Tech for TV execs: Creating Live Media

Despite advancements toward a more efficient media ecosystem, media tech has grown ever more complex. Streaming is freedom for viewers and continues to disrupt the market, but few (if any) industry efforts toward standardization of workflows seems to be able to achieve escape velocity to blast through the high forces of global capitalism. So complexity grows.

Today, video workflows are as complex as those found in notoriously difficult fields like cybersecurity. Nowhere is this complexity more evident than in the domain of live media production. Live media – including sports, news and events – is by far the most valuable, difficult and profitable form of media when accounted for properly and executed well.

Here below is an update and primer – the tech for non-techies – to help you navigate this complexity, gain a framework for thinking about live media value creation, and perhaps inspire some ground-up thinking about what it means to program for video audiences everywhere.

Why Live Media is So Valuable

Let’s start with the breakthroughs in the science of happiness. Jonathan Haidt is the most prominent of a raft of scientists that have proven beyond doubt the linear relationship between social connectivity and happiness. Most humans are highly motivated toward happiness. It gives us high economic utility.

Live media uniquely captures that value for audiences by providing a shared, simultaneous experience.

Whether it’s two anchors in a studio, a journalist in the field, a concert in the park, an awards show, a comedy roast, 100,000 fans in a stadium, 100 viewers at a watch party in Vegas, or a watch party at home, the locational facts of live storytelling don’t get lost on the viewer.

Nor does the fact that other people are watching at the same time. This simultaneity is rare and valuable, capturing the collective attention of a large audience and enhancing engagement for brands, fans, and sponsors.

Gathering massive audiences at one moment is exceptionally difficult and rare, making it the most valuable form of media that advertisers want to buy. But retaining viewers’ attention over an extended number of hours is as crucial as getting them there to begin with. And that’s where production value kicks in.

Note, I’m not suggesting that TV series or film production is easy. There are a wide of range of challenges. But one thing we must say – in Live Media, you cannot “fix it in post”. When it comes to human attention, there’s no tolerance for mess-ups.

It’s of the utmost importance that the live production backstage matches the relentless, fierce, competitive energy of the participants on stage. There is nothing more important than capturing every amazing moment, amplifying it, queuing up contextual stories, conducting real-time data analysis and scaling highly specialized human input to pump out more content “in the moment” which helps retain eyeballs longer and increases profitability.

Production value is at the heart of the matter.

What are the factors that drive it?

The 6 C’s That Drive Production Value

1. Cameras

 The number and placement of cameras are critical in capturing the full scope of an event. More cameras provide a richer visual experience, allowing producers to capture multiple angles and close-ups, enhancing storytelling and audience engagement. Comprehensive 360° visual coverage enables the producer and technical director to sift through footage in real-time, pinpointing and amplifying the most exciting moments, angles, and plot twists in the story. For example, local community games with 1-3 cameras focus on straightforward action with a limited budget, while major professional sports like NFL or NBA games may use 16-25 cameras—or indeed many more—to cover complex action and reach large and varied audiences.

2. Clarity

Picture quality, resolution, dynamic color range, saturation, and brightness—all of it matters. The higher the quality, the better—but also the more expensive and difficult to handle. Brain biology plays a role here; human brain activity is predominantly dedicated to processing sensory inputs, with an estimated 60% focused on visual processing (Smith, 2017) and 3-11% on audio processing (Jones, 2015). Studies indicate that our ability to ingest and understand visual content is significant, necessitating media creators to pack more punch with each second of attention they are lucky enough to grab.

3. Clips

 Instant replays and pre-recorded clips add storytelling depth to live broadcasts. This is where character development happens. Replays of key moments and relevant background clips about participants or related stories enhance the viewer’s experience. Tony Verna’s invention of instant replay in 1963 revolutionized sports broadcasting. Today, high-quality replays and slow-motion clips require advanced digital disk recorders (DDR) to shuffle through and process media quickly, essential for maintaining viewer engagement.

4. Commentary

Skilled commentators and analysts add significant value by providing context, analysis, personality, and companionship. Generative AI can support these roles, enhancing productivity, but human personality remains irreplaceable. Commentators, studio anchors, guests, play-by-play announcers, and sideline reporters are crucial. The trend towards ALT casts offering alternative perspectives and tailored content is growing as audiences fragment. ESPN’s success with multiple feeds for different viewer preferences also highlights this trend.

5. Chyrons

Graphical overlays such as statistics, scores, and sponsor logos enhance viewer engagement and provide important information. Effective use of graphics drives commercial value by integrating sponsor messages seamlessly into the broadcast. The term “chyrons” has become synonymous with these overlays, much like Kleenex for tissues, reflecting their integral role in live production.

6. Commercialization

Efficient distribution of content to multiple platforms and audiences is essential. High-end production systems allow for customized feeds with different graphics or languages, maximizing reach and engagement across diverse audience segments. For example, creating multiple output feeds for a single event allows different sponsors to target specific markets or languages, enhancing the overall value proposition.

Data: The Tiers of Production Value

Tiers of production value


Where Are We Now? A Few Geeky End Notes

Ground zero for all this technical complexity was on display at a Sports Video Group forum recently. The title of the form was “Cloud Production Forum”, and yet words like REMI (Remote Integration) and Home Run Production (I heard “HRP” muttered several times) were mentioned as often. What’s the difference? We’ll explain this – and other confusing geeky concepts – in this section.

Connectivity: Cloud Production Definitions

For most productions, the onsite team requires connectivity. While "Cloud" often means Public Cloud, production experts should consider how to connect to it. Cloud can also refer to private data center architectures.

High-end sports productions often use "Private Cloud" setups, starting from stadium feeds, running to outside broadcast trucks and sent via private fiber lines to master control facilities (media data centers). This hybrid approach, using off-site resources and high bandwidth private networks, is known as Remote Integration or Home Run Production.

However, this infrastructure is costly and not easily scalable. Venues with extensive connectivity and OB trucks with advanced equipment support these high-end use cases.

For others, cloud production options are vast and growing. Bonded cellular networking systems (e.g., LiveU) combine multiple cellular lines for high bandwidth and reliability. IP transport protocols like SRT or Zixi have replaced satellites, successfully transmitting feeds for years.

For professional standards, NDI is the open-source protocol of choice, with only a few large media companies adopting the ST 2110 standard for networked-camera video productions.

Next Decision? Hardware vs. Software vs. Cloud-Native

High-resolution, high-frame-rate cameras (e.g., super slo-mo) require SDI or HDMI outputs and dedicated hardware for optimal performance in advanced switching, transitions, slow-motion replay, and graphics. FPGA-based hardware systems (e.g., Evertz) handle large video feeds effectively.

High-end setups also use specialized component systems (e.g., replay, audio, graphics) for superior performance. Dedicated replay systems are truly critical for successful major league productions.

For non-mass-scale productions, versatile software-based systems like OBS, vMix, and Wirecast run on general-purpose computers. These can be mounted in the cloud using Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and protocols like NDI and SRT, enabling remote production via browser with a familiar interface.

Finally, today’s Cloud-native SaaS-based systems like Grabyo and Tellyo (owned by Amagi) operate entirely within the cloud, offering simple subscriptions, easy setup, and scalability without significant hardware investments. They are an excellent choice to get started innovating in live media production.

Both types of all-in-one systems—whether cloud-native or software—allow operators to use separate interfaces for tasks like graphics, replays, and live mixing. That’s critical for reasons laid out in the final note below.

For a professional option, VizRT’s VizVectar software, along with the Viz NOW deployment tool, continues the strong legacy of NewTek's successful, iconic Tricaster for cloud-based production.

Two Final Notes: Internal Comms & Robust Control Surfaces

First: Physical buttons and levers and dials are key. Think, “stage crew”. Robust control surfaces with intuitive interfaces, such as replay control shuttles and lighted button arrays, touch screens with haptic feedback, all of these are super critical for enhancing the operational efficiency and precision of the production team during any live broadcasts.

Here, I’d remind you to circle back to the top. These surfaces - customized with scenes, macros, and other effects – are used by human operators to achieve a constant beat of energetic video that can retain attention spaces hooked on shorts. These people and their tools are a critical factor in any successful production. (I’m personally a huge fan of the StreamDeck, having been able to control my own Zoomcast webinars in the past. Sign-up at #FutureOfTV.Live to see the next one.)

Second: The most under-appreciated element of live production? Effective internal communication. Communication within the production team and with on-screen talent must be clear and reliable. Tally lights show which camera is live. And control that audio mix – don’t catch a hot mic moment! Advanced intercom systems facilitate seamless coordination.

There are, of course, many other downstream systems that must be coordinated in the business of live media.

Smoother payment and authentication systems and entitlement systems are critical for many live sporting events, especially as the media business uses those events increasingly to drive subscriptions. Some live events are so short in duration, like a boxing match, that one must also consider the complex area of content security to preserve the value of the live media.

But above all, understanding live media production value, how to maximize it with cloud solutions, will also hopefully help business executives sell it to ad buyers and sponsors as well. We all want the same thing. To capture lightning in a bottle – retaining viewers for hours on end, if we can.

Brian Ring is President of Ring Digital llc, the leading GTM consultancy enables high-tech video innovators to drive product-led revenue growth. Mr. Ring also publishes & hosts a quarterly research report filled with insights on the future of the TV business. Get his next report by signing up now at #FutureOfTV.Live 📺