The Industry Begins to Recover
The broadcast and video content industries have experienced significant changes over the past 12 months. The outbreak of COVID-19 has come as a substantial external shock, hindering the creation and supply of premium content. At the same time, demand for video content in the home has hit record levels, with homebound consumers looking to substitute normal activities following stay at home advice. These factors have impacted the entire supply chain for the video content industry, including the professional audio equipment that supports it.
The immediate impacts of lockdowns on the industry became clear approaching spring last year. This included the cancellation of sporting events and large broadcast events in general, the pausing of production and the closing of many cinema chains worldwide. News gathering showed resilience as essential media during the pandemic. This category interestingly demonstrated an uptick in sales for boom-mounted shotgun microphones to facilitate social distancing. Meanwhile, studio shows remained a relatively constant source of demand, adapting quickly to social distancing regulations, but still facing significant challenges and uncertainty.
Moving beyond initial lockdowns, market positivity has been encouraging. Sporting events have reopened in many nations, with broadcasters and stadium owners using virtual crowd noise to create a familiar atmosphere. Meanwhile, film and drama production started to return through the summer in many locations. Leading up to the end of the year, much of this positivity continued, with studios reporting an influx of work from delayed productions and new shows looking to fill the void left by record-levels of consumption. Although new variants of the virus could mean some regions experience greater restrictions in the short term, many manufacturers and industry professionals are now looking forwards, intrigued about the positive changes the pandemic might bring longer term.
The Pandemic Fast-Forwards Market Trends
The high levels of demand for content in the home during the pandemic has furthered many of the already growing trends witnessed throughout the content supply chain. The rise of film and TV viewed through streaming platforms has been an extremely important trend for the industry over recent years and has gained significant momentum during the pandemic. Over recent years these platforms have been especially beneficial for independent production studios, who’s services have been sought more regularly for platform-bespoke productions or “originals”. Success for these independent studios is likely to increase moving forwards, with additional content production aiming to keep up with excess demand from the pandemic. However, it’s not just the consumption of film and TV which has been making a positive impact on production studios and pro audio equipment. The gaming world, with its increasingly cinematic approach to creation, is showing significant growth for professional audio equipment. Gaming is an industry that has experienced extreme positivity throughout the pandemic and continues to play a substantial part in the growth of immersive sound studios.
Audio Technology Drivers — Immersive Sound and AoIP
Development of the immersive sound trend has shown exciting progression in recent years and moving through the pandemic this growth has been intensified. It’s not just production studios that are coming under pressure to provide immersive sound, but also music, both for film and for audio-only content, through major platforms such as Spotify, YouTube and Audible. Although still in its infancy, Virtual Reality (VR) has also been adding to the relevance of immersive studio mixing.
Before the outbreak, immersive sound had already made significant gains, with all major streaming platforms distributing in Dolby as standard on major titles. The resulting pressure to produce all major titles and series in at least 5.1 has had serious impacts on the number of immersive facilities needed in studios, and as a result the number of studio monitors sold.
Consumers have added significant pressure to this trend, and during the pandemic products such as AV receivers and immersive soundbars have experienced positivity, with purchasers keen to upgrade their more frequently used viewing set-ups.
The technology ramifications of the pandemic do not stop at the type and quantity of content being produced. The pandemic is likely to have fundamental implications for the way broadcasters and creators work longer term. One of the key technologies aiding broadcast audio during the pandemic has been Audio Over IP (AoIP). AoIP has enabled remote production during the pandemic, a possibility which only 10 years ago would have been a logistical nightmare. Although AoIP was already a reality for many before the pandemic, the increased usage and experience of remote production over the past 12 months is expected to have a positive impact on its implementation moving forwards. This comes along with the already increased usage of AoIP in broadcast and production, being driven by the inherent connectivity and management benefits it brings. Following the development of the interoperability standard, AES67, the advantages of adopting AoIP have become even clearer, with the standard providing interoperability across key audio and video networks, such as Dante, SMPTE ST 2110, LiveWire, QLAN and Ravenna.
The Importance of Home Working and the Home Studio
Although the growth of remote live production and the use of AoIP demonstrate the significant technology improvements of the last decade, this is only part of the story for how working from home and lockdowns have impacted the industry. The movement of post-production and editing into homes during lockdowns has opened the doors to a new way of working. Just as many other industries have had to implement work-from-home policies during the pandemic, so have broadcasters and studios. The ability to do so effectively has been enabled by modern audio and computing technology, which have allowed cost effective and efficient home studio setups. This has been a reality for some time, as much postproduction and editing is completed through software. However, the pandemic saw producers and editors working at home for long periods of time, spurring-on purchases of high-quality studio monitors, interfaces, control surfaces and microphones to improve the experience and efficiency of their home studios. Considering the investment in equipment, and the long-term cost saving benefits such policies could provide, it’s likely that the COVID-19 trial period will give rise to much more home production moving forwards.
Although an important part of demand throughout the pandemic, the home studio opportunity reaches far beyond the usage of equipment by employees at home. For many years, the use of the home studio for professional quality content production has been on the rise, driving significant growth in pro audio equipment sold into the home. Growth has been witnessed from amateurs investing in equipment to get the best from their hobby, through to professionals, freelancers and other content creators earning significant income from their home studio setups. Affordable professional audio and video equipment has been key to this trend, as well as the growth of distribution platforms, production software, streaming tools, and social media.
During the pandemic, the home studio market for professional audio has seen phenomenal growth, with some manufacturers in the space experiencing over 100% model-level growth in 2020. This has been driven to a large extent by hobbyists, but also those making their primary or secondary income from content creation. The sheer scale of demand for content during the pandemic has caused a significant rise in both the production and consumption of “User Generated Content”, and the skills and habits learnt during this time will have long term implications for the types of content consumed in homes and the continued growth of the home studio addressable market.
The pandemic has clearly taken its toll on much of the industry. Cinema chains are still struggling and represent a difficult loss of income for film productions, whilst event-based broadcasts still suffer regulations around social distancing. However, despite this, the industry has shown resilience and ingenuity to work around the challenges that face it. With the mass rollout of vaccines on the horizon, the market will begin to show good rates of recovery, with latent demand driving above-normal business for some areas. There will be longer lasting structural impacts to applications such as cinema, but it’s likely that positivity from SVoD will outweigh these challenges for professional audio vendors. Growth technologies and usage verticals have shown sharp progression over recent years and some have even progressed as a direct result of the pandemic. Taking these structural and cultural impacts into account, professional audio has a bright future in broadcast and production, especially when considering the sizeable home studio and content creator opportunity.