Studio (Bottom) line

Paul Watson, Vitec COO, on keeping studio costs down, and quality up.
Modern studios use a wide range of technology
Modern studios use a wide range of technology

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The pressure on broadcasters to deliver exciting television, while cutting costs, has never been greater. Viewers’ expectations have spiralled with audiences demanding dynamic and varied production styles. Yet, beyond the images on our screens, production costs have steadily increased; an unwelcome challenge in a climate of financial uncertainty and economic volatility.

Many Broadcasters are improving cost efficiency across the business with no impact on investment in content. Studio productions are altering beyond recognition - working faster and more creatively, with precious budgets invested more wisely.

The answer to saving costs, while maintaining the high production value that viewers expect, lies in constantly evolving technology. Broadcasters are investing in a range of solutions, from robotics to energy saving lighting to cut costs, and remote mini cameras and camera stabilising systems for unique studio live production shots.

Many studios are using innovation to lead the way, working smarter and more creatively to produce a better viewer experience.

Studio automation is one of the most widespread cost saving practices amongst broadcasters and is helping companies around the globe to win their budget battles.
The benefits of introducing robotics are well known and are frequently used in a wide range of applications - from simple one or two camera studios, right through to network studios utilising total robotic solutions for everything from news broadcasts to live sports action.

For broadcast studios, a significant cost saving advantage is when robotic camera control is extended to other studios. An example of this would be regional news studios in various locations, linking into the main programme studio.

It is increasingly common for these studios to be completely unmanned, with the robotic solution enabling all control of the camera and other equipment from the main control room.

An important benefit of automated robotics solutions is the ability to provide service resilience through multi-site networking, while at the same time adding capacity and supporting high-quality, repeatable on-air movement.

Broadcasters know that if there is a problem in one studio, operations can be switched to another without compromising production standards.

Automating camera positioning and control releases operators to undertake more creative and fulfilling work, they are free to concentrate on achieving perfect framing on every shot.

Most advanced robotics pre-store the shots for every show, which are then loaded into a Graphical User Interface (GUI) giving the operator full control of all cameras and camera movement for that programme.

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Using the GUI, shots are executed precisely and efficiently; enabling directors to much more creatively use the camera for a unique look, preserving the station or programme identity.

The opportunities for close-up viewing afforded by remote controlled high quality cameras, such as the Q-ball from Camera Corps, offer new levels of audience engagement and producer creativity that previously was nigh-on impossible.

At just 115 mm wide, these HD/SD cameras can be sited where a camera operator or large camera cannot operate while its full integration with the larger robotic cameras offers additional shots for the producer.

Financially, broadcast robotics guarantees this highly repeatable performance, driving operational efficiencies and helping reduce production costs by as much as 50 per cent. It offers a rapid return on investment, with most robotics systems paying for themselves within three years of installation.

When Ethernet entered the robotics arena, its potential was quickly realised by companies such as Vinten Radamec.

Operating the latest heads over a standard Ethernet infrastructure makes the robotic application much simpler, especially as many Broadcasters’ IT teams are already familiar with the technology.

Remotely supported, the flexibility of Ethernet allows robots to be moved around either within a studio, or from one studio to another, saving the need for additional equipment.

Vinten Radamec leads the market with its advanced range of robotic solutions. Its next generation heads incorporate its forward thinking Intelligent Control Engineering (ICE) technology.

The new ICE platform enables studios to work more efficiently, remotely operating pan and tilt heads over a standard Ethernet connection, with exceptionally precise motion control and accuracy.

ICE technology can future proof broadcasters’ investments, for example, the heads that incorporate this technology are inherently Augmented (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) ready.

Support costs are minimised by reducing the need for specialist support, as additional functionality and improvements are via firmware upgrades that can quickly be performed on site with no disruption to programme schedules.

A further opportunity is for studios to increase the occupancy from their equipment. We recognise that our customers are under considerable financial pressure and help them better utilise their equipment.

Vinten, the global leader in camera supports, is helping its customers to drive any cost cutting initiatives through extended equipment usability, reliability and efficiency.

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Vinten camera supports give studios the longevity required, with equipment that can be utilised for the maximum number of hours without fatiguing the user. Its ergonomics enable camera operators to focus on achieving the best shot, without distraction.

Supporting the desire to maximise the use of all equipment, Vinten is designed for simplicity of adding or removing system components - for example, the camera quick releases from the head, the head quick releases from the pedestal, and the head can then be put on a tripod.

Making the process of changing equipment more simple and straightforward means that broadcasters shouldn’t have to fully equip every studio. A common scenario is that there are multiple studios in a building, for example, one main studio for a pre-recorded magazine show and a smaller studio for weather inserts.

It is unlikely that shoots will be taking place in all studios at the same time, so the larger studio could be equipped fully, and the smaller studios installed with individual pieces of kit, such as tripods in fixed positions.

This is far more cost effective as the equipment can be repurposed from the main studio to the smaller studios as and when it is needed.

Many studios are already cutting costs by adopting smaller, lighter cameras. While fifteen years ago, no one would have considered using anything other than a full format studio camera or a high quality ENG bodied camera with a fibre or triax link, today broadcasters are making savings through the use of HD-DSLR cameras.

For those embracing this new trend, Sachtler offers an entire range of fluid heads, steadfast tripods and pedestals and cutting-edge stabilizing systems.

In a busy studio, sometimes producing up to 24 hours of live content each day, producers require flexible equipment for quick, precise and reliable productions.

Many are now adopting solutions such as Sachtler’s Artemis stabilizing system with its braced vest and articulated arm enabling a single cameraman to move freely around the studio. Its agility helps create unique shots while ensuring optimal production quality is retained and viewer experience enhanced.

A significant area already proven to produce substantial savings for studios is lighting. High-quality LED lights make a great deal of sense and scores of television stations worldwide have already replaced their old lighting fixtures with the industry standard LED fixtures from Litepanels.

Legacy lighting products have hidden and on-going expenses as well as higher power requirements when compared to LED. More and more studio owners recognise this, and by switching to LEDs from Litepanels they have seen dramatic operational savings and increased profitability that results in an above average return on investment period of less than three years.

One of the greatest advantages of LED as a technology platform for lighting is its meagre power consumption, which is often 80-90 per cent less than tungsten fixtures. If we take one of Litepanels’ most popular fixtures as an example, the Litepanels 1x1 fixture draws less current than a conventional 60-watt bulb.

In fact, it can measure as little as 45 watts of power consumption at full output, depending on the source voltage. This is less than a quarter of its Fluorescent counterpart and a tenth of Tungsten.

As power requirements and energy bills go down, so does the station’s carbon footprint. It follows that LED lighting fixtures are an eco-friendly lighting option not only do they consume less energy but also because they do not contain harmful chemicals found in traditional lighting sources and have a significantly longer lifespan.

Viewers have seen how technology provides more opportunities for a more exciting and engaging viewing experience: they demand that studios continue their along paths of transformation.

The changes we have seen in recent years have revolutionised studio production values while whetting the appetite of broadcasters to drive down costs.

Technological advancements together with innovative and expert manufacturing will continue to provide the right opportunities for every studio to satisfy the viewer while achieving operational efficiency across the board.

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