Creating content especially in studios, will need to adapt with flexibility to the Government's COVID-19 recovery strategy.
The UK Government has published its COVID-19 recovery strategy. As part of our Future of Content series, we have put together a guide for communications professionals on how to create multimedia content, particularly in television, radio and podcasting studios, whilst ensuring compliance with the Government's guidelines.
Recovery Strategy overview: What it means for content creation.
Advice on planning compliant recording sessions.
Measures to keep safe while recording content.
Virtual Production solutions (recording and editing remotely) is a quick and adaptable alternative for many content creation requirements, and Access Studios has written on how this can work. But studio-based recording will be unavoidable in the coming months for campaigns requiring high-quality production that cannot be achieved at home.
COVID 19 is not a “short-term crisis”. Planning ahead by establishing clear, flexible and future-proof practices for content creation, in close alignment with the latest Government advice, is essential for keeping people safe as the industry gradually comes back to work.
Strategy Overview: Flexibility is Key
The message in the Government's strategy is clear: businesses will need to build flexibility into working practices to adapt to changes in guidelines at any time.
The Government will "introduce a range of adjustments" to lockdown measures, called "steps", which "may involve adding new adjustments to the existing restrictions or taking some adjustments further" over the coming months.
While there is a timetable for "step" changes, the Government has explained that "this timetable depends on successfully controlling the spread of the virus; if the evidence shows sufficient progress is not being made in controlling the virus then the lifting of restrictions may have to be delayed".
For content creation, checking Government advice and adjusting measures accordingly will be essential. Advice should be checked prior to approving any studio operations brief and re-checked the day before every recording session. There is a mailing list which sends through daily emails identifying information changes on GOV.UK about Coronavirus (COVID-19).
COVID 19 is not a “short-term crisis”.
The first step in the Government's strategy is Step One. Changes to policy in this step will apply from Wednesday 13 May in England. Continue reading to find out more about creating content under Step One policy changes.
Planning: Selecting the Right Studio
Whether it's podcasting, video recording, ISDN radio days, live streaming or any other type of content, it is essential to select a studio in which you can physically comply with social distancing. According to the Government, this is by maintaining a distance of at least 2 metres (3 steps) between individuals wherever possible.
Some studios in the UK will have a real challenge being able to meet social distancing measures, so when looking at available studios, it is preferable to get a floor plan of each studio space with space measurements. Consider the number of people who will be taking part in the recording, the size of the active recording space needed and the number of internal studio technical crew that need to be present. Will there be enough space for people to sit and be able to move around whilst keeping their distance? If the recording involves more than one person, is it possible to have all the contributors distanced in the recording space?
According to the Government,"evidence also suggests the virus is less likely to be transmitted in well-ventilated areas". An important question to consider is how confined the recording space is within the studio facility and if it is possible to increase airflow with fresh air. The Government suggests "external extractor fans to keep spaces well ventilated and make sure that ventilation systems are set to maximise the fresh air flow rate. Heating and cooling systems can be used at their normal temperature settings".
Travel: Studio Location
The Government has asked everybody (including critical workers) "to avoid public transport wherever possible" and this should be reflected in the choice of studio location. In major cities in the UK, especially London, there are a large number of studio facilities and it may be possible to select a studio conveniently placed to avoid any need for public transport.
A studio down the road from a client office or home address might be more appropriate than a facility on the other side of town or in the city centre. If this isn't possible, are there parking facilities available for people to travel by car? The Government advises that "people should instead choose to cycle, walk or drive, to minimise the number of people with whom they come into close contact".
Skeleton Crews, Minimal Observers
The Government has emphasised that keeping workers at home "will help minimise the number of social contacts across the country and therefore keep transmissions as low as possible". Communications professionals will need to structure their production projects to minimise the number of people required to attend physically.
When planning the studio production operations, the aim should be to streamline the production set-up to require as few crew as possible, working closely with any internal studio staff to establish a good understanding of equipment capabilities. Streamlining the production might slightly change the production schedule and it is important to prepare for a degree of flexibility in the recording timetable. For example, you might have to balance the value of extending the recording session by an extra couple of hours if it means halving the number of technical crew required.
Reducing the number of observers in a recording session is an easy measure to implement. With the exception of a lead producer, who has organised the session and needs to communicate directly with the technical crew and talent, the attendance of any non-essential stakeholders should be kept to an absolute minimum. Reducing the number of observers might also give you a wider range of studios which could host the recording with social distancing.
Having physical observers in the studio space is suboptimal at present so it would always be better to suggest that they log in remotely - an effective alternative way to be part of the session without risking infection.
By now, many employees are very familiar with software like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype. There are a wide range of systems which facilitate real time remote/virtual communications; many studios have broadcast-quality equivalents, both in hardware and software form. These can be used to allow observers to watch everything that's going on in the studio in real time from their office or home, as well as communicating directly to the teams.
Broadcast solutions such as ipDTL and NDI (AV over IP) can provide excellent quality live streams to remote observers and are available in many studios. Communications professionals might be used to the concept of remote connectivity through organising ISDN radio days, or ‘down the line’ TV interviews for their clients. To work effectively they only require a reasonable internet connection on the receiving side.
Restricting Movement, Reducing Contact
The Government has said that "the risk of infection increases the closer you are to another person with the virus and the amount of time you spend in close contact".
Outlining Working Areas
With a studio floor-plan, it is easy to sketch out small individual working areas for attendees. Floor tape can outline working areas to remind people to stay distanced and is recommended in the Government’s Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) guidelines. It is important to make sure there is a way for staff to use entrances/exits and toilet facilities easily.
Technical crew should always take priority and be allocated enough space to run the recording session safely. The lead producer should hold a short briefing at the start of the day to ensure everyone is aware of all the precautionary measures and answer any questions.
One Person Only Recording Booths
Recording booths are usually small spaces with limited ventilation and where contributors will not be able to wear face coverings. Reducing the number of people entering the recording booths is a good policy to reduce the risk of infection. For best practice, the contributor should be the only person allowed in the booth during the whole of the recording session. Separate vocal recording booths for each contributor would also be a good idea for podcast recordings.
The Government strategy emphasises the need to put in place "reasonable steps to avoid people being gathered together". Suggested examples include using more entrances and exits, staggering entry and exit points and introducing one-way flow at entry and exit points. Staggering the attendance of observers and contributors at the recording facility would be a particularly effective strategy for communications professionals. Recordings can be scheduled to reduce the number of people needed in the studio at any one time, avoiding a build-up whilst also ensuring that those who need to attend the session can do so.
Avoiding Face-to-Face Work
An important new guideline to consider is “using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible”. For audio recordings, seating layouts should be changed in the recording space to avoid contributors being face-to-face. This is more difficult to achieve with video recording with multiple contributors, so the recording layout must be set to ensure good social distancing.
Minimising Contact Time
According to the Government Strategy, "the amount of time you spend in close contact" can also increase the risk of infection. Shortening recording sessions into smaller time periods could help mitigate this risk, especially if shared recording booths are being used. Another strategy could be to implement restrictive time limitations for non-essential attendees, especially observers who have to be present.
Measures during Recordings
The Government has published “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines, which include practical measures to help ensure workplaces are as safe as possible.
In Stage One of the strategy, the Government advises that "people should aim to wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and they come into contact with others that they do not normally meet". It is clear from this that all studio attendees should wear face-coverings for the duration of recording sessions, with the exception of those actively recording who cannot practically do so.
The Government has clarified that “wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace. If you choose to wear one, it is important to use face coverings properly and wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off”.
A face covering is not the same as a face mask such as surgical masks or respirators; the Government says that "these supplies must continue to be reserved for those who need it". The Government has provided instructions on how to wear and make a cloth face covering. This should be distributed to all attendees prior to the recording session.
Cleaning and Hygiene
While much of the risk management preparations will be completed in the planning stage, it is important to ensure attendees comply with cleaning and hygiene procedures during recording sessions. With content creation, particular attention should be given to shared equipment.
Studio-specific measures measures to reflect Government advice could include:
No communally handled food or refreshments.
Hand sanitiser available when entering a building and following contact with surfaces.
Cleaning of all studio surfaces and equipment with disinfectant wipes or spray both before and after recording and between different users.
A ‘Bring your own headphones’ policy or purchasing new headphones for clients on a case by case basis.
Ensuring all earpiece ear-buds are new prior to use and discarded safely after use.
Communicating infection control measures to all attendees is an important part of safely creating content and providing reassurance to stakeholders. Public Health England has a Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Centre to download a wide range of material for use in England. The Government has also provided a poster to display in your workplace (or the studio) to show you have followed the guidance.
Summary: Planning for Stage One
The Government's recovery strategy presents an immediate future of prolonged uncertainty and change. PR and Communications will require creative and adaptable content creation solutions to match this landscape. This will not just mean carefully planning each project with an awareness of Government measures, but it will also require access to production capabilities across a wide range of studios facilities.
Every studio and project is different and requires individual planning. Production and content creation organised with Access Studios benefits from specialist advice from an Infection Control consultant, who provides expertise on how best to implement Government guidelines.
The best and most up-to-date advice can be found from the Government website.
About Access Studios
Access Studios provides UK-wide Studio Production & Content Creation for PR & Communications.
With industry knowledge of over 250 studios across the UK, Access Studios provides highly-adaptable studio production and full service content creation, including podcasting, video, social & digital, audio, livestreaming and digital distribution.