ESPN Produces Euro 2012 Largely From Home
ESPN’s Euro 2012 effort raises the concept of “at home” to a new level, taking advantage of large fiber pipes and file-transport technologies to allow a large percentage of operations — including studio, master control room, and editing — to be done from the ESPN Digital Center in Bristol, CT.
“This is the first real test of how to make the Digital Center act like a remote, and we have to think differently,” says ESPN Senior Production Specialist Geoff Mason, who is on-site for the UEFA tournament at the IBC in Warsaw with a small technical and production team. “We are a hub for getting feeds from UEFA and other broadcasters, like a live camera shot from ARD at a fan zone in Berlin.”
The move is the result of months of planning by the production and technical team under the leadership of SVP of Operations Jodi Markley, SVP of Production/Executive Producer Jed Drake, Mason, and others
A key enabler was a recent technical breakthrough led by Emory Strilkauskas, principal engineer, Transport Technologies and Special Projects, whereby a powerful rack-based system with Ericsson encoders and decoders, Snell conversion gear, and more can easily be transported, set up, and tied into ESPN’s global fiber network.
“We’ve been making investments and improving things to the point where we can set up our own transport and monitoring, and get it tuned up, in six hours,” says Strilkauskas. The transmission flypack got its first real-world test during the NFL Draft in New York City in May.
The core of ESPN’s coverage is, of course, the matches. ESPN is transporting eight signals from each match back to Bristol via fiber: the live stadium feed at the core of the broadcast; a clips channel offering different replays; a fan/reaction channel; two team feeds, which focus on the benches of each team; a tactical feed from the behind-goal high camera angle; and an uninterrupted feed from the main match camera, camera 1. Those feeds are transported at 40 Mbps using MPEG-4 (total capacity of each of two pipes exceeds 1.6 Gbps).
“All those feeds are sent back, and then other feeds, like a camera feed from Castle Square [in Warsaw] are put onto a router and available to be selected from Bristol,” says Director of Special Projects Claude Phipps. “We have commentators here in Poland and Ukraine for selected matches, and then others are calling matches in Bristol VO booths.”
With the help of Signiant, ESPN in Bristol is also able to access the Euro 2012 IBC LIVEX server, which stores hundreds of hours of related material, such as press conferences and scenics.
“They can browse clips and deposit them into the servers in Bristol, with some of the content going into the Quantel system and other directly to Avid editing systems,” says Phipps. “And there is a new software-based standards conversion system that converts the files in real time as a file, so there is no need to go to baseband for transcoding.”
Mason says that day one may have been the best first day for a large-event broadcast that he has been involved with, a result of solid preproduction planning and rehearsals.
“I’ve never seen so much planning and forethought go into one project,” he says. “But, coming off of the World Cup in South Africa and Germany, we were on a roll and don’t want to fall on our face because we were integrating with the Digital Center as opposed to having everything on the road.”