Ross Video is known for its live broadcast solutions, ranging from production switchers and robotic camera systems to virtual studios and newsroom automation. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, live sports all but shut down due to the health risks. For Ross Video’s in-house production and rental services division, Ross Production Services (RPS), live sports is a major part of their business, so they were forced to adapt.
To do so, the team found innovative ways to keep its customers’ events on track despite the limitations that they were faced with. Additionally, when in-person events began to return, social distancing was a necessity in order to keep athletes and talent safe and to comply with government regulations. To adhere to these guidelines, the team analyzed the situation to determine which products and workflows would make it easy for customers to continue producing their events with minimal disruption.
As lockdowns began in March 2020, RPS and clients had production trucks sitting unused. The team knew that these trucks could be used to broadcast events, so they began discussing how they could make it work given the circumstances. To put on a show, producers would need to have instantaneous intercoms. They would also need multiviewers, but how would they view them remotely? Would the RPS team have to install software on their computer, or would they need to provide them with a special computer? There were many aspects to consider.
In the end, the team devised a solution based on its designs for esports, which has evolved into a remote service for all forms of live broadcast and production. The RPS Team worked out the coding side, including web development and app design, and handled hardware and configured tools like Ross Carbonite switchers to be controlled over a VPN. The system connects the production team, crew and talent – and hardware – via a secure cloud portal, allowing familiar broadcast workflows to operate with low latency. This portal would allow a producer to just go to a website, log in and then view the multiviewer on their computer without having to install any software. If they have a phone or a tablet, the system turns that into their intercom.
During the development process, addressing latency was the number one challenge. It was difficult to fine-tune out the timing so that crew members would all be in sync, but the RPS team was able to make it work. In October 2020, RPS did a Magic: The Gathering online show where the producer was in the UK and the director was in Canada. With the production portal system, crew members can see a multiviewer almost anywhere in the world with half a second of latency, so they both saw the same video at about the same time.
One of the major benefits of the production portal is that it’s very scalable. While a lower-budget production can use its existing phone, laptop, lighting and cameras, RPS can also draw on the full complement of Ross Video systems and its services expertise to beef up and enable the production. This could involve shipping a Carbonite Black control panel to a remote technical director, for example, or providing a whole remote crew to produce a complete show.
“We’re a production company, so we know how to produce, we know how to direct, we know what it should look like and how it should feel,” says Stephen Repass, General Manager of RPS. “We’re not just selling equipment or selling a solution – we know how to use the solution in a production environment and can speak that language.”
A keystone of the service is its video decoding technology and accompanying software for handling multiple video streams. A good showcase for scalability is College GameDay Live, a U.S. college football pregame show produced by ESPN. To replace its pre-COVID live fan audience, the show used the Ross Production Cloud to create a live on-screen ‘fan mosaic’ called the Virtual Pit.
“COVID-19 gave us an opportunity to sit back and innovate and figure out how to serve our production companies better,” observes Repass. “It really gave us an opportunity to pivot, and we’ve come out of this better than going into it.”
Despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ross Production Services was able to rely on their innovation and expertise, which helped them pivot and develop cutting-edge solutions to the problems they were faced with. The team was unexpectedly forced into a corner when live sports all but disappeared, but by developing their remote production portal they were able to begin running broadcasts from almost anywhere in the world, which greatly increased their reach.
While the pandemic will come to an end at some point, the RPS team expects that these solutions aren’t going anywhere. They have been invaluable throughout the past year, and the team predicts that they will continue to grow in usage even when things return to normal. They provide advantages to producers and broadcasters that will be relevant and valuable for years to come.
For more information on Ross Production Services, click here to visit their website.
To learn more about Ross Video’s Interstellar remote production portal, click here.