We recently sat down – remotely – with two of Ross Video’s product managers to reflect on how remote production has evolved in the past year and what we can expect to see next. Les O’Reilly, Product Manager for Production Switchers, and Amanda Holtstrom, Product Manager for Ross Production Cloud, joined us to discuss the factors that made remote production the most important topic in broadcast and content delivery today. The stories they shared speak to the resilience of the people who work in the production industry, who were forced to adopt decentralized remote production models in order to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What happened last year?
Q: How did the beginning of the first wave of the pandemic impact your customers? Your business?
Les: In the first couple of weeks at the end of March, we had a huge influx of questions and they were very different from the types of questions we had encountered before. Suddenly we were answering multiple questions a day about how to set people up remotely. Every question seemed to be about, “How do I get this thing to work so that I can put someone – a talent, a producer, a technical team member – somewhere else?”
And we started selling different products! We sold a lot of Graphite, our all-in-one production system, to high profile productions who are normally not its target. Those big shows have big production studios with huge control rooms and usually aren’t interested in our smaller solutions. But as they moved home, they needed technology that they could use.
As a product manager, it was totally inspiring to see how my products were used in unanticipated ways to meet the emerging remote production needs.
Amanda: The distance between the user and the technology went from a few meters to miles. Suddenly we were inundated with requests for how to connect and configure hardware remotely that was not considered in the original design of these systems. With technical directors in different states than their talent, everyone at Ross was responding to urgent calls for a few weeks.
In particular, the DashBoard proxy server was a major help: it helped cut down on the horrific latency that customers were experiencing as they tried to work remotely.
Q: What was your favorite remote production moment in the past year?
Les: My favorite remote production moment was actually summarized by a customer who produces a late night show during a SMPTE New York chapter meeting. They actually called out the Graphite, and I found it extremely gratifying to have helped them get their remote production to air with staff and talent spread out all over the country.
I also got to sit in on some of the events that Ross Production Services was running remotely. I sat back and could watch RPS support our customers with the Ross Production Cloud. I liked watching the team’s interaction, the program feed and the multi-viewers as people adjusted to working differently.
Amanda: For me, it was sitting on the couch with my husband one night during lockdown and watching a clip from a late-night show on YouTube. As we were watching the show, I connected the dots that this show was being produced by one of the networks whose calls my team had fielded. I realized that we had made it possible for the host to be at home, safe and leading by example. That was a really proud moment for me.
Where are we now?
Q: It sounds like things have settled down. What are your customers doing now?
Les: All the same stuff we got them doing a year ago. Now the requests that I get are from customers that are seeking multiple methods to perform their productions. They’re looking for the best way to do the different kinds of productions they’re doing, and it all involves some kind of remote production.
We’re seeing work shifting officially to a blended model. Customers have found ways to get people working on-site safely, but some jobs and responsibilities are flexible and can be done remotely.
We’re seeing customers leverage having talent in various locations. Talent isn’t flying between locations as much. They no longer have to fly across the nation to contribute and sit beside the host. And our customers are seeking new ways to ensure engagement, high-quality interactions even while talent and hosts are in different locations.
Amanda: The value of the disaster recovery/business continuity planning that customers did really shone last February and March. Technology leaders who got it right saw their businesses able to continue. To quote one customer I spoke to, the mindset that got them through the pandemic was the mantra “Adapt, Innovate, Overcome”.
So, what’s next? Well, I’m seeing people looking to build upon the technologies that were in place as part of their business continuity planning. They’re making their plans more robust and incorporating technologies that were only seen as “emergency” technologies into their daily workflow. A great example of this is the VPN capabilities backbone built into most Enterprise networks. I had several customers who were shocked that they could connect, configure and control Ross equipment simply by connecting to it over VPN.
Q: Looking back, What do you think is the most important thing to consider when creating high-quality productions with talent at home?
Les: Audio. The worst part with anyone remote is always the audio. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen talent without an earpiece or headset and the audio returns with terrible feedback. Humans can deal with low-quality video or moments when the video stutters or freezes. When the audio breaks, cuts out or has feedback, we lose audiences.
Making sure that the tools that people find familiar – like talkback and IFB – are available for users working remotely is the second thing I would add here. Protecting the workflow that producers are used to is critical: they need to connect to their talent simply and easily.
Customers who solved these two issues are the ones who have been most successful at keeping people at home.
Amanda: Definitely lighting. As part of the Ross Live series of presentations we did throughout 2020, I can definitely say that lighting the talent at home can make or break a production. I think in my last presentation, the production team spent 10 minutes trying to sort out my lighting at home. I ended up in my kitchen!
Q: Is remote production here to stay In the form that we’ve seen emerge since the pandemic?
Les: Yes. Remote productions have been here since before the pandemic, like REMI. We were always trying to find the tools and resources to produce more content. The limiting factor was the people. How do we get more people involved for more hours of the day?
Remote production has opened the doors to have great people available to markets that don’t want to live in. Now, within the industry, you don’t have to move across the country because everyone is working remotely. And now companies are seeing the opportunity to acquire talent without moving people andproduction personnel.
Amanda: As a newcomer to the industry, I’m seeing this as a larger disruption than some of the veterans. It’s easy to see this as a continuation of the direction that production professionals were already headed and dismiss it as an acceleration. What I’m seeing is a culture shift in what’s expected by the creative and technical professionals from their working environment.
I think the industry proved that it could work from home and the people are going to stay there and demand more compact, flexible, portable, on-demand technical solutions than anyone has anticipated.
Q: So, Remote Production is here to stay. What can we expect from vendors like Ross? Anything you can share about your plans?
Amanda: <Laughs> Yes. Quite soon we’ll be launching a product that will enable production teams to bring remote talent into their productions very simply. We’ve been providing previews and demos to some customers since December and I’m personally very excited to see the response from the industry as a whole.
Les: Yes. There will be new products every year. Ross Video is pouring tons of money into R&D to deliver the products our customers are asking for.
About Our Team
Les O’Reilly is the Product Manager for Production Switchers. A Ross Video veteran with 18+ years of experience with production switchers, Les was instrumental in the launch of the CrossOver, Carbonite, Graphite, Vision and Acuity switchers.
Amanda Holtstrom is the Product Manager for Ross Production Cloud. An advocate for great design and simple interfaces, Amanda joined Ross Video over a year ago and is also responsible for DashBoard and other production workflow solutions that Ross customers use to create amazing productions.
Ross powers video productions for billions of global viewers daily with the industry’s widest range of smart production solutions. Ross makes it easy to create compelling news, weather and sports broadcasts, engaging material for sports stadium screens, entertainment shows and rock concerts, educational institutions, legislative assemblies, corporate applications and inspiring content for houses of worship.
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