TranSPORT: With a Little Leverage, Venues Can Maximize Connectivity and Transport Efficiency

Connectivity, both within professional venues and between them, has come a long way in the past decade.

“As you look at venues, stadiums, and arenas around, say, the turn of the century, [the requirement] for connectivity was nothing,” said Peter Brickman, principal consultant, IGS, speaking at SVG’s TranSPORT event in New York City this week. “There was no requirement to get any connectivity either for in-venue needs or league needs; it was very basic: maybe a couple video lines.”

MLB’s Brad Cheney speaks as MultiDyne’s Frank Jachetta looks on.

Fast forward to 2012, and not only are the teams, venues, leagues, and broadcasters demanding connectivity for their own uses, but fans attending sports events have connectivity requirements as well. At TranSPORT, Brickman moderated a panel on the connected venue, which delved into the growing importance of fiber transport between venues and WiFi networks within them.

Speaking from the league point of view, MLB Network Director of Engineering Brad Cheney stressed the need for flexibility when connecting venues.

“When we entered the space in early 2009, there wasn’t a whole lot of flexibility in-venue, and now you see [such companies as] HTN and Level 3 provide more connectivity in a broader fashion,” he said. “It’s not just the video line out of the building anymore; it’s a video line that becomes an IP circuit that becomes a video line again, depending upon the projected needs of production and how they’re going to handle it and use it.”

IP pipes originally intended for FTP transfers of high-resolution video have been expanded to accommodate file transfer between the venue and the truck, which allows those in the field to edit remotely and transport video back to MLB Network headquarters in Secaucus, NJ.

“Not only are we using HTN,” continued Cheney, “but we’re also using Level 3 at the same time to … make that a seamless interaction between the network and the site, along with still providing all the resources we need to provide for MLB International, MLB Productions, and all of our other league partners to make sure they’re getting the highest-quality content.”

In addition to MLB Network’s needs, HTN must provide the same flexibility for national and regional broadcasters, as well as isolated venues that do not have the benefit of venue-to-venue fiber networks.

“It’s a matter of how we can roll [out] that sort of platform, that technology to other locations,” said Christian Kneuer, senior director, operations and client relations, HTN Communications. “A challenge that we are undertaking now is the colleges. It’s not going to be the same type of infrastructure, but how do we get some sort of fiber connectivity out to the colleges and be able to provide the same sort of services?”

From left to right: HTN’s Christian Kneuer, Cheney, Jachetta, and IGS’ Peter Brickman, who moderated the panel.

Having a league presence certainly helps, commented Cheney, noting venues that are isolated from venue-to-venue networks, such as colleges, or may have only one or two events per year, such as NASCAR tracks.

“The more events that we can give [to the venue], the more bandwidth we use, the more things that we need: hopefully, they’re putting in the infrastructure that allows it just to be turned on and not to be added on a monthly basis, a two-monthly basis, or a yearly basis,” he continued.  “[Otherwise,] you have to say, I just want a 45-Mb Internet line today, and, hopefully, that bandwidth’s there.”

Approaching the discussion from a hardware point of view, MultiDyne President Frank Jachetta suggested the answer to file-transport challenges might lay in the encoding.

“We do have an eye on encoding closer to the point of acquisition,” he said, “and I think the higher resolutions will probably impede that progress a little bit, but I think, eventually, there might be IP encoding very close to the acquisition point, if not right on the camera. … I wonder, will our section always remain just handing off to [the broadcasters], or would an integration lend to that? I would suspect that, not being an expert in [the broadcast] world, if we did some of the encoding prior, it might lend to productivity.”

Essentially, the panelists agreed, it comes down to leverage. Encoding at the point of acquisition would not only make broadcasters’ lives easier but also would allow productions, for example, to leverage transmission paths and use the same cameras across multiple hours of programming and multiple platforms.

Leverage is also key within the venues themselves. A decade ago, seemingly every professional venue sported a one-size-fits-all video board populated by generic content.

“Those shows have now become very complex. They operate out of video-replay rooms that equate to many of the production trucks,” said Brickman. “Now, as we get towards WiFi distribution of content in-venue, there’s going to be a need for a smaller type of distribution and creating some sort of production entity to deliver various formats [that may be] redistributed to other venues.”

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