertained. Solutions to challenges that have never been faced before, and all while keeping staff and clients safe from COVID-19.

A change for the better?

The rise in REMI’s popularity looks set to continue well into 2021. It’s the best and safest option during these straitened times, but under any circumstances it has a number of upsides when compared with traditional production.

By not having to ship tens of tonnes of equipment to far-flung locations, there are not only cost but also environmental benefits. And, as mentioned above, it’s often more efficient to have the main body of crew at a central Production Centre than have 30 people packing a truck onsite. Besides, for the foreseeable future, those who attempt to work on location internationally will likely endure long periods of quarantine before and after the job they’re heading to. Far from ideal, although it must be said that everyone at Gravity Media remains happy to suffer for their art, and will always work that way if that’s what’s best for the project.

But not everything can be done remotely. We’re the first to agree that nothing beats a presenter standing pitch-side at the Champions League Final, struggling to make themselves heard over the noise of 90,000 screaming fans. That’s the nirvana we’re keen to get back to, and as we move through 2021 we hope to see that balance of onsite plus offsite production resource return, ensuring that we can continue to create content from around the world that both inspires and excites.