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Thursday 7 May 2020

Despite the current challenges facing Higher Education and the media industry, staff and students from the Media Technology programme have shown great resilience in their efforts to carry on. Teaching has continued online with virtual lectures and seminars provided using tools such as Skype, Zoom, Panopto and Discord. During the period, students have had some great experience of using cloud-based collaboration and communication tools to prepare presentations for remote delivery. Staff have also been involved in some interesting projects helping to facilitate real-time music events over the public Internet. Of course we miss having access to our laboratory spaces but some of these experiences will actually prove very beneficial to the students as they graduate into contemporary work environments.

Today we held a virtual Graduate Panel to discuss how Covid-19 has affected the Media and Entertainment (M&E) industry from those on the front line. They were able to explain the challenges and opportunities as well as provide some advice to current students. We were joined by representatives from a range of disciplines at a range of levels from acousticians, to design engineers and production staff. We were pleased to welcome twenty panellists via Zoom and to be joined live by over 100 students via Facebook Live and YouTube.

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Left to Right: Polly (Course Leader Media Technology), Tom (Head of Engineering Studios and Live Galleries at IMG Studios), Lucas (Trainee Vision Engineer at Telegenic) and Jim (Senior Project Engineer at Sky

Conversations started with the challenges including huge falls in work as sporting events and live news coverage has plummeted. Production on major films has halted and there has been a stagnation in demand for outside broadcasts. Even studios have been running with skeleton staff to reduce social contact; some staff have been furloughed and contractors are being used much less. Second Assistant Director, Harry, noted the logistical difficulties of working on set and the unnatural interactions within dramas in order to maintain social distancing.

The news was far from all bad with broadcast engineers kept particularly busy connecting production galleries to help spread operational teams and bringing forward projects for remote production. Tom, formerly Broadcast Technical Manager for Wimbledon mentioned how fixtures had been disrupted from their usual four-year cycle around the Olympics, but that overall demand would not wane with a massive spike in demand expected when social restrictions are relaxed. This sentiment was echoed by several of the panel, many of whom are currently being kept busy preparing the infrastructure for such a spike. Specialist cloud service providers have been working flat out to increase capacity and bring forward features within their development cycles. Several of the companies represented have been involved with supplying equipment, rigging and broadcasting from the Houses of Parliament. Media companies have also seen a widening of their remit, hosting more conferences, social and religious events such as fitness classes and funerals. Acoustic Consultant, Edward noted that many infrastructure projects such as HS2 were going full steam ahead (sorry) and consultants were kept busy with modelling albeit with fewer site visits. CEO of Sundog Media Toolkit, Richard thinks we’ll see a permanently altered landscape with far more virtualisation and automation going forward with improved resilience and less reliance on fixed locations. Mark from Mux concurred that being agile was key – something that modern graduates are well-positioned for. The challenges are likely to create plenty of work for media engineers for the foreseeable future.

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Clockwise from Top Left: Matt (Build and Infrastructure Technical Lead at Evertz), George (Audio Engineer at Formula 1), Sophie (Vision Guarantee Engineer at Arena), Alex (Project Engineer at Creative Technology), Harry (Freelance Assistant Director), Mark (Technical Consultant at Techex) and Richard (CEO at Sundog Media Toolkit)

Overall the message was surprisingly positive. Some were joining us from work and others had to dip and out due to work commitments, which was encouraging in itself. Richard told students not to be disheartened as new ways of working would require new talent. He advised them to use the current lull to learn technologies such as cloud platforms and scripting. Rob from Event Production Services directed the students towards computing and networking and stressed the importance of being multiskilled in order to “pivot and be agile when hitting a roadblock”.

Organisations from across the sector are really helping out students at present too. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) has made their online courses free to Student Chapter members. Current students can our Chapter at Solent join for free for their first year and for $15 thereafter and access a range of professional online courses free of charge.

Many thanks to all the graduates for joining us and providing their insights. Thanks also to students from the Media Technology and Television Production programmes for joining us and engaging with the chat facilities! Final thanks to Course Leader Polly Hickling for arranging the panel and moderating discussions.

The programmes next major event will be an Online Project Exhibition of the third years’ major projects.

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Clockwise from Top Left: Ewan (Theatre Sound Engineer), Chris (Freelance Live Sound Engineer), Nick (Vision Engineer at NEP Visions), Katie-Jaye (Vision Engineer at ITV), Simon (Trainee Outside Broadcast Engineer at RaceTech) and Dan (Mix Technician at Twickenham Studios)

See more news from our Media Technology blog