TranSPORT: Bandwidth, Tech Advances Link Broadcast Center With Remote-Production Compounds

A major trend at last week’s TranSPORT event in New York City was how maturing file-based workflows enable the linking of a sports network’s broadcast center with the remote-production site at a live event.

More and more frequently, live-sports-content creators are establishing infrastructures that streamline processes that require less production talent and personnel to be on the road.

MLB Network executed a quintessential example of this workflow during its coverage of October’s World Series. The network offered hours of live pre- and post-game content surrounding the games, and all of it was produced, directed, and switched not from Busch Stadium in St. Louis or Fenway Park in Boston but at the MLB Network broadcast center in Secaucus, NJ. The system delivered 10 camera feeds and more than 45 channels of audio to Secaucus over 10 routable paths.

“The double-sided benefit for us is, your production crews are in the control room and the facilities that they know and their editors are with them,” said Brad Cheney, director of engineering, MLB Network. “Everyone is able to collaborate in a much more cohesive fashion. The second side of it is, because all of the editors are there and because all of those feeds are there, they are able to turn shows and other programming around in a much quicker fashion.”

One of the technology leaders in file-based networked infrastructures is EVS, whose XT3 server has taken replay and video archival, storage, and transmission to new heights.

“When you see these evolutions happening between moving things back and forth between these remote-connected venues, there’s different approaches,” said James Stellpflug, VP, sports products, EVS Americas. “There’s the encode and move all of the cameras back because you have a different model that’s switching the entire broadcast from back in the studio. Then there’s the other need, where you’re complementing the production. You have a live event going on, but you need to extract content from that, and you need to get it back to the broadcast center for the editorial layers and building other ancillary shows that may be coming on at halftime or after the game. So, from an EVS standpoint, that’s where we saw the fact that we tend to ingest a high volume of content during these live events and it’s not always practical to move it all back in real time. So we’re trying to put the right tool sets there.”

EVS has worked hand-in-hand with mobile-production provider Game Creek Video in developing these file-based infrastructures for major network partners, including Fox Sports, NESN, and SNY. With the EVS gear, Game Creek provides full-bitrate video to the broadcaster, which encodes it and ships it off via IP.

“As bandwidth has increased and new technology and software have been brought to the table, now we have the broadcast center reaching into the truck and pulling content out, [and] we are pushing content,” said Jason Taubman, VP, design and new technology, Game Creek Video. “Sometimes, what we’re hearing now is, they don’t want the content pushed; they want it to stay right where it’s at, and they’ll get it when they need it. That’s really being enabled by high-bandwidth links to the major venues that we’re at and the lo-res proxy that’s being made available through the XT3s.”

Of course, major sports events carried by the likes of Fox Sports have the financial capabilities to ensure that direct links are available. For  a wide majority of sports events — be they at college campuses or NASCAR tracks — high-quality connectivity is not always available. In those cases, IP has emerged as a valuable, cost-effective option.

“You need a transport that’s not only fast but that’s also reliable,” says Jason Warman, director of sales engineering, Aspera. “In many cases, one of the killer features is, you need it to be resume-able because you do have intermittent connectivity loss and, when you’re sending a 10-gig master file, you don’t want to start over from the beginning if there’s a slight blip on the IP side. So that’s what Aspera is doing: giving those tools that take distance out of the equation so you can have that flexibility to have the best folks working on an event despite where they are.”

As sports become more global, international transmission also brings about unique challenges. The sports network, One World Sports, had such unique challenges in moving content globally for niche sports that it gave birth to a technology vendor of its own, ONE CONNXT.

“Our solutions are tailored to each event,” says Mark Lobwein, head of sales for ONE CONNXT. “[For] a small event, we may just take it straight over IP, cross our fingers, and hope it works, or we may take two or three routes and push it out to a different location.”

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