Cine-Live and the Future of Mixing Workflows to Tell Better Stories

Thinking back to some of my earliest days of analog, standard definition, video production with tube and early chip cameras, there was always a desire to capture and deliver the “film look” to show a more polished and professional finished project.  Whether it was a commercial, music video, documentary, or other high-profile production, we were always chasing that elusive goal of making what we had just that much better.  At that time, early 80’s through early 90’s, you had two choices, shoot and finish with film, or spend a fair amount of your budget on the “Film-Look” process to give it that particular look.  The “look” is the same one we see today in the majority of our theatrical releases, one-hour dramas, mini-series, many commercials, and other big budget productions. 

Today we all know this “look” as shooting at 23.98 or 24 to give that theatrical story-telling look and feel, driving away from the “reality” of 60 FPS video, or even 120 FPS for hyper-reality, as well as a shallow depth of field to drive home the focus point(s) of the storytellers.  It’s been around as long as film has, and the debates about what frame rate to shoot at appears to have gotten fiercer today as we have more options.  48, 72, 120, 240, where does it stop?  What are the goals, what are the tools, who’s the audience, what’s the emotions desired to invoke and convey to the viewer?

For the most part there’s always been pretty clear-cut lines of demarcation between video story-telling and film story-telling.  I think those distinctions have been challenged over the last decade and even more so today as we continue to fight to make our projects stand-out against the heavy competition from all directions.  Now that feature films can be shot entirely on an iPhone, camera kit that is affordable for story-tellers with minimal budgets and great ideas can land huge deals that the post production can be completed in your room, basement or local coffee shop.

Over the last couple of years, when my phone rings with a potential client on the other end of the line, I’m being asked more and more, “Can you shoot multi-camera “live” with a larger than 2/3” sensor camera, at 23.98, or 24 FPS, giving me a different look, and helping to craft a more emotional and evocative story, that will help set my company, my corporate spokesperson, my product, my music, my career, apart from what the majority of others are doing in the world of video production today, and to do it at or less than a traditional multi-camera video shoot using a remote mobile truck or fly-pack system?

Throughout our current time period, there have been pretty clearly defined lines of demarcation between scripted television, live entertainment and live sporting events.  A typical scripted, North American, television (this includes dramas, documentaries, sitcoms, commercials, mini-series, movies of the week, etc.) production usually works off of a typical “film/cine” camera such as an Arri, Red, Venice, film, Canon, Blackmagic, or the like.  It involves a cinematographer or DP, it has one or more camera operators, DIT’s, Lighting Directors, AC’s (camera assistants), Utilities, grips and others that all have jobs that are well known and understood within the industry.  Before shooting begins there is usually a period of time that is dedicated to camera testing that may include multiple cameras, different lights, filters, lenses, wireless focus, zoom and iris controls, and other operational workflows designed to capture and deliver the desired end result to the viewer.  Once the equipment decisions have all been made there is a period of camera prep time (1-4 days or more depending upon the complexity of the project) where the cinematographer, camera assistant(s) and potentially one or more camera operators all get together to assemble and do full working tests of each system so that when it’s delivered to set it’s all ready to go and any potential problems have been worked out in advance.  The majority of these productions are captured at a frame rate of 23.98 or 24 and use a larger format, single image sensor, to provide a more emotional story-telling feel.  Between the “suspended-reality” of shooting at 23.98 and the much shallower depth of field using a larger single image sensor, we have a look and feel that we’re traditionally used to experiencing in a theatrical environment with a feature release.

In the world of “Live Entertainment” (awards shows, talk shows, variety shows, concerts, live multi-cam sitcoms and dramas, reality shows, etc.) there are some of the same testing procedures with a scripted television show but in many instances these are produced with remote mobile production trucks or trailers, or large “fly-pack” systems housed in a room near the stage or shooting area using a fixed complement of equipment.  The mobile unit may arrive 1-2 days in advance of the production, with a fixed set of cameras, lenses and accessories that have some flexibility for mixing and matching but not to the level of what we normally find in the scripted television pool of equipment.  The majority of these shows are captured with cameras that have 3 sensors of 2/3” inch diagonal measure at a frame rate of 29.97 or 59.94 and are the traditional “live video” that we’ve experienced most of our lives.  In this environment we may find some of the same crew as in scripted television but more than likely we’ll see a cinematographer/DP, camera operators, lighting director, Utilities and grips but the job of recording falls to a “tape op” inside the truck and not a DIT on set, and there may, or may not, be any camera assistants if the camera systems are all pre-configured and only need to be removed from their cases and assembled.  For shows that are on-going (daily or weekly talk shows, game shows, etc.) everything may remain in place for the duration of the show and the crew arrives a couple of hours before the start time to turn things on and assure that nothing has failed and needs repair or replacement.

For the majority of sporting events the world moves even faster for the cast and crew.  With the exception of large events like the Super Bowl, Masters, World Series, etc., the large majority of sporting events unfold with the mobile production truck arriving the night before, or the morning of the event, unpacking the cameras, lenses, tripods/heads, microphones and other gear and putting it in place, turning it on and being “ready for action” within 2-3 hours of arriving.  If cable is already in place at the venue it makes it even faster.  Once the event is complete, the process reverses and the truck may be on its way to tomorrows production before the clock strikes midnight.  Like the “Live Entertainment” world the cameras, lenses and recording options are usually fixed to the equipment that travels with the truck and the workflow is adapted to what’s available.  The crew is usually smaller and does not have the need for extended preparation or set up time.

Each of these three basic workflows have their benefits, challenges and limitations. 

Enter the (relatively) new “hybrid” workflow that we’re seeing more and more of in the community.  With the newer “cine” cameras being a bit more “plug and play” that is lending the ability to incorporate those tools into a more traditional “broadcast” workflow that derives the benefits of cine with the workflow speed of broadcast.  Over the last few months we’ve seen an uptick in customer requests for quotes for this workflow as well as in the use of it for their productions.  Recent projects include a Billie Eilish concert at the Greek Theatre, 34th Annual ASC Awards Show at the Ray Dolby Ballroom, and a large corporate (Fortune 100 under NDA) product launch with a streaming distribution. 

With a director and producer that understand the storytelling values of this technology it’s now possible to incorporate this into productions that may have been previously cost limited to a traditional television broadcast production. Using these cameras, with a pre-configured and tested set of lenses and accessories, it allows the truck and crew to roll up to the event the day before, or even the day of, perform the power, set up and test in just a couple of hours and be ready to “roll tape” in a shorter period of time, at a cost that is relatively the same as if using broadcast cameras and lenses.  During pre-prep calls with the production team the workflow of shooting format, frame rate, Camera LUT (look up table), recording format, camera control and other requirements are set in advance so that everyone is on the same page as the truck parks and the equipment is pulled for set up and test. 

Moving to this hybrid workflow provides some great benefits for productions that require some additional storytelling capabilities.  The majority of broadcast and cine crews are already familiar and trained in many of these areas so little or no additional time is needed to bring everyone up to speed.  It also brings both of these groups together, blending the best of both worlds to benefit key stakeholders, from content producers to the viewers.

Mobile Moves Ahead

What exactly does 5G mean? And what are the implications of this new mobile technology for media businesses?


[Reprinted from the September/October 2019 issue of The Financial Manager]

People like labels. Companies like labels. Industries like labels. In today’s complex world, they simplify things, and allow us to sort them into more easily understood categories. 

So how much simpler could the label “5G” be? One number and one letter – a thing of beauty. But as Einstein famously said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” And that’s where the problems with understanding 5G begin.

The label is applied to a very wide range of technologies, and it is understood to mean different things by different people, companies and industries. That kind of confusion certainly has occurred for other forms of emerging technology. But in the case of 5G, the term has been leveraged by marketers for their particular purposes, and already co-opted into substantial hype and resulting misconceptions.

The value of the label 5G has been thereby diluted, and its value diminished rather than increased in helping us understand what the technology is, and what it means to the businesses that may use or be affected by it in the near future.


The origin of the term comes from the world of wireless technology standards, where it implies (as you might guess) the fifth generation of cellular phone technology. But as in the passage of previous generations of technologies, the boundaries between them are not hard and fast. (See “The Wireless Solution” below)

5G will replace 4G in two distinct phases. First, the introduction of 5G will prompt the rollout of new mobile software, because the new technology allows somewhat more efficient use of existing wireless bandwidth than 4G does. This is an incremental change, not unlike previous transitions between wireless technology generations.

This transition has already begun in some markets, and will continue over the next few years, as new mobile devices that support the technology become available.

But the second phase of 5G will truly open up new horizons, as it will allow far faster connections. This is mostly due to its use of wholly new, higher frequency operations – so-called “millimeter wave” (mmWave) bands – which allow wider bandwidth connections per user. Don’t expect to see this broadly deployed until the mid2020s, however. And even then, it will only be found in densely populated urban areas. Even 5G’s strongest champions agree that it’s unlikely mmWave 5G will ever be seen in rural areas.

Until now (i.e., through the 4G era), wireless phones have operated in various bands between 600 MHz and 6 GHz regions, but with the full deployment of 5G, frequency bands above 24 GHz (mmWave) will be used. That will allow users to connect to the network on much wider-bandwidth channels. As a result, full 5G deployment will provide consumer devices with connectivity up to 20 times faster than with 4G, while also increasing the capacity of simultaneous users per cell.

If this seems too good to be true, bear in mind that these higher transmission frequencies will necessarily limit the coverage zones for individual cells to much smaller areas. They may be as small as a few tens of meters in diameter per cell.

This means that the 5G mmWave deployments will require vast numbers of transmitters and antennas spaced closely together for the system to work practically for customers, which is why the full impact of 5G will only be felt in urban areas.

Notwithstanding the geographically limited nature of mmWave deployments, though, other benefits promised by 5G generally include: 

  • Greater robustness, such as fewer dropped calls; 
  • Low latency, for faster data transfer; 
  • More sophisticated antenna design to allow more users to connect at higher speeds in a given area without interference; 
  • Network slicing, which allows multiple forms of usage to share the network simultaneously, such as smartphones and Internet-of-things (IoT) devices; 
  • Edge computing/virtualization, which puts cloud computing servers physically closer to customers, further reducing latency and reducing network congestion.


Another 5G feature, which worries some in the traditional media businesses, is its so-called “broadcast mode.” This allows a one to-many delivery format akin to broadcast radio or television service.

Such capability already exists in the current 4G LTE system, but 5G further expands it. Yet even 5G’s broadcast mode is not infinitely scalable like traditional broadcasting has always been. Even if it was, the economics of the system do not appear likely to entice mobile network operators into entering the radio or television business.

However, one media sector that does seem particularly vulnerable to new competition from 5G is the multichannel video program distributor (MVPD) business. Some wireless operators are considering the use of 5G as a “last meter” (or “last tens of-meters”) delivery method for IP-based service bundles to the customer without stringing cable into the home.

5G’s wideband, wireless connection from the antenna on the street pole to the homes on the block (or to the multiple units of an apartment building) are an appealing and potentially cost-effective alternative to traditional hard-wired fiber or coax – or even small-dish satellite – delivery of television and/or broadband Internet service to residential customers. So some 5G effects may be felt by traditional fixed (i.e., wired) rather than mobile operations. Or, put another way, 5G offers wireless operators new ways to compete with traditional wired telecom businesses.

Nevertheless, the net result of 5G’s impact on existing media businesses may be ultimately beneficial, as traditional operators find ways to use 5G services to improve operations. For example, content creators will benefit from enhanced connectivity for live backhaul of content from remote sites, while weather forecasters and other data-collectors can deploy massive numbers of sensors using IoT devices for accelerating their services.

Crowdsourcing of content or audience interaction also could be boosted by the increased capacity and speed of 5G. Yet another possibility is convergence with the similarly IP-based ATSC 3.0 system soon expected to be deployed by television broadcasters, by which broadcast transmission and wireless broadband service can be used together and simultaneously to provide rich and responsive media experiences to tomorrow’s audiences.

Yes, there’s a lot to like – and some to worry – about 5G among media businesses. The best advice now is to avoid the hype and continue to study the real prospects for the technology, to learn how it can best work with, or against, your existing services.

Most of us have already experienced transitions between generations of modern mobile telephony. It seems almost miraculous how the world of cellular phones has evolved so quickly over the mere four decades in which it has existed. But there’s no magic to the evolution – just good standards and practices by the industry.There are international standards bodies that continually work to allow wireless services to develop at a relatively fast pace. Among them is the International Telecommunications Union, a part of the United Nations that manages and resolves the use of different telecommunications methods used in different countries and regions. Another is the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), which develops international standards for interoperable mobile broadband software and hardware.3GPP has developed an approach called long-term evolution, which expects new releases of backward-compatible mobile telephony standards to be issued on a regular basis. This means that wireless network operators can support multiple generations of consumer equipment simultaneously over periods of time.For example, when the industry moved from 3G to 4G, there was no mystical night during which everyone’s phones upgraded. People’s older phones continued to work like they used to, even as new technology was deployed by carriers. At the same time, customers who purchased new phones could enjoy the benefits of the latest services. Wireless operators maintain and continue to support the legacy generation of technology for a long period of time after they begin to deploy the next generation of technology. This also means that wireless operators require adequate spectrum to operate multiple, parallel systems during any transition between technology generations.And of course, the Internet – to which wireless phones allow mobile connectivity – also evolves in an elegant fashion, as managed by the standards of the Internet Engineering Task Force and the World Wide Web Consortium. Ideally, customers never notice these evolutions, since their old phones continue to work until they replace them with new phones, which then work better. What customers don’t recognize is that their new phones may be connecting to a different network than their old phones did, even though they are still using the same wireless provider’s services. This quiet evolution is designed to theoretically continue indefinitely.

Skip Pizzi is vice president of technology education and outreach at the National Association of Broadcasters. He can be reached at

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