CCW in review, part 1: the future of remote production

In the first of a two-part overview of the recent Content & Communications World event, Sports Video Group editorial director Ken Kerschbaumer reflects on the high-level debate surrounding current and emerging workflows for sports production.

CCW’s exhibition space may have featured the newest technologies available for sports production professionals, but it was the discussion in the sessions that was most interesting, helping attendees understand that the equipment on display in the exhibits is headed for some fairly fundamental changes in the coming years.

During ‘The Future of Remote Sports Production’ session, attendees were treated to a discussion over an industry segment that is looking to move beyond baseband to IT. Fox Sports and Game Creek Video, for example, are in the second year of pushing content back and forth between the Fox Sports facility in Los Angeles and the network’s NFL ‘A Game’ broadcast via fiber.

“Last year we were doing it on a week-to-week basis and now we are pushing files back on a day-to-day basis,” says Jason Taubman, Game Creek Video, VP of design and new technology. “And now we are moving files in both directions and there is better integration into the workflows.”

As network connectivity between remote sports venues and home broadcast facilities continue to

grow more robust, so do the workflows. File sharing, remote access of video servers, and more are just a few of the ways remote production, increasingly, will feel less remote in the coming years.

John McCrae, CBS Sports, executive director of field operations, laid out how CBS Sports is using the Brevity system to transcode content and deliver it to remote locations over 100 Mbps Internet pipes, saving money by cutting down on the need for courier services to deliver tapes or hard drives to a remote production team.

“And operators can do things like put an exclamation point in the file name it will automatically go to [the broadcast centre] in New York,” he adds. “Otherwise it stays locked to the melt.”

And as CBS (and others) renew their mobile unit deals, look for the ability of people at the studio to browse the local storage on the remote production units to become a standard need.

“It’s a big game changer,” says McCrae of the remote connectivity of benefits that extend beyond the content for game coverage which includes the capability to allow the studio show to access different camera angles and clean feeds. For example, promos for shows and TV line-ups can be changed and updated seamlessly.

But there are limits to the workflow. While NFL stadiums can easily provide 10 Mbps pipes for graphics and 100 Mbps for file transfers college stadiums, for example, may not have enough available bandwidth.

“And some college basketball arenas were built in the 1920s and 1930s but while they have great IP to the dorms and classrooms they may not to the arena or stadium a couple of blocks away,” adds McCrae.

Then there are other things, such as firewalls, that may prevent easy access into and out of the network.

Jay Deutsche, director of EVS, Projects, Systems Architecture, said that it is important to at least get the production teams in both the remote and broadcast centre locations into the habit of accessing metadata between the two points.

“And then maybe move a little bit of content back and forth and as the infrastructure grows and the bandwidth becomes more open and less expensive the amount of content can grow and grow,” he says. “Eventually the two locations will connect and they will not be two discreet entities.”

The workflow is currently done using either EVS XT[2] or XT[3] video replay servers, with the XT[3] units capable of automatically creating low-resolution proxy videos.

“The ability for someone at the broadcast centre to look for human-defined metadata and things like stats and downs and not be obtrusive to the operations in the truck is key,” adds Deutsche.

The trick at that point will be streamlining operations so that all the devices within a facility are seen as one entity.

“You will want to be able to search the entire network for content, regardless of where it lives, and then act on it,” adds Deutsche.

While the national networks are currently embracing new file-based workflows the regional networks are still challenged both from a technology and budget standpoint.

Ken Stiver, Mid-Atlantic Sports network, VP of engineering and operations, says that most RSNs will not put money into the pipes and would prefer to simply keep content in the main production unit.

“Where we do file transfers is from the studio to master control,” he says. “Things like promos or interstitials. But we don’t use file transfer for games.”

However, that may change. Eventually, adds Deutsche, there will be an opportunity to allow those in the field to access low-resolution proxies over archived content and then bring content across the network as needed.

“It will be a facility for true bi-directional workflows where they can look for content based on log sheets,” he explained.

In part two, due to go live on 22 November: the impact of IT and IPT technologies on truck design and operations in the field.

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