American Idol remote production case study

American Idol accelerated its remote production journey during lockdown in spring of 2020

In 2007, American Idol was called “the most impactful show in the history of television” by American media mogul and former NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker. Since its first broadcast in 2002, the singing competition has held the Nielsen annual television ratings’ longest winning streak. Idol became the highest-rated television program in the US for seven consecutive years and launched top artists’ careers, including Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert, and Carrie Underwood.

Taking Idol into a virtual world

Fast forward to 2020, and production on American Idol’s 18th season came to an abrupt halt. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the studio, with the host, contestants, judges, and production crew forced to stay home.

Executives behind the scenes were determined to crown the next winner, despite the geographical and technical challenges. American Idol needed a solution to replicate the studio performances and interactions while showcasing the cast’s emotions and personalities. To carry out real conversations, facilitate timely feedback, and deliver compelling emotional-closes, all with broadcast-quality production value, American Idol required a reliable transmission mechanism between locations.

On April 26, 2020, Fremantle successfully aired its first-ever American Idol virtual show, made possible by LTN Flex remote production and transmission services.

Live broadcasting remotely

American Idol equipped each contestant with an in-home production kit that connected to the LTN Network and ensured broadcast-grade reliability, mitigating unreliable home internet connections. Each kit included an iPhone, a microphone, lighting, and an LTN Leaf Flypack, which served as the core technology to connect the three judges, host, and 20 contestants.

Leveraging LTN managed services, the LTN network operations center worked closely with each contestant to set up and plug in their kit.

Network reliability and ultra-low latency enable program authenticity

The Fremantle and Idol teams transmitted the audiovisuals across the LTN Network, a managed IP network with dynamic multicarrier routing and rapid error recovery protocols. LTN provided the lowest possible latency over an IP network and high-quality IFB communications, which allowed producers to speak directly with talent in real time.

Specifically architected to fit the broadcast industry’s live video needs, the LTN Network enabled the producers and cast — across 45 locations — to produce authentic segments with natural conversations and competitive performances.

Adopting innovative technology

At the forefront of innovation, the American Idol team has always faced technological challenges head-on, problem-solving across sets in Hollywood, Hawaii, and its LA-based studio. The various locations require targeted solutions to ensure the delivery of acoustics, lighting, and Idol’s renowned authenticity. This challenge was heightened in 2020 when the pandemic necessitated remote production at scale.

The design of LTN’s systems enables live, broadcast-quality video to be delivered anywhere in the world with high reliability and ultra-low latency. For American Idol, LTN met unprecedented remote production challenges with innovative solutions that push the boundaries of video production and virtual interactivity.

With little time to plan for its complex production requirements, Fremantle needed a reliable transmission mechanism between remote locations. LTN offered reliability and connectivity, continually reviewing the production standards and format from a
technical perspective.

Coordinated centralized production workflow delivers an engaging show

  1. LTN’s Kansas City network operations center received and managed American Idol’s broadcast-quality remote live feeds
  2. The feeds were then delivered to American Idol’s Los Angeles-based production facility
  3. The LTN Flex team in Kansas City, which included video personnel, producers, graphics operators, and audio engineers, handled most of the show’s switching and production
  4. The centralized video production team aligned their processes with the producers in LA to build the show in the most engaging way for fans


The execution of the 18th season of American Idol was a success. In May, the finale saw the most viewers for the show since March, at an average of 7.26 million viewers. It also gained a 1.0 rating among adults 18–49 years old, which increased by about 1.1 million viewers from a week earlier.