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Primestream Xchange Keeps Cisco TV Operational During COVID-19

By John Williamson, Senior Manager Cisco TV Global Engineering Worldwide Sales and Marketing Team

Thu 18, 02 2021

Like multinational organizations everywhere, Cisco Television started the year with one set of goals and expectations in mind – and then woke up to a harsh new reality when the global Coronavirus pandemic hit. Almost overnight, we had to transition from a producer of major, high-profile, in-person events to an almost completely remote operation. Here’s the rundown on how we’ve accomplished that and the enabling technologies that have come into play.

First, a little background.

Nested within the Cisco sales and marketing ecosystem, Cisco Television provides video production, creative services, engineering, and connectivity for the company’s internal and external meetings and events. With main studios and control rooms based at Cisco’s main campus in San Jose, California, we operate from four other geolocations: Research Triangle Park, North Carolina; Bedfont Lakes, U.K.; Bangalore, India; and Singapore.

Globally, Cisco Television produces about 1,500 broadcasts a year including around 250 external productions – ranging from our Cisco Live tradeshow, Cisco Partner Summit, and Impact national sales meeting to product launches, webinars, and events such as those for the Cisco STEM program.

We’re Cisco, so we were better positioned than many for the sudden changes.

Cisco is already well-known for its technologies and product lines enabling collaboration and remote workflows. Two great examples are the Webex video conferencing platform and the TelePresence SX80 product line, which works almost like an extremely low-latency “satellite in a box” for video collaboration. Another important element is our Primestream infrastructure, which includes comprehensive ingest, automated master control playout, and the Xchange media asset management (MAM) platform.

At our San Jose hub, we operate with 18 record and 16 playback channels in Primestream. The Xchange MAM acts as a “single source of truth” for our entire operation – providing a centralized archive for all content produced by each Cisco region and giving our teams at the other four geolocations immediate access to the assets they need.

Pre-pandemic, Cisco TV was already using these tools to produce around 20% of its shows either as partially or fully remote events, including a mix of on-premises and off-premises presenters. When the COVID hammer dropped in early March (California was one of the first states to go into quarantine), we were therefore well-prepared to transition to an almost 100% remote operation.

The current setup

Within a week of pivoting to our new COVID reality, we jumped right in with a weekly, 90-minute “COVID Check-in” presented by Cisco executives to employees worldwide. These early presentations were very basic, but as we have continued to build out our remote studios our shows have become more elaborate, incorporating elements like PowerPoint graphics, lower thirds, and roll-on videos. We’re now able to leverage our TelePresence SX80 units to include multiple presenters on separate outputs of the same box, enabling back-and-forth interaction like banter and Q&A sessions.

We are now operating with nine virtual studios and six control rooms capable of running shows concurrently. The remote setup is powered by the TelePresence SX80s, Blackmagic ATEM live production switchers, and the Primestream master control playout and Xchange MAM based on-premises in San Jose. For a typical show, the full complement of staff – TD, producer, technical manager, Primestream operator, graphics operator, and audio engineer – all work and collaborate remotely.

Reaching this capability was relatively easy; it involved making sure the remote Primestream operators could easily access the on-prem control points, providing an easy means for remote editors to perform ProRes editing, and making a minimal capital purchase of additional ATEM systems. As we mentioned, the single source of truth already in place and powered by the Xchange MAM made it easy to expand our remote capabilities as needed.

Remote workflows for the long haul

More than six months since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve produced more than 1,000 shows remotely – and we just wrapped the 2020 edition of the Cisco Impact national sales meeting. Over the course of three days, our teams played out more than 180 pieces of content to an audience of 22,000 people.

Impact was a ringing success, but it begs the question: do we see ourselves staying with mostly remote workflows even after the danger of COVID-19 has passed? In the short term, our company has adopted a shelter-in-place policy until June 2021 and possibly longer. In the longer term, we do see a return to in-person events like Impact and Cisco Live, because there’s no getting around the fact that these events are more effective when people can meet face to face.

One thing is certain: as a video operation, we’ve all learned just how much is possible with remote workflows and how little actually needs to be done on-premises. It’s valuable insight, accelerated and sharpened by a short-term, acute need. Cisco has always been a very video-centric company, with top-level leadership committed to connecting over video. That commitment, coupled with our mature technologies and product offerings for seamless collaboration, means our remote capabilities will continue to grow and evolve into the future.

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