Volvo Ocean Race Poses Global Challenge for Timeline TV

Six yachts, nine months, 10 cities, more than 39,00 nautical miles, a television audience of more than 2 billion people — and one broadcast-production company.

The Volvo Ocean Race began in Spain in October and will end in Ireland in July.

The Volvo Ocean Race is, arguably, the greatest test of sailing skill — not to mention human determination — on the planet. The yacht race (previously known as the Whitbread Round the World Race) is held every three years. The current edition began in Alicante, Spain, in October and will conclude in Galway, Ireland, in early July, following stops in Cape Town, South Africa; Abu Dhabi, UAE; Sanya, China; Auckland, New Zealand; Itajaí, Brazil; Miami; Lisbon; and Lorient, France.

It’s a nearly yearlong global undertaking, and, when host broadcaster IMG looked for help, it turned to London-based Timeline TV to provide all the broadcast and technical facilities behind the scenes.

“It’s an incredibly challenging event,” says Dan McDonnell, managing director at Timeline TV. “We only get two days at each site to essentially build an entire OB with cameras, mixers, RF cameras, talkback, everything.”

At the race sites, Timeline transmits live RF camera signals from two chase boats. The cameras can be controlled by an engineer inside a control room even though the boats, at times, venture as far as 9 miles off shore. Audio embedding is crucial because Timeline wants not only natural sound from the decks of the boats but also the ability to add announcer commentary, effects, and full-duplex talkback with each boat.

To meet those needs, Timeline picked Riedel MediorNet, a comprehensive fiber-optic signal-transport device.

It has proved a lifesaver for Timeline, according to McDonnell, who worked at the BBC for 17 years prior to forming Timeline TV in 2006. “We were going to have a whole bank of external embedders. But, using the Mediornet, we were able to put in a node in the sound-control room and connect that by MADI to the sound desk, and, within the Mediornet, we could embed any audio we wanted remotely onto the cameras.”

On the shore, the host port provides a 42-meter hoist that contains eight receive antennas and multiple talkback aerials. The RF cabin is typically located up to a mile away from the main production center, which presents the challenge of getting multiple bidirectional video, audio, control, and comms signals over this distance.

“The Mediornet allows us to connect the remote location to all of the boats on various talkback circuits,” says McDonnell. “We also have to find a way of providing Q-lights over that fiber, so the Mediornet allows us to do that, which makes us able to send data to control the cameras. So using the Mediornet, we are able to send all of these different signals over a single fiber — and a redundant set of fibers in case there’s a problem.”

Perhaps the toughest task of the entire process is simply getting from site to site quickly and efficiently. Timeline’s contract with IMG is to provide a fully featured HD production-and-edit flyaway kit that would pack into four jumbo-jet container pods.

“The pods are transported by DHL across the world so we had to make everything as small and compact as possible,” says McDonnell. “The Mediornet saved us a lot of real estate. One box essentially does the job of three pieces of equipment for us.”

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