Salamouris Finds Satisfaction in Sochi via Success of MDS, OVP
Sotiris Salamouris, head of engineering and technical operations, Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), is still hard at work even as the Games fade away after the Closing Ceremony. The Paralympics are still to be held, beginning today, and, of course, there is plenty of equipment to break down and ship out of Russia.
The core of the OBS output was, of course, the event coverage that flowed from the venues and was stored on a redundant system in the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) that involved two technology providers: Avid and EVS. That content includes not only the events but also interviews with athletes, press conferences, sports technical features, promo trailers, news, and even Olympics-related stories from Sochi and Russia. Once on the servers, it could be accessed by rightsholding broadcasters (RHBs) as well by the OBS team of postproduction and editorial professionals, who created the Olympic News Channel and other services, such as the Multichannel Distribution Service (MDS) and the Olympic Video Player (OVP), a turnkey app that allowed rightsholders to easily distribute content to smartphones and tablets.
“We are in a unique situation because there are two fully mirrored systems from two providers that have different agendas and capabilities,” says Salamouris. “We have the capability to store 3,000 hours of content on the Avid ISIS and EVS and also have full interchange of metadata between them. That is not easy to do, and to have full metadata consistency from one that can appear the same in the other is unique.”
He notes a number of OBS accomplishments that stand out from this year’s Games, most notably expansion of the MDS and the launch of OVP.
MDS, introduced in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics, distributes international signals (and more) via satellite worldwide, providing six ready-to-broadcast TV channels with full video and audio continuity. In addition, rightsholders receive the Olympic News Channel and its wealth of content, a one-two punch that allows RHBs to receive practically the whole of the Olympics sport content directly in their rights territory.
OVP was one of this year’s major additions. The multiscreen video-delivery platform delivered the Olympic international signals (and more) over the public Internet and with delivery clients for PC, smartphones, and tablets operating under iOS, Android, and WP8. It was offered to RHBs as a white-label service, which allowed them to fully brand it as their own within their rights territory.
“On one hand, we are a creative company and, on the other hand, an engineering and technical company with a high level of service for communications circuits, video servers, and now even providing full end-to-end turnkey services like the video player and MDS,” Salamouris says. “So expectations are very high, and it’s not easy, but we enjoy it even while it has its challenges.”
Although the 2014 Olympics did not see any major broadcast advances with respect to standards and formats, there were advances in how metadata and the Broadcast Data Feed could be integrated more tightly with video and audio assets.
“Concurrent metadata allows for a lot more sophistication in the MDS than we had in London,” he says. “It allowed us to deliver a much more intelligent product to users.”
The advantage of having content with improved metadata is that rightsholders have greater flexibility in terms of ingesting, processing, and ultimately delivering Olympic content.
“A lot of content is postproduced here,” he adds, “and we have quite a big book of services that we offer the broadcasters, as we have to operate as a one-stop shop.”
The continued acceptance of the MDS as a core service offering is also transforming OBS.
“It’s like building [multiple] TV channels for just two weeks. But we did it very well, and, overall, it was successful,” he says. “More than 100 individual broadcast organizations [received] the MDS at 1,200 reception points via three satellites. In Vancouver, it was only five or six.”
So, given the popularity of the MDS service, will it grow in the future to include more channels and more content? There is a limit because finding satellite transponder space to transmit, say, 14 channels could be difficult.
“We will work with the broadcasters to find out what makes sense but in a financially sensible way,” Salamouris adds.
One of the goals in recent Olympics has been to figure out how to shrink the size of the IBC and the number of credentialed media representatives. The evolution of the MDS is one step in making that happen.
“The size of the IBC has been condensed, and there is certainly a qualitative change in the way broadcasters are going about their operations,” says Salamouris. “Instead of having big studios at the IBC, broadcasters can do much more back home and simulate the production they would do here at home.”
A ripple effect of that strategy could be seen in that, instead of technical personnel on-site, broadcasters had more journalists. “They have more space for ENG crews and tell additional stories [for viewers back home] from here,” he says. “You can see the transformations as studio space becomes editing and news facilities.”
As for the way broadcasters operated, the most consistent workflow seemed to be a mixture of relying on the MDS as the backbone of coverage back home, with commentary circuits handled at the IBC. A small master-control facility would also be on-site to provide an extra layer of security, with some using it to produce content that needed to be delayed and others using it to build a complete broadcast feed to be sent home. The master-control facilities would handle remote studio operations.
And then there was the Olympic Video Player, a service that replaced channel-based delivery with event-based delivery. Broadcasters using the service to deliver content to mobile devices were able to customize the app, taking advantage of metadata to offer a unique experience. For example, a timeline of an alpine event would allow users to tap a flag or a medal and automatically see the performance of a specific athlete.
“The Video Player has a navigation model based on the event concept where metadata for an event helps define the clip and make it available to users,” he says. “Within the player, there is also a timeline