ARD and ZDF devise common production concept for Sochi

After their final rehearsal on February 5, German broadcasters ARD and ZDF are ready and poised for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, writes Birgit Heidsiek. The two public TV stations are going to share a common technical infrastructure in order to save costs. Effiency was a key issue when the technical teams in charge of Jörg Teufel (ARD) and Gunnar Darge (ZDF) prepared the planning for the production and transmission technique.

Over a course of two years the concept how to cover the competitions in Sochi in a perfect way was figured out in small working groups at both broadcasters. Cost effeciency was a major concern because the competition sites at the winter Olympics in Sochi are spread in a similar way as in Turin and Vancouver. After the London 2012 Olympic Games, ARD and ZDF were looking for structural changes to bring down the production costs of this major event. For the broadcasting of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games the leading broadcaster BR wanted to set up a headend in Freimann where the complete news production from Sochi takes place in the HD-capable studio. With a triple media concept the public German broadcasters orientate themselves towards NBC that already came up with a similar production concept at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The Bavarian broadcaster considered a remote production and examined the applications of other broadvasters worldwide by inviting them to report about their experiences. “We came to the conclusion that the remote production doesn‘t make financially any sense in our case,” says Jörg Teufel. It would have meant to acquire a complete different techniqe to which the team is not used. Therefore it was not an option to test a new technology during the Olympics because it might not run smoothly. “We do remote production in Sochi only,” says Teufel. “This way we gain experience on a smaller smale.”

For the first time, ARD and ZDF share a studio that will even have the same setting. The only possible distinction between the broadcasters will be the light concept. For the first time, the studiio will be equiped completely with LED. The German studio for the Olympics is a 10m x 10m glass cube that offers a spectacular view.

During the Olympics both broadcasters are going to produce more than 240 hours of programme so that each partner contributes 120 hours in eight days. ARD and ZDF are going to use the world image signal which is provided by the host broadcaster OBS (Olympic Broadcast Services), which has 450 cameras in Sochi in order to produce 1,600 hours of live programme in 1080i. The German broadcasters are getting from OBS 22 feeds as HD SDI signals which they can receive in the IBC (International Broadcast Center) as well as in the MBC (Mountain Broadcast Center), the second technical center which is located near the downhill events in the mountains.

Biathlon coverage

For the biathlon an outside broadcast vehicle operated by the Bavarian broadcaster will be used, while the SWR provides an OB vehicle at the ski jump and the ZDF a vehicle for the alpine disciplines.

The BR outside broadcast vehicle is equipped with Sony HDC-1400R cameras and covers this competition site with four additional cameras directly in the sports site, as well as with two cameras in the presenter position.

The SWR also works with Sony system cameras. Two cameras will be stationed at the ski jump, next in the presenter position and in the mixed zone. With two other, adaptably-used cameras the team is represented with the trainer and in the wax cabins.

ZDF is responsible for the alpine competitions for which it has an HD SNG vehicle with two own cameras for the presenter position and a camera in the mixed zone. In this case, Ikegami studio cameras will be used.

For the competitions where ARD and ZDF are not present with an own outside broadcast vehicle on site, they figured out together with Presteigne Charter a special solution to transfer video signals and audio signals from the mix to zone into the IBC: the VandA (video and audio) boxes.

Originally developed by the NDR and succesfully proved at the London Olympics, the VandA boxes that come in tailor-made 19-inches flightcases are equipped with a suitable simple technology for the signal transference of the cameras. The EB camera teams can use the VandA boxes to send their live signals directly to the IBC. Altogether ARD and ZDF have eight Vanda’s boxes in Sochi.

ARD’s and ZDF’s panorama-glass studio in Olympic Park is located in a distance from about 1.5 km from the IBC and therefore virtually operated in a remote production mode. Microphones and cameras are connected via fiber optics to the IBC.

At the MBC all the signals of the whole mountain competition sites are summarised and transferred over a collecting main to the IBC in order to save transmission and carriage costs. This solution is also covenient for the editors so that they can edit their clips right on site. For this reason, there are a dozen editing stations at the MBC with two EVS and ten Avid units. Further editing stations are located at the IBC.

The equipment from Avid and EVS also provides the core of the mobile infrastructure for a file-based HD production surrounding. For the ingest, the transfer of material and editing of the highlights and the playout, ARD and ZDF use an integrated system that includes the Avid software Interplay, the storage system Isis 7000, ingest and playout server from Air speed 5000, as well as EVS XT3 servers and IPDirector systems. Similar equipment is used for the set-up in the MBC.

Ingest specifics

At the IBC and the MBC, MOG ingest servers automatically encode the material from EB teams in DNxHD codecs and ingest it in this format into the system. The material can already be edited before it will be transferred to the EVS or Air Speed server.

For the editing in high-res, ARD and ZDF work with Media Composer Nitris DX systems from Avid, while a Vizrt system is used for graphics such as titles and 3D graphics. The whole graphic department is located in Munich in order to save costs.

The signals are transferred via fiber glass connection from Sochi to Frankfurt (STM-16 with 2.5 GB bandwith), which was booked at OBS and shared by ARD and ZDF. The line can also be used for the transmission of live events and the streaming signals which are encoded with a Nevion-Encoder in MPEG-4 with 25 Mbps bandwith per signal. ARD and ZDF are using the signal transference in this codec for the first time to cover a major event.

In order to serve the the growing demand for online streaming ARD and ZDF also set up a streaming configuration in the IBC. Besides the main programme with the TV coverage, they are offering four live streams via internet with a German language commentary which also will be added in Munich. In addition, in Sochi the editorial departments for TV, radio and online are going to work very closely together so that they can exchange content efficiently. The coordination will be undertaken by a triple media team in Sochi.

In addition, social media is going to play a central role at the Olympics. ARD is planning to integrate the comments from the social media platforms via graphic systems into their broadcasting signal.

This time, all the streams will be distributed as a HD signal so that they will have a much better quality than the streams from the London Olympics. “The quality of the signals is so good that we can actually use them as the source to edit our news coverage in Munich,” concludes Teufel.


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