FutureSPORT: How IP Workflows Will Drive the Future of Remote Sports Production

Over the past half decade, increased use of file-based workflows and “at-home production” has begun to change the way remote productions deliver live sports to viewers. From high-profile events like the Olympics, World Cup, and Formula 1 racing to less prominent properties like the X Games and Pac-12 college athletics, sports-content producers use IP signal transport and cloud-based services to leave more and more of their production infrastructure and staff at home.

At SVG’s FutureSPORT event on Wednesday, leaders from several companies deploying these workflows took the stage to discuss how at-home productions create new collaborative possibilities and revenue sources while saving a few bucks that can be used elsewhere in the production.

Besides noting advantages of building an IP infrastructure, NEP CTO George Hoover said end users and suppliers need to communicate better in developing IP-based technology for live production.

Besides noting advantages of building an IP infrastructure, NEP CTO George Hoover said end users and suppliers need to communicate better in developing IP-based technology for live production.

“It’s never cheaper to deploy IP [infrastructure] no matter what you think; you will just spend money somewhere else,” NEP CTO George Hoover pointed out. “If you are investing in IP infrastructure to save money, that is the wrong approach. You are investing in IP infrastructure to increase revenue. You can create more content and more program streams and deliver it to more viewers.”

Formula 1 Takes the Lead
Few, if any, sports organizations log the travel miles that can match Formula 1 racing teams. However, thanks to globe-spanning production workflow that ties back to F1’s technical headquarters in the UK via Tata Communications-provided fiber connectivity, much of the live production is conducted at home rather than onsite.

F1 delivers two multiview video feeds to the remote-ops center, allowing operators to view source video material and program outputs from the circuit. In addition, F1 uses a reverse data path to control a trackside robotic camera, and the technical headquarters delivers digital stills, video edits, and data processing in real time for the F1 Website.

From left: Tata Communications’ David Moore, NEP's George Hoover, Quantum’s Jeff Lowe, Bexel ESS’s Scott Nardelli, and Pac-12 Networks’ Leon Schweir

From left: Tata Communications’ David Moore, NEP’s George Hoover, Quantum’s Jeff Lowe, Bexel ESS’s Scott Nardelli, and Pac-12 Networks’ Leon Schweir

This year, F1 intends to migrate the team-radio ops, daily news edits, and remote-producer position into the center and will establish a return video path providing a live view of the remote-ops center for the circuit.

Now in its third year working with F1, Tata Communications will have provided the connectivity for this at-home production workflow at nearly 60 Grand Prix events by the end of the 2014 season. Although the existing workflow is already quite robust, Tata and F1 see a multitude of new possibilities to come.

“The trend is in the direction of, reduce the cost of remote operation [and] increase the flexibility and features [available] so everyone gets a better user experience out of it,” said David Moore, head of sales, Americas, media and entertainment services, Tata Communications. “Case in point, we are working with a German auto manufacturer to provide data from the over 100 sensors in the car in real time. They are taking that data and redesigning parts to fly to the next race. … That is something that I think we will see evolve through remote production.”

Pac-12 Networks Keep Productions at Home, Costs Down
While the F1 treks across the globe from circuit to circuit, Pac-12 Networks (comprising six regionals and a national network) faces a similar challenge — albeit on a smaller scale — in producing lower-tier athletic events from campuses across the western U.S.

Though using traditional mobile units to produce marquee events like football and basketball, for the bulk of Olympic-sports telecasts and live streams, Pac-12 Networks deploys a multicam flypack at each campus, delivering up to six camera feeds with embedded audio (using JPEG 2000) to a control room at its San Francisco headquarters. There, a producer, director, and full production team cut the show, insert graphics, and deliver it out for distribution.

“The way we have it set up, we have about 40 teams of producer-directors come into San Francisco for their specialized sports,” said Leon Schweir, SVP, production and operations, Pac-12 Networks. “They have the best [technical director], A1s, graphics, replay — far better than they would ever get in the field. So I get to assess how well they play with the house band. We call our team the Roots [after The Tonight Show house band], and, if you can’t play with the Roots, you’re probably not a very good producer or director.”

In its first year, Pac-12 Networks produced about 40 events over its dedicated Internet2 IP network, and 20 of those were produced entirely out of San Francisco. This year, 95% of Pac-12 Network’s 750 total events were transmitted via its Internet2 network, 200 produced from San Francisco. In addition, these workflows have even made their way onto the high-profile football and basketball productions.

“Something that started as a means of efficiency and cost control ended up being an enhancement for our biggest events,” said Schweir. “Having those multiple paths between the studio and site to carry all the content back and forth in real time has been great.”

Spurring Convergence of Broadcast and IT
As file-based workflows and at-home production continue to proliferate, the worlds of broadcast and IT have never been more entwined. Once wanting nothing to do with one another, broadcast and IT professionals now find themselves working together and, ideally, learning from each other on a daily basis. 

“The collision of the broadcast and IT departments is happening, slowly but surely,” said Scott Nardelli, VP/GM, Bexel ESS. “The uniqueness of the broadcast industry is the immediacy and live aspect. In the IT industry, when you hook up equipment, you hook it up once, and it stays in that slot in your patch panel until you upgrade or move out of the building. In our world, you plug it in every day and then replug it back in somewhere else a week later. It’s a constant regeneration of a system.”

The key, the panel agreed, is finding ways for broadcast and IT to find common ground and to discover the next generation of hybrid IT-broadcast engineers.

“There is definitely a convergence of technologies, but, when we try to find video talent, we are not asking them if they are CNA [Certified Network Associate]-certified,” said Jeff Lowe, director of business development, media and entertainment, Quantum. There is still a pretty big disconnect between how the two worlds operate, and the technology schools are not really teaching people how to provision for video. As these worlds come together, we are going to have to all speak the same language.”

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