Since On-Hertz looks at audio production as a dynamic and evolving sector, the start of a new year is the perfect time to wonder about things to come. In this blog, we predict four specific trends that will affect the audio landscape in 2022.
1. The cloud (finally)
Moving production to the cloud has been a dream for broadcasters for years, but it has always proven elusive. This year, 2022, might (finally) be different. Why? Because broadcasters are not just talking about cloud, they’re spending money on it: media brands indicate that 20 per cent of their technology budget will go to cloud applications.
Until now, we’ve seen smaller media brands adopt cloud-based production tools, but so far, the larger broadcasters didn’t follow. That is changing now. Covid, of course, has been a major accelerator. After an initial push for more agility and digitalization back in 2020, brands have spent 2021 planning and working for a more serious push into the cloud. In an interview for IBC Daily, Gordon Castle, SVP for technology and operations in EMEA for Discovery, indicated he expects cloud to move into the center of production:
“What’s going to happen next is that we’re going to move big media processing, vision mixers, communication systems and audio systems all into the cloud,” he said. “You can do all these things in the cloud today but not at the full scale you need for a big live production,” said Castle, stating that there are two key hurdles. One is handling the sheer complexity of a large-scale live event with multiple inputs, replays and complex audio mixing.
The other is latency. “This is why contribution in the cloud is so important. Once the contribution is in the cloud, you’re not adding latency. The first access you have is to audio and video and then you can process it directly in the cloud and distribute it on. That’s really the enabler.”
An early large-scale, multivendor proof of concept of this type of production was organized by ATP Media with AWS and Gravity Media during the Rolex Paris Masters ATP 1000 event. As one of the participants indicates, “It’s broadcasting sort of entering a whole new world. You know, we send a lot of kit, a lot of people onto site. It requires a lot of port cameras, a lot of air-conditioning, a lot of hotels – you can reduce all that and virtualize it. Then it doesn’t really matter where you are in the world. Once that content is in something like AWS, you can get as many unilaterals around it – so you just turn up and switch it on.”
2. Software will ‘eat’ production trucks and audio studios: cloud adoption will drive virtualization
It’s interesting to see that the push to the cloud is also inviting media brands and broadcasters to revisit their relationship with hardware. Not only does the example above show that cloud-native production works, it also shows that – to paraphrase American entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen - software will ‘eat’ production trucks, and studios too.
Cloud production is about more than just storage or moving files around – it also offers the opportunity to truly digitalize production. “We started thinking about cloud long before Covid,” explains Darren Long, Group Director of Content Processing at Sky. “We weighed up the cost of renewing our ageing on-prem equipment or going to cloud and there was only one answer. What’s more, moving to the cloud should lead onto other opportunities.” 
A major benefit of virtualization includes the fact that teams no longer need to go where the hardware is (or the other way around). Truly remote and distributed production is finally a reality. At the end of last year, NEP Group launched two new production centers in Los Angeles and New York.
“Our vision is to provide solutions anywhere, any time, and in any way our client’s team wants to work. Whether you are working from an enabled mobile unit on location, in a studio, in one of our production centers, at your facility or even from home, you can be connected to our Global Centralized Production Platform with access to the latest technology housed in our data centers, all managed, monitored and controlled by one unified system.” - Mike Werteen, Global President, NEP Broadcast Services
All this, of course, can happen without being locked in to one particular vendor. Additionally, production becomes truly scalable in a way it could never be in a hardware-first environment. Think of phone-in hardware: it needs to be dimensioned for peak volume, which means much of its capacity is idle for most of the time. In a virtualized environment, this is no longer necessary. Broadcasters will quickly awaken to the benefits of paying as they go for always up-to-date tools (managed services in an OPEX logic) instead of investing in hardware that collects dust and ages (hardware in a CAPEX logic).
This adoption of cloud and simultaneous virtualization is exactly what we mean by our tagline: audio production, unplugged. Nothing is more satisfying than plugging in an electric guitar in a Marshall amplifier – but for professional audio, we’re moving to a world without plugs and cables.
3. Live audio
Audio had a bit of a moment in 2021. While it usually takes second fiddle to video, this year a lot of hype involved audio. Spotify’s deal (in late 2020) with Joe Rogan cemented podcasts as a thing. And even though there’s some controversy around Rogan’s show, podcasts seem to be here to stay.
Cracking live audio is harder. While there are global podcast stars, there are no global live audio stars yet, although you can see increased interest. Take Clubhouse, which forced a lot of social media platforms to revisit the potential of audio. Briefly, it seemed that audio could be a thing – mostly because of the unfiltered and live access it offered to celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. Clubhouse was a true supernova – meteoric rise followed by spectacular fall. It reminds us that live production is difficult. It requires lots of new content and famous people and thus a lot of effort.
Another interesting example is Fortnite, which managed to attract 20 million+ crowds to online concerts by Travis Scott and Ariana Grande. It shows the potential for live audio events – complete with fixed dates and tickets. The audio however, is prerecorded and played back during the virtual show. These ‘shortcomings’ show a gap that live audio can still move into.
4. Spatial audio and the metaverse
The Fortnite concerts bring us to “spatial audio” and the metaverse. If you think about it, the metaverse – the idea of a persistent, virtual world in which we run around as avatars – is in some ways an audio-first experience. In the metaverse, everything is rendered – except your voice. It is the only slice of “reality” in the virtual world. The US TV show “Alter Ego” underscores this point: it’s like “The Masked Singer” or “The Voice”, but with avatars.
Telepresence will still be about video (and maybe holograms) in the future, but it will push engineers to develop better, more immersive audio experiences. Hence, spatial audio (which is likely only the beginning). Apple Music saw the light and introduced spatial audio. Big artists are on board: Billie Eilish recorded one of her most famous songs, Happier Than Ever, in spatial audio for Apple Music
Spatial audio and the metaverse are in their very early days, so it’s hard to say where they will lead. But one thing’s for certain: 2022 will be a fascinating year to be in the audio business.