Michael Thielen, Vice President, CGI

(A version of this article originally appeared in IABM Journal, June 30, 2023)

The rise in importance of sustainability in the broadcast industry has been one of the most significant meta trends in recent years. Driven onwards by both public and investor sentiment and given further impetus by the increasingly observable effects of climate change, sustainability has become central to many industry roadmaps.

Even with recent survey data indicating that businesses will tend to choose sustainable options only where there is a perceivable ROI, technological developments over the past decade have made that easier to achieve. Many of the systems, processes and technologies that underpinned the broadcast industry have been jettisoned in favor of more efficient, agile and—almost by chance—sustainable alternatives. Procurement practices that would have thought nothing of installing large machine rooms and adding as much power and cooling as necessary have, by economic necessity, been replaced with a more sustainable outlook. These might be driven by the twin engines of lower costs and faster ROI to begin with, but the consequence of less energy use is the same.

Equally, the wider industry ecosystem has evolved. ESG (environmental, social and governance) has replaced CSR (corporate social responsibility) and provided a more accountable method of assessing company performance in all areas relating to the wider ecosystem that a company operates in. Increasingly these policies are being seen to impact—at both the macro level and the micro level—everything from a company-wide focus on reducing carbon costs of travel budgets to assessing the CPU load of individual processes in competing software packages.

With the industry at a critical inflection point represented by both the rise of streaming models and the pivot towards IP-based workflows, there is a clear opportunity to ensure that its future progress is built on more sustainable policies than the Serial Digital Interface (SDI) era. However, for that to be truly effective a holistic overview is required, and that is why business agility is a critical component in ensuring the sustainable future of the industry.

The importance of business agility

So, what do we mean by business agility? Essentially it is the ability of an organization to be able to rapidly adapt to market and environmental changes in ways that are both productive and cost-effective. The agile organization understands that it is not a monolithic entity operating in isolation but is enmeshed in a complex series of flows that are constantly dynamic. It can quantify these changes, even predict them; adapting itself to the new environment and being perfectly placed to take advantage of any new opportunities that it presents. 

According to the Agile Business Consortium, “agility in an organization’s culture, leadership, strategy, and governance ... (a)dds value to all stakeholders who operate in uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environments.”

“Uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environments” is almost a definition of the post-pandemic broadcast industry as it moves towards a streaming-first future. The point is that, by being agile, companies can respond to changing ESG requirements and opportunities far more quickly than those using traditional business models. As part of that, they can swiftly implement policies that have a positive impact on the environmental aspect of their operations.

Mention of the pandemic is appropriate too. We are used to the acceleration that COVID-19 produced to the deployment of various new models across the industry. The mainstream adoption of the remote production of live events, the transition to the cloud, hybrid working models and more have all happened several years more quickly than they would have done if the pandemic had not taken place. But it is important to acknowledge that the speed with which organizations had to adapt to a shifting patchwork of global lockdown regulations to remain in business—acting swiftly, prioritizing core business activities, collaborating online, and innovating to solve new and extremely challenging problems—has also fundamentally rewritten corporate culture.

Promoting a culture of sustainability 

Many organizations have seen significant improvements in leadership and governance as a result, with a newly empowered skilled workforce, particularly amongst the Millennial cohort, which looks closely at a company’s ESG record when it comes to choosing between employers. Adopting new approaches and business practices, including sustainability, has transitioned from being a value add to a necessity as a result.

This starts from the obvious, using renewable energy sources or accelerating recycling programs, to more strenuous actions such as making a commitment to hitting net-zero by a certain date. The agile company’s ability to collaborate and share information effectively, both internally and externally in their networks, allows them to identify and address sustainability issues more efficiently, as well as cope when criteria change such as the recent shift from carbon neutrality via offsetting becoming a waypoint rather than the ultimate destination. 

The changes the industry is going through will involve a fundamental retooling of equipment and workflows over the next decade. Now, therefore, is the perfect time to implement policies that place energy efficiency higher up the list of technology purchasing criteria as inefficient legacy solutions are replaced, as well as to examine and overhaul workflows to minimize the carbon footprint of an organization’s employees, which is typically a consequence of travel and commuting. Adopting web-based applications, setting up connected workgroups, and ensuring seamless data exchange can reduce this, but the organization must be open to the changes they represent. If they are, they will often find that there is a bottom-line benefit to the new policies, delivering them a rare win-win of increased environmental sustainability and ongoing business success.