Sports Venue Technology Summit: IP-Based Tools, Hybrid Infrastructures Let Creatives Shine

The IP-based tools and workflows that connect venues and broadcast centers across large distances to make global events like the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup a reality are making a difference within those venues as well. At last week’s Sports Venue Technology Summit in Seattle, technology execs discussed how IP is changing the way in-venue content is created and distributed.

For Lawo, the transition to IP-based networks in sports broadcasting began eight to 10 years ago, as IP infrastructures replaced copper wiring and allowed a single broadcast center to feed audio, video, and data via fiber to multiple venues during large-scale sports events.

From left: Imagine Communications’ Michael Arthur, Lawo’s Don Bird, and Clear-Com’s Vinnie Macri

From left: Imagine Communications’ Michael Arthur, Lawo’s Don Bird, and Clear-Com’s Vinnie Macri

“It’s an exciting transition. I think the sports industry is a content creator’s milieu, and we’re seeing that content really is driving these transitions, not the technology,” said Don Bird, VP, business development and marketing, Lawo North America. “In most cases, the technology [is] racing to catch up, to keep up with all of the content that’s now being created and delivered to multiple different platforms, so it’s a big challenge. IP is certainly a way to get there and meet that challenge.”

The University of Washington boasts the largest IPTV deployment in collegiate athletics. Though just one part of the IP conversation, IPTV systems facilitate in-venue content creation and distribution by enabling operators to create and push content to any number of zones or screens. Despite the name, they do not require installation of an IP-based infrastructure, making them one of the more easily deployed IP-based tools.

“It’s not necessary to have fiber to make this stuff work,” noted Michael Arthur, GM, sports and entertainment, Imagine Communications, which was responsible for the UW IPTV installation. “That’s important as you look at this transition in general, because there’s obviously a lot of infrastructure cost that goes into the building blocks, so the ability to phase [IP] in is quite beneficial.”

Throughout the Seattle area and beyond, venues tend to rely on a hybrid infrastructure comprising fiber, RF, baseband, copper, and more. As with the transition to high-resolution video, the timeline for transition to IP-based networks varies from venue to venue.

“The challenge is striking that balance between migrating everybody in that direction at the same time that you’ve got to service the folks that are in the baseband world,” Arthur explained. “It literally depends on budget and what you are trying to accomplish.”

Before venues — and even broadcasters — began the transition to IP, intercoms had already adopted the technology for various business enterprises. Today, the uses for IP-based intercoms range from connecting MLB umpires with the league’s Replay Operations Center in New York City to connecting a central control room to various athletic venues on a college campus.

“On the college level, we see more IP interconnectivity for communications between venues,” said Vinnie Macri, product marketing manager, Clear-Com. “While we do see some networking going on, it’s mostly fiber; it’s mostly discrete so you have comms on fiber, video on fiber; and it’s pretty much not multiplexed. But it’s certainly on the rise for sure, intercom on an IP network.”

Whether pushing video and audio from a control room to a videoboard or from one venue to another, IP-based tools and workflows are on the rise. Although venues won’t be deploying entirely IP-based infrastructures anytime soon, the technology should continue to be installed as part of hybrid infrastructures. For the panelists, it’s about making sure venue operators can create and deliver their content.

“You want to be able to facilitate the creatives telling the story in unique and different ways, but you can’t underestimate the amount of effort involved in making that happen,” said Bird. “When you’ve got tight deadlines and very limited budgets, it’s all the more reason why you need to make sure that there’s complete engagement between the vendors, the system integrators, the operators, and the venue owners from the get-go.”

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