Harris, Isilon Technologies Allow Canadian Consortium to Keep Host Country Fans Happy

Canadian sports fans have come together in Vancouver to root on their nation’s athletes and so too have Canadian broadcasters via Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium. The Consortium, the official Canadian broadcaster of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (and also the London 2012 Games) is the result of a $153 million bid for the 2010 and 2012 games by CTV and Rogers and will result in more than 4,800 hours of coverage being delivered in 22 languages across Canada. “We’re pushing the envelope [technically] in a lot of things and we have the best team around,” says Allan Morris, CTV senior vice president, Operations and IT of the efforts. “The devotion and number of hours they’ve been working is insane but it’s a great group.”

This week the months of preparation paid off with the most robust media commitment ever by an Olympic rights-holder in Canada. Twelve Canadian TV networks and 19 radio stations (plus the newspaper The Globe and Mail), are working together in 40,000 sq. ft. facility within the International Broadcast Center. English-language networks include CTV, Rogers Sportsnet, TSN, OLN, MuchMusic; French-language networks are V, RDS, RIS Info Sports; and multilingual networks include OMNI.1, OMNI.2, APTN, and ATN.

“We have five control rooms [in the IBC] going full tilt all the time,” says Morris. Those control rooms bring put together a combination of live feeds and edited highlight packages and profiles that are then delivered to Toronto where they are either passed on to viewers through CTV stations or passed to the other networks that, in turn, deliver the content to viewers.

At the core of the 40,000 sq. ft. facility in Vancouver are Harris Nexio servers that ingest all incoming feeds from the venues and related events (as well as field material shot on Sony XDCAM) so that Consortium personnel can build sub clips for use on highlights and profiles. “The Nexio system does not touch the video essence of the clip,” says Albert Faust, CTV, senior director of Media Technologies Systems. “The Nexio Ingest Application is used to log the clip and then the assignment desk attaches a slug to the clip.”

Once the content is on the Nexio server a sub clip is created and stored on an Isilon near-line server system that can hold 7,000 hours of content. Staffers at each network can then build highlights clips and packages using Avid and Harris Velocity editing systems.

“We had to use Isilon because we have 32 ingest and 20 play out channels,” says Faust. “The transition to HD stressed our Fibre Channel-based SANs so 10 Gbps capabilities became attractive. We’ve been playing with Isilon for four years and once they had that 10 Gbps capability we began to look at them seriously.”

The Isilon servers are the main communications point for the five broadcasters, as the Avid and Harris editing systems (and an Avid ISIS storage system) push and pull content between each other.

The biggest challenge has been making sure the system can meet the server and bandwidth needs of staffers who are pushing the system to its limits. In five days more than 5,000 clips have been published, 16,000 have been logged., and 7,300 have been transferred from the Harris Nexio server to the Avid ISIS.

“We’re trying to catch up to what the editors want to do,” says Faust. “We’re really stretching the Harris Nexio system’s capabilities beyond anything it has done before.”

The Consortium’s set up is about more than just massive servers. There are 38,000 IP network ports in use by a very large RTS intercom system and an Evertz video router and an audio router that has more than 6,000 x 6,000 inputs and outputs. “We were having some issues with switching of the audio and tally because of the complex mapping with both French and English-language commentary coming into the system,” says Morris.

All the content is delivered from Vancouver to Toronto via two OC48 circuits and a C-band satellite signal for backup. In Toronto commercials and interstitials are inserted before delivery out to viewers.

“We actually had to use the C-band satellite path the other day as we had a problem with a Bell circuit from Toronto to Montreal,” says Morris.

As usual, the greatest plans often have to be adjusted. Much Music, for example, which was originally planning on broadcasting in SD from Whistler, decided just days before the beginning of the games to go HD for the two control room/three studio set up. “We made some phone calls and got a flypack from Dome, three Sony XDCAM cameras, and went HD,” says Morris.

And then there was the opening ceremony that required a nine-camera shoot to follow Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky through the streets of Vancouver as he lit the Olympic flame. Three microwave trucks, two satellite trucks, and even another network’s microwave frequencies were required to deliver coverage to viewers. “And it lasted all of seven minutes,” says Morris.

The ripples, however, are part of the fun of the project, giving the Consortium staff their own Olympian task to overcome. “If we had subcontracted this out there is no way this could have been done because everyone involved lives in the environment and knows the needs,” says Morris.

And through day six of the Winter Games the results have been nothing short of podium worthy.

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