This year the media production industry was forced to reshape the way it operates. In many sectors employees had time to adjust to life working at home, but for most broadcasters and media publishers, change had to be immediate to keep content relevant and the channels on air.
Usually, digital transformation is gradual and meticulous, but the COVID-19 health crisis forced media companies and content creators to transform first and then figure out the impacts on workflows and roles and responsibilities later. When the lockdowns came, they came quickly.
Many media businesses have thrived during this ‘forced experiment’. Working remotely has enabled video production teams to leverage the full potential of technology, paving the way for innovation. It has allowed broadcasters, media rights holders and content publishers to try new methods, workflows and content formats that will bring benefits to the industry that will last beyond the pandemic.
New formats, new opportunities
With TV and film productions shut down, the sports industry cancelled and no live events taking place outside of news broadcasting, video producers have been forced to be more flexible and get creative.
The audience has been at home during lockdown with independent reports showing streaming and online video consumption reaching heights not seen before, with The Guardian reporting more than 4.6 million new online streaming subscriptions in the UK since the COVID-19 lockdown began. With more eyeballs on screens and more time for consumers to watch video, production teams have been granted more freedom to experiment with content, in the knowledge that the lack of traditional TV programming gives new opportunity to reach audiences online.
However, this creative freedom has come with limitations. Production teams and talent have also been constrained to their homes. There are advantages to this when it comes to managing schedules and connecting with talent, without the need to travel across the world, but it also means that many traditional “studio shows” and on-site productions were impossible.
Instead, presenters and talent were broadcasting from their own homes. This glimpse into the lives of celebrities, athletes and TV personalities has given live broadcasts a more personal touch, almost replicating the experience of being on a Zoom call with your colleagues or friends. Zoom was the other big beneficiary in lockdown, growing from 300,000 to 13m users in the UK alone, also being used for new content formats such as MTV’s Game Night live show with Charlotte Crosby.
The social side of live TV
The absence of live TV shows has refocused attention on the needs of the audience and the distribution mix. Many broadcasters and publishers have taken to creating live video experiences across social media, inviting more interactivity, audience participation and community-led content.
These have ranged from AMA (ask me anything) with popular celebrities, watch-a-longs of archived content, or full-on event replacements – such as IGN’s Summer of Gaming that replaced the popular E3 video game convention.
Live social video can be much more than just a rebroadcast of TV. Live social broadcasts have unique features that allow the audience to become part of the show – providing comments, voting on polls or submitting UGC (user-generated content) to be included.
Throughout lockdown, many publishers have delivered these experiences for talk shows, or to replace the social aspect of trade events or sporting fixtures.
Community-focused live broadcasts drive reach and engagement. A studio can hold a finite amount of guests, as can a stadium or exhibition hall. By making this content more accessible, across a range of devices and online platforms, producers can reach a vast global audience.
What’s more, interactive broadcasts drive longer watch times, and engagement. Participation creates a positive feedback loop for the audience who feel part of the show and can interact with each other in real-time. The gaming platforms such as Twitch have led the market in this area and it’s notable that Twitch has seen huge growth in non-eSports content during the pandemic period.
Before lockdown, many publishers had experimented with live social video, but hadn’t leveraged its major strength – two-way communication with the audience. New formats have emerged that enable the audience to dictate the arch of the story and the direction of conversations and this could be a key part of the future of live broadcasting. With many successful trials, we can expect to see more audience-led content hitting the mainstream.
How has this rapid transition been achieved so quickly? Industry commentators have remarked that the COVID-19 pandemic has “accelerated trends already in motion in the industry, bringing forward a decade of change in a matter of months”. This is true for the audience and the people behind the camera. When video production teams had to start working from home, they lost access to the traditional tools of the broadcast truck studio, as well as being separated from company resources and colleagues. In doing so, the pandemic highlighted that many media companies were either not flexible enough, or did not have a contingency plan to cope with fully remote work. Many producers and technical directors have continued to go to the office, social distanced, but still required to work in close proximity with others in a time of national crisis.
The majority of companies turned to the cloud. Cloud technology has made its way into almost every business in some form. Most people will use a cloud-based service at work every day – be it for email, storage, communication, video conferencing or access to a corporate intranet.
Adopting cloud technologies for video production has lagged behind. You can change locations or devices and pick up where you left off on a Google Document or Whatsapp chat, and now it’s possible to use the same cloud services for collaborative video editing and live broadcasting.
Everyone wants the pandemic to pass and things to get “back to normal” and rightly so. The new normal will be different and not everything will go back to the way things were before as businesses have uncovered more efficient, more flexible and more creative ways to operate. This will be one of the lasting benefits of this hugely challenging period.
By Gareth Capon, CEO at Grabyo