Strategic TV Strays a Long Way from Home for UFC’s Abu Dhabi Event
Strategic Television is a trusted vet when it comes to MMA events, having managed the transmission side of every single Ultimate Fighting Championship event since UFC 72 in June of 2007. However, the decision to hold UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates provided an entirely different challenge for Strategic.
“For an MMA event, this was definitely the first of its kind for us,” says project manager David Gallardo. “We’ve done MMA events out of Europe quite often, but never as far as Abu Dhabi. The services we provide for the UFC are fairly consistent regardless of where we transmit from, but Abu Dhabi is obviously a lot more challenging being that it is so far away.”
The UFC’s first visit to the Middle East on April 10 was also the first to be held outdoors in an open- air arena. The Concert Arena (at the Ferrari World theme park) was erected as a temporary venue for the event and was torn down the following week.
Strategic was enlisted to transmit the action from this makeshift facility to more than 100 countries spanning four continents. In all, Strategic provided an SD feed to Asia, an SD feed to Europe, an HD feed to South America, and four feeds to North America – two HD paths (one C-band and one Ku-band) and two SD (one C-band and one Ku-band).
“Abu Dhabi was extremely challenging considering the fact that we needed to provide HD transmission to the licensees in North and South American,” says Gallardo. “It’s quite challenging to acquire international satellite capacity with enough bandwidth to transmit an HD signal. In order to accommodate them, we ended up using a DVBS-28PSK modulation scheme, which allows us to only have to secure 18 MHz of bandwidth on international satellites, instead of the 36 MHz [usually used for U.S.-based UFC events].”
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Strategic set up three main HD paths out of Abu Dhabi. Each was then redistributed to the appropriate regions and licensees and was down-converted to SD when necessary.
Since one of the HD distribution paths out of Abu Dhabi was going to a Pacific rim satellite and one was going to the Europe satellite, it allowed the licensees in the Pac Rim and Europe to either take the HD feed that we were providing for North America or take the SD service on the same satellites that they would normally receive the event on,” says Gallardo. “They normally wouldn’t have the option [of HD and SD].”
As for the U.S. distribution, Strategic set up a turnaround facility in Atlanta for domestic conversion, re-encoding, and encryption. A PSSI engineer and Strategic Television coordinator were on hand to check in with all the necessary downlink sites and make sure everything went smoothly. Strategic also provided an hour-long testing period between Abu Dhabi and Atlanta before the UFC event began to verify the transmission quality.
“It was a very large and coordinated effort that required engineers and staff to be in two different locations – on site in Abu Dhabi and also at the turnaround facility in Atlanta,” adds Gallardo.
Rather than bringing in satellite uplink trucks from partner company PSSI Global Services as it would for a U.S. event, Strategic used local providers to transmit the Abu Dhabi event.
“A big issue in Abu Dhabi was the fact that there aren’t a lot of uplink satellite trucks there, so we had to use a three fly away units,” says Gallardo. “It was a little different for us not being able to handle all of the encoding and encryption from a centralized transmission area but we were still able to monitor everything – the inbound signal coming to us from production and also the satellite return coming back from the uplinks so if there were any sort of errors, we could easily see what the issue was.”
Gallardo’s primary goal for the Abu Dhabi event was to minimize the number of satellite hops as much as possible to avoid high latency and reduce the potential points of failure.
“Our ideal setup for an international show like this is to reach the U.S. [teleport used for North and South America distribution] with one satellite hop; otherwise we try to use a single satellite hop to an international teleport and fiber the rest of the way,” says Gallardo. “[For the U.S.], we then re-encode and encrypt for the North American pay-per-view licensees. We just want to avoid any potential issues while preserving the best possible quality.”