TranSPORT 2012: Network Execs Discuss Challenges, Solutions for Signal Transmission

More than 130 industry professionals stopped by Times Square’s Hilton DoubleTree Hotel this afternoon for SVG’s annual TranSPORT event. The gathering is highlighted by network engineering executives’ discussing their wishes for the industry going forward, as well as a behind-the-scenes look, provided by Riedel Communications and Origin Digital, at the transmission of one of the year’s most-watched sports events, Felix Baumgartner’s Red Bull Stratos jump.

TranSPORT’s opening panel featured (from left) SNY’s Alex Blanding, CBS’s David Chilson, Fox’s Keith Goldberg, ESPN’s Emory Strilkauskas, and, moderating, SVG’s Ken Kerschbaumer.

In the event’s opening session, attendees received the networks’ perspectives on signal transport. The transmission and delivery side of sports broadcasting is one of the most rapidly evolving parts of the business.

With the industry already aiming itself in the direction of 1080p and Ultra HD, broadcast engineers are tasked with the challenge of transmitting signals using various forms of technology and, at times, varying levels of reliability.

“The key discussion is, how do we get to the point where there’s not a big disparity between the Olympic event and the one-day-set-and-shoot event,” said Emory Strilkauskas, principal engineer, transport technologies and special projects, at ESPN.

As fibered venues become more prevalent across the sports world, there continues to be both an instinctual hesitation to trust the product over satellite uplink and a struggle to balance finances and technological capabilities.

“There’s more fiber now going into more places,” said David Chilson, associate director of broadcast distribution services at CBS Television. “We’re getting more access into venues for broadcasts. It’s encouraging builders to pull fiber into places they never would have before. But we still use satellite trucks everywhere. Even though we have all of this fiber, we still want to have that satellite transmission. We’re still going to bring trucks everywhere.”

The panel acknowledged the financial challenges posed by fibering facilities that may have only one or two national television broadcasts per year: golf courses and NASCAR tracks, for example.

Engineers at regional sports networks regularly deal with a wide array of transmission routes that are needed to broadcast even the season of a single sports team.

Fox Networks Group’s Goldberg (left) discusses the challenges of transmitting on an NFL Sunday while ESPN’s Strilkauskas listens.

“One of the biggest things we face is the capacity between our main venue and the studio operations and then trying to do that same level of production on the road,” said Alex Blanding, VP of engineering at SportsNet New York, which broadcasts more than 150 Mets games each season. “You’re trying to produce that same show on the road, and those tools may not be there, and it’s not possible.”

SNY has a fibered infrastructure in place at Citi Field. However, some stadiums across Major League Baseball do not offer the same transmission capabilities that the network’s home park does.

“You hate to say no to the production team,” said Banding. “But sometimes you just have to say no to certain production elements on the road because they just can’t be done. You would love to be able to do the same level of broadcast whether you’re home or on the road.”

At Fox Networks Group, VP of Broadcast Operations Keith Goldberg already deals with busy broadcast days on NFL Sundays — when as many as seven or eight live events could be going on simultaneously. He is already beginning preparations for one of the globe’s largest events, the World Cup, which Fox will begin broadcasting in 2018.

“We’re dealing with trying to share and leverage content on multiple platforms whether that be other networks and the regional networks, “ said Goldberg. “I think that the world is closing in; it’s becoming smaller. We’re looking towards other owned properties to help leverage the content and the cost so we know we’re getting the most bang for our buck on our big events.”

Thomas Riedel, founder and managing director of Riedel Communications, discussed the technology behind the famous Red Bull Stratos jump.

Goldberg added that proposed 4G local loops are not reliable and he feels they should not be regarded as a possible industry standard going forward.

The panel also offered some solutions to the troubles that ail them: most commonly, the limitations that exist in a battle between technology and budget.

“If the industry could mature to have a GigE service at a monthly rate, that would go a long way to solving this problem,” said Strilkauskas. “Many times, a lot of the things you want to do are cost-prohibitive. The technology is there, we just can’t take advantage of it.”

Later in the afternoon, attendees were treated to a presentation on the transmission of Red Bull Stratos, the widely watched space free fall by daredevil Baumgartner.

Although he was the star of that event, the broadcast was a technological and production triumph. Riedel Communications founder/Managing Director Thomas Riedel offered an inside look at just how the his company teamed with Red Bull Media House and others to produce the one-of-a-kind event.

Origin Digital VP of Global Media Operations John Leland  joined Riedel to break down the streaming and international-distribution network that delivered the jump to millions around the world.

To learn more about this tech marvel, read SVG’s coverage on the production and transmission of Red Bull Stratos.

SVG’s TranSPORT 2012 is the sports industry’s lone event dedicated to the needs of the sports professional whose job duties include transport and distribution of video and audio content via TV, the Internet, and more. Visit throughout this week for even more in-depth coverage of informative sessions from SVG’s TranSPORT 2012.

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