Where Will They Park? The Future of the OB Truck
A changing consumption model
Previously, every separate facility and the technology within it – whether in an OB truck, a studio or broadcast center – had been largely defined by the boundaries of SDI, with a role that started and ended at a very finite point. Camera feeds would be ingested into a truck. Operators would create replays and a director cut together a live program. It would then be given to regional broadcast partners who would deliver it to their audiences at home. But as technology has evolved, more has become possible.
Audiences want more content, on several platforms, any time, any place. The internet has created this demand as OTT, IPTV and social media have moved from being secondary or tertiary ways of consuming content to a primary one. Several years ago, a better TV experience meant a bigger TV on the wall. Now, every platform needs to be joined up, delivering one experience to viewers using multiple points of entry. Televisions, computers, smartphones and tablets are all now just as important as each other – screen size is less significant. Experience is everything.
New production processes
To support this, content production can no longer have just one start point and one end point. More and more, onsite cameras capture as much as possible and add it all into a central hub of live assets. This large reserve of content should be accessible to multiple broadcast partners to dip in, take content as needed and deliver it to users in the best way. Host broadcasters no longer create a single stream of content for regional distributors to transmit to users.
This content hub is only going to grow to allow the production of tomorrow’s biggest live events, enabled by the evolution of technology and improvement of connectivity. And OB trucks will remain on the front line of those events to enable this. But with more connectivity-focused tools, allowing stakeholders to access content no matter where they are, or where it is, collaboration will become the most important element in a content owner’s arsenal inside a mobile production unit.
Remote production – death of the OB truck?
OB trucks will remain an integral part of any overall production process. Even as remote productions become even more of the norm and a number of programs will be directed from a broadcast center on the other side of the world. And the roles of onsite engineers and project managers will change in order to better serve a new, evolved set of functions from the field.
However, this is an opportunity to further enhance the programs that are delivered to consumers. The introduction of new technologies will create converged networks for live production, enhancing file exchange, content control and interactivity of assets.
With roles executed from different sites and in different ways, personnel on location are freed up to produce more content and better storytelling.
This means the mobile unit will become less of a workhorse of boxes and racks, and much more of a creatively-minded facility where engineers can focus on the enhancement of live coverage through new ways of presenting live programming.
New formats need new facilities
Since consuming IP-delivered video is now second nature to many viewers, content producers are turning their heads to the next step in creating an immersive live experience. 360-degree video and virtual reality content is increasingly becoming more popular and the technical facilities that produce this content will make their home inside OB facilities.
Facility designers can take advantage of the space that’s saved by any remote working that takes equipment out of the OB truck. Units will become test beds for new technology deployed in the field. Using this space means more cameras with advanced functionality can be utilized – opening the way for the production of more immersive formats like VR and 360-degree content.
A new kind of broadcaster
How content is delivered will also have an effect on how outside production units are used. Broadcast partners are no longer just the traditional broadcasters – and their diversity will only continue. Last year saw Twitter deliver NFL games – this year it’s Amazon. Football is being delivered via Facebook Live and YouTube is now a major player in live and on demand broadcast content delivery.
OB trucks need to be able to facilitate content for all of these platforms at once. The square video preferred by social networks isn’t going away – our smartphones and mobile devices will continue to dictate how we consume programming, so anything we watch needs to be compatible with them as much as it is with the 50-inch, 16:9 television mounted on the wall at home.
Increasingly we’ll see OB trucks creating content for these platforms from the source rather than deploying time-consuming post-production processes to make sure they’re compatible. Production tools can now use artificial intelligence to dynamically identify the most interesting part of the video and automate the task of cropping and delivering the right aspect ratio while also outputting the standard broadcast sized image.
Resources of mobile trucks will be redirected from the technical roles no longer needed on site to something more of a content manager, making sure social, OTT and IPTV-native content is being produced in the right way for the right platform.
The technology enabler
One of the big enablers of these advancements is of course IP. Its implementation in multiple live workflows and trials at major events have shown some of the true benefits of this technology. And there’s no single, best way of implementing IP technology. There are IP-enhanced SDI products available as well as entirely IP-connected solutions and a number of propositions that talk about replacing any SDI hardware with completely software-based offerings.
The industry is in a state of transition where the adoption of IP in new infrastructures is now common place. And it’s in the transition, and not the sudden switch to IP, where its real benefits will be seen.
Facilities providers can invest in technology that is SDI-based and operates in a ‘traditional’ environment, but also be ready for inclusion in IP infrastructures when ready.
If a broadcaster prefers to produce a tennis match using a completely traditional SDI-only OB truck then that’s what they should send out on location. Similarly, facility providers will continue to push and build IP-exclusive facilities, which take advantage of remote production and this should be encouraged.
There seems to have been a shift in the industry of certain facilities providers, technology vendors or those who’d call themselves ‘disruptors’, pointing the finger to say ‘this is the wrong way to produce your content.’
However, each game and concert is different. The production of these events presents an important number of unique requirements that users, technology vendors and facilities providers come together to address with whatever solution is needed. Technology will fuel the next generation of live programs, but content producers still need to demonstrate a good business case for the facilities they deploy – balancing state of the art technology with the end result.
New technology should be adopted in the right circumstances – content producers shouldn’t feel pressured to install a complete IP solution halfway through a production schedule if their SDI-based workflow does a good job. New technologies should be focused on creating easier to operate, more efficient production processes.
The opportunity of virtualization
In delivering IP-enabled workflows, new opportunities will occur. Remote production is one – virtualization is another. With the right infrastructure in place, virtualized or software-defined technology can deliver the most flexible of production facilities. Moving certain functions away from hardware and into the cloud will mean facility providers will spin up or down services as needed.
For instance, an OB truck may be deployed to serve a standard production, but on individual days a peak is needed in performance for a different event. In this case, an OB truck with virtualized facilities will spin up additional resources, such as extra ingest or playback channels and more browsing tools for content access. This type of flexibility will allow them to better address the dynamic needs of a client’s demands.
So what will happen to the OB truck?
No matter the new technology or latest advances in production processes, none should be considered if they don’t produce the best possible live programming for consumers.
Whether it’s created using a traditional OB truck or a revolutionary production technique, consumers frankly don’t care. But they do have expectations that however they consume content, it must be delivered to them in the most engaging way, at the highest quality possible.
This will be done through production facilities that are flexible and can bend to any production requirements – whether it’s the size of deployment or a technically more advanced setup. Facilities also need to be future-ready. Even if complete IP adoption isn’t an option – using the technology to better connect your production processes and deliver more efficient workflows will create key benefits to content producers.
So where is the OB truck going? Nowhere. It will simply evolve to create better, more immersive experiences for audiences.