CrossFit Games Get Tech Lift via Adobe, Zixi, NewTek
There was a time when the phrase “spanning the globe” meant an afternoon tuned in to ABC Sports for an eclectic mix of sports-related programming. Beginning yesterday, however, the production team behind the CrossFit Games is redefining the phrase as it produces and delivers live streams competitions from Australia, Copenhagen, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Seattle that, given the time zone differences, will keep them in operation 24/7 until 6 p.m. PST on Sunday.
The CrossFit Games are a multi-discipline event designed to find the fittest man and woman on the planet. This weekend it will be offering live continuous content at http://games.crossfit.com/.
“Its not a traditional stick-and-ball sport so it can be difficult to wrap ones head around it but the CrossFit Media Department began with a guy with a handycam in 2005 and there has been a rapid evolution as we roll out a whole new set of ambitions every year,” says Joe Novello, CrossFit Games, coordinating producer.
This year’s ambitions include improving the quality of the video and audio signals that are delivered back to CrossFit headquarters in Santa Cruz over the open Internet, a move to Adobe Premier editing systems, and more.
The CrossFit Games have three phases of competition beginning with more than 210,000 participants taking part in competitions in gyms around the globe. The top 48 men and women and 30 teams then qualify for one of 17 regional events that began on May 9. Fourteen of those regional competitions, which include 12 athletes at any one time doing the same discipline, are currently being streamed live, including two in Canada, Australia, and Europe as well as 11 competitions in the U.S.
With respect to the production breakdown, the average crew includes five production personnel and 10 technical personnel. The basic kit includes two hard-wired cameras and two wireless cameras coupled with Teradek Bolt Pro transmitters. Also on hand are NewTek Tricasters and 3Play Replay Systems as well as Chyron graphics.
“All production units output program via HDSDI at 1080i/59.94 (1080i/50 EU/AUS) to a package built and run by the CrossFit IT team,” says Novello. “It consists of a Teradek Cube encoder that sends an MPEG transport stream and is connected to a Zixi ‘box’ that re-wraps and sends the content [to CrossFit headquarters] via a local network and the public Internet. We have to do that because we can’t afford to have private line charges for 27 days.”
The Canadian partners include Doubleblack Diamond Productions in Toronto (Dome Productions is providing the production unit while Wireless camera systems are provided by Boxx Meridian). In Australia Soutar Video Productions located in the Gold Coast region and headed up by Wayne Souter, is working with a flypack that makes use of Sony XDCAM cameras.
Here in the U.S. key partners include Red Had Productions, Ghosthand Productions, K2 Creative Productions, Highend TV (supplying the Concerto truck with a Panasonic camera system), Screenworks (providing a flight pack with Sony HDC900 cameras), and, for the finals in July, NEP Broadcasting.
The content is delivered back to the headquarters via the open Internet and then used to create highlights and also offer a delayed broadcast via the CrossFit Games Web site. New this year is that YouTube in on board for live streaming.
“The one thing about using the public Internet is there can be a lot of packet loss and quality drop outs and it was acceptable last year but we didn’t want that to continue,” adds Novello. “So we’re using Zixi because the proprietary format reduces a great deal of the packet loss and improves the quality of the stream that is sent to YouTube and our headquarters.”
The CrossFit headquarters also has a studio operation that allows for talent to add analysis and to also preview upcoming competitions. The NewTek 3Play system is especially helpful for those internal needs.
“We also have a pretty robust editing setup as a lot of that keeps the appetite up for the games and also provides a lot of non-games related material,” adds Novello. “This year we moved to Adobe Premier for the 10-12 seat SAN and also have a Facilis storage system with 96 TB which is never enough. We also put a SAM into place that uses LTO robotic drives so we can offload massive amounts of video.”
And in a little more than two months the competition moves from the Internet to cable TV as ESPN is on hand to create half-hour shows covering the finals that begin on July 21 in Los Angeles. That production requires an NEP Broadcasting truck as well as shots from a chopper and wireless camera support from Aerial Video Systems (AVS).
“It’s not quite an X Games but it is similar to a Dew Tour event but spread out a little further,” adds Novello. “We create a live stream for the Web, an international feed, and then record and archive for post production. The infrastructure behind it is quite big.”