Live From the High Seas, Ericsson Hits Three Screens With Ocean Race Coverage
By Carolyn Braff
The Volvo Ocean Race is halfway through its year-long race around the globe, and this weekend, the sailors compete in an in-port race, one of the most popular features of the quadrennial event. For this edition of the event, Ericsson is emphasizing bringing the race to the fans, through IPTV and mobile channels that carry feeds from on-board cameras to enthusiasts across the globe. With some downtime while the offshore yachts are in Boston for Saturday’s in-port race, Ericsson Director of Innovation Geoff Hollingworth reflects on the race’s digital initiatives thus far.
“We have very successfully enabled the Volvo Ocean Race to basically have three screens,” he says. “The best example of that is, during the in-port races, where content is simultaneously broadcast live on the Web and also onto the mobile platform, and then those live recordings are made available on television afterward for people who couldn’t watch it live.”
A Demand for On-Demand, on Mobile
Traffic to the Web video and mobile platform is always highest in the months that have in-port races, Hollingworth points out, but fans don’t always watch live. “There is a lot of demand by people who want to watch it as if live, after the fact, and that’s generating big spikes of traffic for those in-port events.”
Sunset+ Vine Production Co. produces a 30-minute show summarizing each day’s activities and distributes it to television broadcasters around the world, but Hollingworth, who has worked on several Volvo Ocean Races, says that, before this year, he had never seen an episode.
“I could never find the show,” he says. “Because it’s sailing and it’s not like Formula 1 or some massive sport, the distribution deals they got were always for late-night time slots. This time around, I watch the 30-minute shows on my handheld. The availability for people that are interested is so much bigger now than it was even three years ago.”
Because that video content is now available on a mobile platform, Hollingworth is able to listen to the audio of the shows while on the go, and he stops to watch at his leisure.
High Definition on the High Seas
This year, for the first time, all the content is produced in high definition, which gives the Volvo Ocean Race an HD archive. Just as important, the increase in video quality helps the content gain traction with broadcasters.
“In general, people are hungry for good HD content,” Hollingworth says, “so, if something is in HD, that’s another bonus in the material for distribution.”
Making the switch to HD requires some expertise aboard each yacht, so, this year, each boat is equipped with a media specialist who records and packages footage throughout the race. The media specialists, who range from professional sailors with an interest in film to professional cameramen with an interest in sailing, work with a set of Sony cameras and a laptop with Final Cut Pro editing software onboard each yacht.
“Once we’ve edited the film, we go through a couple of stages of compression,” says Guy Salter, the media specialist aboard the Ericsson 4 yacht. A professional sailor for nearly two decades, he has taken part in the Ocean Race as a competitor but this year made the switch to the media side, simply recording the action without taking part.
“We send the files off using a new global satellite service that is a bit like what roving reporters use,” Salter says. “It works at about 450 Mbps, which is a bit like the old dialup speed, so it’s not as luxurious as what we have on terra firma but is an absolute godsend as far as sending footage off of the boat.”
The on-yacht footage is filmed at 20 Mbps, which is compressed to 4 Mbps. On average, Salter says, sending a four-minute video of the day’s activities takes about 42 minutes. In prior years, those videos took two hours to process, compress, and send.
Because all transmissions on and off the boat must be monitored — to prevent teams’ receiving outside information — the video is sent directly to the Volvo Ocean Race office in the UK. The race office then sends the video to Ericsson, which distributes it via IPTV and mobile channels.
A Fourth Screen
In addition to the three-screen video experience, all content from the Volvo Ocean Race is also available through Google Earth, so racing fans can plot the exact longitude and latitude where the videos, podcasts, and photos were created and pull the content from its exact geographic location.
Saturday’s in-port race in Boston will again provide the three-screen experience, with video broadcast live on the Web and mobile and televised and archived video available after the conclusion of the race. Visit http://www.volvooceanrace.org/multimedia/ to access the content.