BBC relies on AWS to deliver live, UHD coverage of major sporting events

Major sporting events in summer 2021 attracted audiences in the millions to BBC viewing platforms, breaking previous records.

A peak BBC TV audience of 25 million tuned into the UEFA Euro 2020 final between Italy and England, and a peak audience of 7.8 million witnessed Novak Djokovic defeat Matteo Berrettini in the Men’s Singles Final at Wimbledon, where Djokovic secured his 20th grand slam. Achieving a high-end production standard across event coverage and platforms was a key focus for the BBC, as was providing a great UHD viewer experience on iPlayer.

The BBC has been working with live and VOD UHD programming since 2017, but the broadcaster anticipated unprecedented audience interest for more UHD content once the Euro and Wimbledon events were scheduled to air in 2021. 

To satisfy the expected demand, the BBC’s media services team established a robust UHD delivery workflow, building and refining technologies and approaches used for previous programming. For Euro 2020 coverage, live event feeds were brought into BBC Broadcasting House in London via production facilities at the BBC’s studios in Salford, Manchester and at Wembley Stadium. Wimbledon feeds were received directly from the All England Club in Wimbledon. The audio and video signals were then routed, frame synchronised, and fed through the BBC’s video router, before being presented to AWS Elemental UHD encoders.  

AWS Elemental Live encoders received quad split SDI inputs and delivered four encoded renditions on an adaptive bitrate ladder, with a top rung of 27Mbits. A lower, HD representation was used for monitoring. The UHD HEVC content was tuned for high video quality by the BBC’s R&D team, who used Hybrid-Log-Gamma HDR, which was jointly developed by the BBC and Japanese broadcaster NHK. The encoders then delivered HEVC content to the BBC’s proprietary packager and onward to various content delivery networks (CDNs) for distribution.

Given the quality of production and audience size, the BBC designed the technical architecture for resilience. Each component was deployed to ensure seamless failover could occur without viewer interruption. This meant using two encoders and multiple instances of the packagers as well as multiple CDNs, including Amazon CloudFront.

Jim Simmons, BBC executive product manager, said: “We have used AWS Elemental hardware encoders since 2012 so we are very familiar with them. They easily integrate into our operations control software, Marvin, and with them we were able to provide the level of video quality needed to deliver the high-speed, high-value sports content that our audiences expect.”

Between both events, UHD content was streamed 4.2 million times on BBC iPlayer, with positive viewer feedback on social media platforms about the quality of the coverage indicating a public appetite for more. 

Looking ahead, the BBC is exploring how it can broadcast more UHD sporting events on BBC iPlayer to larger audiences, and has a growing slate of upcoming natural history and drama programming that will be available to watch in UHD.

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