July 26, 2020 |


Postcard from Hollywood

Postcard from Hollywood

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By Simon Ingram 27-07-2020

How tech and logistical issues are involved in bringing some of TV’s biggest shows back to the screen amid Covid-19 protocols.

We have created an entertainment beast and it needs feeding. The question, as we struggle to redesign our lives amid a global pandemic, is how – and with what?

The pressures of resuming anywhere near pre-coronavirus levels of production have been well documented. For starters, insurance has become a nightmare. You either can’t get it or it’s prohibitively expensive. As a result, risk management is a skill we’re quickly having to learn.

That’s pushing the boundaries on the operational side: physically transporting people to shoots now requires military levels of organisation – and then are the labyrinthine on-set protocols and bubbles within bubbles that are required once you’ve got them there. The bottom line is that those with deep pockets may be willing to accept the risk of their crew having to isolate, or their city going into lockdown, or their show getting pulled at a moment’s notice.

Right now, there isn’t a business in our sector that hasn’t suffered from the impact of Covid-19 to a greater or lesser degree.

In my ‘normal’ world, I spend a huge amount of time in studios. Ionoco provides control systems and technology for reality, chat and game shows, and a large portion of our work comes from US productions. So when Covid-19 struck, we braced ourselves for the worst. Here in LA, there’s a growing acceptance that studio-based shows will likely be on hold until 2021.

On the one hand, this is clearly a body blow for all of us involved in the LA entertainment ecosystem. But on the other, nothing inspires creativity more than necessity – or, maybe, desperation.

In the early days of the pandemic, damage limitation was the order of the day. The big hitters were quick to realise that mega-formats like The Voice and Idol could be produced remotely, with contestants, judges and editors doing their thing from the safety of their homes. But what I’m seeing now has less the whiff of crisis management and more the feel of proper creativity. People are starting to look at the tools available and reimagine new uses for them. The upshot has been a number of firsts.

Big shows such as ABC’s American Idol have had to be filmed remotely

Last weekend, for example, we achieved a first of our own by helping to bring about the biggest-ever live virtual awards ceremony. Our cloud-based PATH ([email protected]) platform was used to power the 47th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards, during which 20 gongs were handed out live with more than 100 remote contributors.

We’ve owned this technology for a number of years and it’s been under the bonnet of numerous gameshows, so we knew it was quick, but we hadn’t considered it handling a virtual awards show of this scope and complexity. But it did, and relatively easily. So this strange moment in time has given us the opportunity to test PATH’s performance in a completely different context and, in the process, discover a new and exciting way of delivering an event.

Similar eureka moments are happening across the industry. Entertainment technology is moving fast, driven by such game-changers as augmented, virtual and mixed reality. High-end real-time virtual graphics can create scenes that are indistinguishable from reality, opening the door to a whole new way of creating content.

Star Wars: The Mandolorian was the first production to shoot live CGI as I understand it. It certainly won’t be the last. This represents benefits to all bar possibly the traditional studio lots – but then again, studio space has been at premium in LA for years, so tech may well solve more problems than it creates.

I believe this crisis will give us the impetus, and the permission, to push these technologies forward. Of course, there will be a lot of trial and error; a lot of failures and false leads. But there will also be exhilarating breakthroughs and transformative discoveries as we look at old technology through new eyes and new technologies from different bubbles, I mean angles.

An example from the Daytime Emmys was the use of ultra-low-latency video streaming technology designed with production in mind, which meant the presenters were able to get a response from the winner in under a third of second, mitigating that lag we’ve all experienced, literally ad nauseum, on platforms such as Zoom.

This is the moment to explore new ways of creating entertainment. Technology has the power to deliver anything you want, in any form, from a virtual environment to a fantasy world. Throw in remote a camera and live feeds, some interactivity, and maybe hologram or two… If you can’t get a break this summer, just imagine that.

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