ITN has weathered the pandemic well, with lessons learned from remote production determining the future course of innovation. Jon Roberts, director of technology, production and innovation at ITN, reveals the company’s roadmap


Successfully recovering from the signifi cant implications of Covid, UK production company ITN is at the start of a signifi cant investment cycle, particularly focused on the news side of the business. “We’re expecting to see a good deal of very transformative technology investments over the next 18 months,” says Jon Roberts, director of technology, production and innovation at ITN. ITN, which produces the daily news programmes for ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 in the UK, has in recent years diversifi ed to produce a wide range of content including documentaries, sports, advertising and digital material for a range of international clients.

In an interview for IBC Digital, Roberts describes how his team coped with Covid, supporting all ITN’s internal corporate functions with a move into remote working, before even getting to the production considerations of the company. “It was challenging,” he says. “We are now in an unusual hybrid moment. We are starting to see the benefi ts of getting groups of people in rooms together again, seeing the creativity that comes from that. But we’re also trying to fi gure out how we hold on to the things that we found very useful – discussion forums that would never have existed or groups of people that we’ve never been able to put in a room together before.”

GOING REMOTE ITN has form with remote production, such as its coverage of the IAAF World Relays 2019 in Yokohama from an NEP control room in Sydney, but in the past 18 months Roberts says the company has rapidly had to think of “whole new ways of extending” the use of its systems. Covid restrictions, for example, have seen the control

room extended to people’s homes. “We can now carry out production assistant, director and

programme editing functions outside of [ITN HQ] Gray’s Inn Road,” he says. “For example, for the US elections, [our director] was able to direct all the rehearsals for that programme last November while in isolation.” Remote production is now a core part of all of ITN systems. “We need to design everything from the ground up assuming that geographical location can’t be a defi ning factor,” adds Roberts. “We deployed home presenting kits very rapidly at the start of the Covid crisis, so we’re able to produce hours of live broadcasting from people’s homes,” he continues. “But it’s always been a feature of our special events programmes to have presenters and contributors in the fi eld. We produced our US inauguration programmes this year from a Washington rooftop with the controller in Gray’s Inn Road.” This production also saw an example of a trend at ITN where the company combines traditional high-end broadcast systems with new technologies which in many cases are prosumer tools. “For the US inauguration programme, we were deploying traditional broadcast infrastructure for most of the connectivity, such as LiveU encoding back to base here. But we were also using tools


Roberts: “We can revolutionise the way our newsroom can work”

‘Anything that enables our teams to connect us to locations more rapidly, more reliably, is a huge win for us,’ Jon Roberts, ITN

like Zoom for reverse vision, because of the advantages it gives us in terms of multiple contributors being able to join those calls, and of course, the low latency. So we’re really interested in the space where those two things meet.” Roberts admires that these newer tools are not just built

from the ground up to be very user friendly, but also to be ‘remote native’, unlike traditional broadcast infrastructure. “Extending [the latter] remotely tends to involve a little bit more engineering work,” he says. The roadmap for ITN then includes developing an underlying system that is fl exible, scalable and remote native, while still offering broadcast quality and reliability. But that roadmap also has a human aspect. “It’s really important that we think about our people as much as we’re thinking about our infrastructure as we try to embrace all the rapid change of this digital transformation,” says Roberts. “The key to unlocking some of these new systems is to narrow the gaps in communication between technology specifi cation, user requirements and, crucially, ongoing workfl ow review – a lot of the best change happens in the period after the [new] system has gone in. So we have an ongoing process to continually evolve those systems as we get to know them.”

FORCE FOR CHANGE A signifi cant investment from ITV has engaged ITN in a project to integrate more with the ITV News regional network, and this has drawn from its remote production experience during the pandemic. “We’re creating systems that give greater access to information, media and communication tools than ever before, not tied to any geographical location,” Roberts reveals. “We’re looking to change our newsroom computer system, which will be

the main window for most of our users to access material; for the video system that sits underneath we’re looking to leverage cloud-based storage and cloud-based tools more than ever; and hopefully we’ll fi nd greater ways of connecting than ever before, but in a world where we’re not tied to a desktop.”

Roberts observes that one of the greatest areas of potential in this project is to revolutionise the ability of news teams in the fi eld to interact with ITN’s systems back at base. “Currently there are some really ineffi cient workfl ows for moving media from one location to another,” he adds. “We think we can revolutionise the way our newsroom can work day to day, if we can enable more people in more locations to be able to see what material we have, access that material, manipulate that material, and indeed publish from the fi eld.” Roberts says reach and connectivity are huge hallmarks of any successful production, particularly for news or special events production. “Anything that enables our teams to connect us to locations more rapidly, more reliably, is a huge win for us. What’s been interesting in the past 18 months is how video calling has completely changed the way we think about that,” he says. “It’s changed our production expectations. The challenge for us technically is to fi gure out how to improve the quality of those kinds of connections, while not losing this fantastic new ability to be able to ‘spring up’ guests really easily. That would previously have involved crew deployments or getting somebody to our studios. We can now focus on improving production quality around this greater reach. “We see ITN’s ability to reliably deliver high-quality, complex live production as a key part of our institutional DNA, and a key part of our future success.”

Watch the full interview on IBC Digital

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