MLB Spring Training: AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh Taps D2 Journey for Pirates REMI Productions
The efficient at-home workflow uses public internet for transmission
As sports broadcasters have grown more comfortable with the at-home/REMI production model in recent years, mid- and lower-level events, such as MLB Spring Training, have become prime targets for this burgeoning workflow. To produce Pirates Spring Training games more efficiently, AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh has taken the REMI model a step further, teaming with D2 Journey on several REMI productions that use the open internet rather than a dedicated transmission path.
“We’ve always been able to do our spring [productions] for a pretty reasonable price,” says Bob Matter, chief engineer, AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh, “but we were still looking for a way to [be more efficient]. So we started looking at using the open internet, which was [a fraction of the cost of fiber] for a 500-Mbps pipe. And that’s when D2 Journey started to surface, because they have the ability to monitor your path and get you the most efficient path possible.”
The RSN provided production facilities in Pittsburgh and enlisted a Rush Media production van at the Pirates’ Spring Training venue, LECOM Park, in Bradenton, FL. Journey provided its REMI technology to connect those locations: multichannel synchronized video transmission, comms, tally, and serial (scoreboard) data transmission — all over the public internet.
The Search for a Cost-Effective Spring Training Solution
AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh had previously experimented with at-home production for a pair of high school football games. The REMI options it explored for Pirates Spring-Training featured a lower-cost alternative to traditional fiber- and satellite-based transmission.
“We were looking at transmission costs for an ASI stream for just a handful of openings, and it was very costly,” says Matter. “We were also looking at getting an Ethernet private line, but that was also [very expensive]. So, from an economic standpoint, we decided to experiment with REMI and the open internet. We wanted to look to the future, and we think this is where things are going. So we started testing some things out.”
In February, sibling AT&T Sportsnet Rocky Mountain enlisted Journey to produce a Colorado State–Wyoming basketball game in Laramie, WY, out of the RSN’s Denver broadcast facility. Despite being a single-day set/shoot/strike show, the REMI production — which featured eight camera paths into Denver and two video-return paths to Laramie, where announcers were located onsite — was a success. AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh quickly became interested in the Journey offering and began testing it during the opening week of Pirates Spring Training last month.
“We discovered that it’s a very cost-effective and very easy system to use,” says Matter. “You can throw down the flypack, and people who have never seen the system can get to work right away. We were also really impressed that it was a managed service. Typically, if you’re just a business-class service and you’re out over open internet, you really don’t know what you’re getting. What D2 Journey was offering really popped our ears up, and that’s where it started.”
From Bradenton to Pittsburgh and Back: Inside the Workflow
Journey is managing the public-internet transmission for all of the RSN’s REMI Pirates productions, with 10 camera feeds (five truck cameras, two robos, two POVs, and the scoreboard feed) to Pittsburgh and two return feeds to Bradenton. Announcers are located onsite and commentary/natural-sound are submixed onsite; the final audio mix is done in Pittsburgh. Journey has provided four discrete channels of comms (integrated into existing 4-wire comms equipment at both ends), as well as tally-signal transport and serial data transport (scoreboard data).
“The best thing is having somebody who is actually monitoring [the connectivity] and telling you everything you need to know about what’s taking place with the physical transmission path,” says Matter. “The available bandwidth, packet loss, error correction: everything is being monitored.”
D2 Journey provides a dedicated engineer for all its productions to ensure that connectivity is closely monitored on a show-by-show basis.
“I think Journey’s key differentiator is that we’re a managed service,” says D2 Journey President/CEO Dave Walzer. “That goes not only for basic single-path transmissions and backhauls but also for our REMI product. We provide a level of active management in the middle, and we are actively involved on every single show, which I think has proved extremely valuable to AT&T as it does to all of our clients.”
As a backup, the Rush Media truck onsite is equipped with a NewTek TriCaster and bonded-cellular transmission system just in case the transmission line goes down.
“If worse comes to worst and we lose our transmission and communication, we can at least cut a show locally,” Matter explains, “but we’re pretty confident in [the system]. This is not just a residential broadband service; it’s a 500-Mbps business class. It’s not the same as just going over the open internet. It’s a secure line of internet for the first mile out, so we’re not worried about someone down the block eating up all our [bandwidth]. As long as we have that guarantee for the first mile, we figure we are in pretty good shape.”
In the Future: More REMI-Over-Public-Internet Shows Are on the Way
Matter says that the at-home workflow has been a resounding success thus far and that AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh will continue to explore opportunities to deploy the model.
“I really love the D2 Journey system,” says Matter. “It’s a buttoned-up operation as far as the delivery of equipment, ease of setup, and customer service. As far as the business model, I look at it from this perspective: we have [bonded-cellular] and [low-latency encoders] that we can use for REMI, but you’re going to spend a lot of money to put that system together, and who knows if it’s going to be obsolete a year or two from now with technology evolving so quickly.
“But,” he continues, “with D2 Journey, it’s almost like the [production-]truck business, where you have somebody else keeping up with the firmware and the technology, so you can stay ahead of the technology curve and stay focused on the [production] itself.”