The measures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have had a direct impact on the creation of professional video content. As more and more countries encourage social distancing, and governments enact stay-at-home policies for all but key workers, alterations to daily life have had far reaching consequences.
The challenge at hand for broadcasters, film studios and independent content creators alike is how to continue to serve their audiences in this time of crisis, whilst still maintaining measures to prevent further spread of the virus.
The list of event cancellations and postponements has quickly grown, as sports fixtures are put on hold and concerts are shuttered in the interest of public safety, leaving a broad gap in many broadcast schedules. Many narrative productions have also been frozen for the safety of the crew, and the theatrical releases of many features suspended due to cinema closures. For now, production as we know it has been put on pause.
The global content supply chain has had to adapt quickly to surges in viewership, as stay-at-home audiences become even more reliant on both on-demand content and traditional linear TV. We turn to trusted news sources for updates on the developing situation and look for home entertainment as a means of escapism during these troubled times.
As in many other industries, the first steps made by many organisations has been to transition their workforce to working from home. In recent years, we have seen many technological advances improve the ease of remote working, but now it has become imperative to make this achievable at scale.
The use of video collaboration technologies is vital to facilitate interaction both on air and behind the scenes. High-quality video streaming and conferencing solutions have enabled contributors and guests to continue to appear live on air, whilst creatives can still work together from home. Collaboration software such as Zoom, Cisco and Microsoft Teams that feature telepresence and screen sharing are ever more important to facilitate shared virtual workspaces. In addition to these fundamentals, robust file sharing services, private networks and cloud-based workflows are required to support the rapid transfer of data heavy assets and deliverables dealt with in video production.
Although news operations continue to broadcast, many have reduced the size of their studio crews to minimise the number of people travelling in and out of facilities. In these instances, virtualisation has proven its merits, as networked resources can be remotely accessed. Facilities that have been earlier to adopt IP systems have found themselves better positioned to navigate the current challenges.
Whilst library and archive content has helped to fill the gap left in broadcaster’s schedules by the freeze on scheduled production, there is still a desire from audiences for fresh and timely new shows aside from the news. As a result, production companies have had to embrace the limitations of producing content from quarantine and reinvent popular formats with a “stay at home” twist. Jimmy Fallon humorously embraced the lo-fi nature of hosting NBC’s “Tonight Show” from home, queuing his own laughter track from an iPad, whilst fellow US talk show host, Stephen Colbert made his home broadcast debut from his bathtub for CBS’ “The Late Show”.
The growing need for engaging video that can be created at home has provided another opportunity for independent content creators to shine. The rise of video on social media platforms has largely been driven by user generated content, and among the mix of home video clips and more consciously produced content, many independent content creators have risen to the top, amassing large followings in the process. Higher profile talents have also embraced social content as a revenue stream in recent years. Will Smith has been prolific in building his presence across platforms with his production company Westbrook Media, and despite the current production challenges, Smith has been quick to ink deals with both Snapchat and Quibi. Smith’s new 12-episode original series “Will From Home” has already made its debut on Snapchat and sees the actor talking with family and special guests about their experiences of practicing social distancing and staying home, all from his garage.
As many independent content creators are already creating content self-sufficiently from home studios, they can continue working in the current climate with minimal disruption to their workflow. Niche content made by these independent creatives has thrived online on platforms like YouTube, and is well placed to benefit from increased viewership, as more free time is spent at home. This is especially true for educators creating tutorials and how-to’s, as many individuals turn to hobbies including cookery, DIY and crafts to occupy their time at home. The tools used by independent creators starting out are typically consumer imaging devices, ranging from smartphones to DLSRs and mirrorless cameras. However, as viewing figures rise, many creators level up the quality of their output by investing in professional camcorders and audio equipment.
This DIY approach to producing content from quarantine is only set to continue to help get fresh new shows to our screens. The reactive launch of Channel 4’s new cooking show fronted by Jamie Oliver, “Keep Cooking and Carry On”, was welcomed by many for its fast turnaround and focus on making healthy meals with limited ingredients. Though the first week’s episodes were shot in a studio, Oliver has now resorted to filming new episodes from the larder in his home in Essex, enlisting the help of family members as camera operators. In a similar move, the Food Network will air a one-off cooking special with Joanna Gaines, shot with by family from their home in Waco, Texas.
Futuresource’s pro video market tracking services have provided visibility into the extent of the disruption to run-rate demand for video acquisition devices, as the spread of COVID-19 has advanced. The initial period of containment in China disrupted the supply chain for many equipment manufacturers. This was most disruptive to the availability of new-to-market products in February, despite only limited impact of the virus outside of Asia at the time. Though factories in China are now resuming work, albeit at a reduced capacity, the overall decrease in video production caused by remote working and social distancing measures has inevitably led to a fall in demand for products globally from March onwards. One area that has remained more resilient however has been products with live streaming capabilities.
Houses of worship in the US have used livestreaming to reach members of their congregations that are separated by geography for many years, and the practice has grown globally since. With large gatherings now discouraged in many countries, livestreaming services has become a necessity, even for traditionalists that have seen technology as a distraction in the place of worship. Pan tilt zoom cameras, more commonly known as PTZs, have proven popular in this vertical, due to their ease of use and convenient integration into a relatively low-cost multicamera setup for live broadcasting. Many musicians, comedians and other entertainers reliant on gigging and touring have similarly embraced livestreaming technology in the wake of event cancellations to facilitate online performances, hosting virtual club nights and gigs to keep engaged with fans.
The broadcast industry and the wider creative community have played a vital part in helping us navigate this period of uncertainty and continue to rise to the challenge of producing new content from quarantine. While issues like social distancing may appear unique to the current situation, the solutions that are being presented will continue to have longer lasting benefits for content creation and remote production in the years to come. For the foreseeable future, video production will continue to be defined by the limitations of working from home and social distancing, but many will recognise this period as catalyst for innovation.
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