Corporate channels: Where enterprise meets broadcast

Video is a crucial communication tool for any enterprise, and a drive for better quality content is creating increased interest in broadcast tools. Paul Milligan reports.

Because the discussion of AV and IT convergence has dominated the pro-AV landscape for so long, you could be forgiven for missing the growing influence broadcast has had on the AV industry in the last decade too. This example, from Blackmagic Design, one of the companies at the forefront of this growth, illustrates this perfectly. “The first time we attended ISE was in 2012, and that was a very different ISE experience to the one we had this year.

Every conversation started with having to explain who Blackmagic were, and to explain a lot of the technologies we were working with, including SDI technology. This year at ISE we didn’t have to have any conversations about who we were, and SDI is used across the board in every installation. Broadcast technology has bled massively into the AV world over the past decade,” says Darren Gosney, technical sales manager, Blackmagic Design.

On the surface you might think the corporate sector and broadcast technology exist in separate universes, but as the ubiquity of video has grown since the emergence of the internet, so has the acceptance that an entire industry built around the professional delivery of video content might have something to offer the corporate world after all. We spoke to a cross section of those with experience in providing broadcast technology to the AV world to find out their experiences in the middle of both worlds.

Before we go into the reasons why, it’s perhaps better to take stock of where we are right now first, what is it that corporate organisations are using broadcast technology for in their businesses? It’s clear it’s for a mix of internal and external use. Broadcast tech is being used for annual general meetings, internal presentations to staff, and for staff training. Externally its being used to present new products, either in a demonstration format or a product launch, for clients and press. Town Hall events (where everyone in the business is watching at the same time) are also a driver for the purchase and use of broadcast technology, as the meetings have to be filmed on professional cameras, streamed and recorded, something the broadcast world has been doing for decades (albeit on a much larger scale).

Blackmagic has been working with leasing company Grenke who has invested in broadcast kit to host hybrid events. “They have some clients and partners in the room and broadcast those events to other clients as well. They’re using a mixture of cameras, switching equipment, and green screen compositing systems,” says Gosney. Clients are now taking streaming activities more seriously says Marc Risby, MD and CTO from AV and broadcast distributor Digibox. “In the past it was throwing a Teams or Zoom call up, now it’s a production within those calls.” And it doesn’t stop there he adds, “You can have an investment bank running a 4K TV studio that’s very similar to any broadcaster, the only difference between them and a broadcaster is that they don’t have an antenna on the roof.”

Broadcast technology is being used to enhance the corporate image too says Gerard Kerwin, director of sales and marketing at broadcast-specialist integrator VM Cloud, “It’s all about showing how professional your brand is.” This is backed up by Gosney, “Because we’ve got so much high quality content in our faces all the time it’s really important that corporations step up their production values as well. Because ultimately that represents their brand and their image in front of the customer.”

Can we attribute this growth in interest in broadcast purely on the pandemic, which turned us all into streamers overnight or was momentum building pre-Covid? Demand was there already says Risby, “We made a decision as part of our business to pivot more into that (AV) space five years ago, because people aren’t building new TV channels, but there’s always a new corporate or school or university.” Post-pandemic there is a drive to improve the systems that were installed in a hurry in 2020/21. “Clients are saying we’re going to harden the technology, we’re going to deal with it as a production. People are now folding some of the budgets they used to have travelling people around the world to events into their productions and taking them more seriously. The cost of kit may have gone up, but it’s still massively cheaper than shipping people around the world,” adds Risby.

When discussing the types of broadcast technology used by the enterprise sector, its tempting to imagine just streaming systems, as that tech has been so prevalent since the pandemic, but it involves a far wider reach than that. “We’re seeing corporates taking whole production suites inside their facilities, with broadcast-quality cameras put through mixing desks, so they can have multiple cameras providing different angles for either different presenters or different products or even different areas within their facility that they can then get access to a mix between them. That then bleeds into the need to have routers and lots of sources coming through and be routed to different places, feeding that to monitors internally and broadcasting that out,” explains Gosney. Clients want streams to look much slicker now adds Risby, “It’s not about a CEO with a webcam pointed up her nose anymore, it’s about someone who is lit as if they were in a TV environment. It means using a decent lens, we started off with a lot of PTZ cameras, now we’re getting companies employing camera people to film it as you would a live event, using broadcast cameras.”

For small to medium enterprises, clients like all-in-one or compact systems like (NewTek’s) TriCaster or (Blackmagic’s) ATEM Mini says Medhat Ali, technical director, VM Cloud. “They want something that has everything inside it, the mixer and the controller for the camera, and a virtual engine built in. It has to be easy to use but flexible and mobile so if they want to move it to different locations they can.”

As products in this market grow and more traditional broadcast brands look increasing to the AV space for sales, is the understanding of the technology available and its capabilities growing too amongst AV integrators, or is there some work to be done in this regard? “I would flip the question the other way round, it should be about what broadcast people can do to help AV because quite often the language is subtly different, and people don’t understand the complexities in parts of the AV world,” says Risby.

If there is a growing knowledge of broadcast technology in the AV world, it’s being helped by the presence of companies such as Blackmagic Design, Ross Video, AJA Video, Vizrt and NewTek at pro-AV trade shows such as ISE and InfoComm. It’s also being helped by AV technicians increasingly their skillsets by getting training on (what used to be seen only as) ‘broadcast tech’. A growing skillset is being aided by broadcast tech becoming getting easier to use too says Ali, “(this growth of knowledge) is a mix of more training plus the ease of use, the growth of the internet, and the flexibility of broadcasting companies.

The introduction of IP-based equipment in the broadcasting and AV worlds has made it easier for everyone.” The AV sector behaves differently too says Risby. “Most of the integrators and consultants we see come to us with a problem. They’re not looking for a product, they’re looking for a solution to a specific problem. What’s nice about them is they’re actually quite flexible in what products you use, as long as you answer their customers problem. The AV mindset is more linked to an IT way of working, they’re not trying to sweat assets over 10 years, they’re used to replacing things as the technology changes and evolves, and therefore don’t get so hung up on the detail, they’re more interested in the workflow and the requirements.”

When it comes down to the day-to-day handling of content production in an enterprise, do the bigger firms have their own production teams or is it down to the AV team (or IT team maybe?) to support it? Or is it just all outsourced to a production company? “If it’s a large event they’ll hire a production house, if it’s a small event, maybe an internal meeting or announcements, they’ll use their own people,” says Ali. “Media agencies are going to bring in a more professional team to deal with any kind of work for corporate clients. If you’re looking at corporate banking they’ll always have their own team in-house,” adds Kerwin.

Using a production house comes with its own set of costs however, and repeated hire may not make the most financial sense going forward says Gosney. “Larger corporates will bring in a hire company for a specific rental first off, we then tend to find they’ll come to us and say, ‘Oh, we hired that equipment in for €10,000 a week, we’ve looked at what they were using and it’s not far off the price to buy that equipment and train staff on it’, and actually within two or three jobs it’s paid for itself, and then you can invest the money back in the business.”

Training is going to be a key issue here, for both integrators and end users, if the use of production tools and the creation of video content is to grow. “It’s more than just a multi-camera shoot now, it’s multi-elemental, you’re bringing in graphics, polls, interactive elements, that’s quite complicated. There’s a lot of things going on at once, to get that right is really hard. I do think there’s a market for more training, to help normal people in corporations be better at presenting and using the technology,” says Risby.

Like the LED market, the cost of broadcast kit is falling, while the quality of the kit is rising. The demand for video content is higher than ever and will keep on rising, so there’s little excuse for corporates not to invest now. “If you’re demonstrating something video just works better, and live video makes people more engaged. You can record something and it might be something fairly undynamic, but if you do it properly and you treat it like a production, people will watch it, and will be more engaged with it. CEOs are getting more media training and senior people in organisations are realising that if they’re going to do this correctly, they need to prepare properly,” explains Risby.

The good thing is that the cost of doing that is lower than it’s ever been he adds. “This is one of those areas where it’s not expensive to do it right, you can look good on a budget. You get a lot of small content producers with one camera person who is effectively outputting 4K content that looks fantastic on a budget. There’s no excuse not to look good. It doesn’t matter what your budget is, you can shoot on a 4K iPhone and I will guarantee you most people will be impressed with how the picture looks. It’s not so much the technology at that point, it becomes about the production. And that’s something you need skills for, you either have to scale up internally, or you need to get somebody in to do that. You don’t make TV documentaries without planning, news shows are tremendously well planned before every event. Why shouldn’t we work that way when we’re making a corporate production? It’s a case of recognising that it’s your image out there, it’s your IP and you want to do it right. It needs to look good technically, but also content is everything.”

To boost adoption of broadcast tech, VM Cloud has created a platform it describes as ‘an Uber-like service’ for event/camera crew provision. The first option includes cameras and the appropriate provision of production staff you can hire as quickly as you would a taxi, the second option uses the clients own multiple phone cameras (Android or IoS), and an online mixer interface to switch and mix between shots. Users can stream straight from their cameras to a cloud server, and a designated director can then access the web mixer interface to control the live POV, layouts, graphics, and effects. It’s exactly the sort of entry level systems small-to-medium corporates can use to produce multi-camera content on a budget, especially at a time when corporates are getting more ambitious when it comes to content, and one camera setups are slowly being phased out. “If it’s an AGM being streamed to the whole business, it might be one camera, if the CEO is bringing up other directors on the stage, if they are having more of a conversation or want to show videos there might be multiple cameras with media players playing content as well. If you’ve got two people on stage, having the ability to cut between the two and then a wide shot of both just adds variety to keep the audience engaged. It’s taking traditional broadcast methods and techniques for production and bringing that across into the corporate world,” says Gosney.

Because costs are falling it means that broadcasting even at 4K quality is being democratised, and a company with 100 employees can compete with one with 10,000 in terms of video quality by buying the same kit. The differentiator, as Risby suggests, will be the level of thought and attention to detail behind the content. “The goal is to keep people’s eyes on the screen, that’s why people are bringing interactive elements, a poll or a Q&A or curated questions, to make it slick and a bit more dynamic. People have a low tolerance for rubbish webinars, so don’t be crap.” That feels like a good takeaway for us all.

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