CCW in review, part 2: IP-based distribution and beyond

In the second part of his overview of primary discussion points at the recent Content & Communications World event, Sports Video Group editorial director Ken Kerschbaumer addresses the continued rise to prominence of IP-based distribution.

IT and IP technologies are doing more than just changing the way the remote facility connects to the broadcast centre. They are also impacting truck design and operations in the field. Fiber cabling, for example, is allowing multiple units to be tied together and act as one massive unit. Gigabit Ethernet is also playing a key role in turning independent trucks into large production hubs.

“IP-based distribution is the way forward as the shows are getting bigger and the answer is not to buy a bigger router because there is none for sale that would fit into a TV truck,” says Jason Taubman, Game Creek Video, VP of design and new technology. “So we are looking for ways to make the infrastructure bigger and smaller at the same time and we can do that with packet-switched technology.”

Such a move would also create easier workflows for broadcasters who are working on the away telecast as well as those involved in creating and delivering content to the second screen.

“Both teams would share video and melts and live on the same server,” adds Ken Stiver, Mid-Atlantic Sports network, VP of engineering and operations.

“You can deconstruct the dual-feed truck and extend the network between two trucks so that the away feed team has its own monitor wall and space,” explains Taubman. “They would be separate but have access to all of the resources and file-based content.”

And for dotcoms, added Taubman, the days of being happy with a backbench split and working off of an auxiliary switcher panel are coming to an end.

“They need their own trucks and it is hard getting my head around how small that facility can be,” says Taubman.

Deutsche cautioned that the move to IP wouldn’t happen overnight.  “The IP topology is being done to some degree but it is not end to end,” he explains.

Going to IP is part of a continuing move towards IT-centric broadcast products that will resemble older gear less and less. For example, the use of software upgrades will no longer be a one-way street where the end user pays for the upgrade and then has it in perpetuity. Instead, there will be flexibility allowing for software-based features to be turned on (and paid for) only when needed.

John McCrae, CBS Sports, executive director of field operations, cautions that it could become a slippery slope as software upgrades that were once free are paid for. Hiring a truck and then having to pay additional charges for software upgrades (and keep track of which trucks have already been upgraded so that the production team knows what to expect) could be a challenge for all.

And then there is the ultimate endgame. “Only about 4% of the content created for a sports broadcast gets on air but what about if you expose it make it more interactive?,” asks Jay Deutsche, director of EVS, Projects, Systems Architecture. “So some day viewers will not just see what the director wants them to see but everything and that takes things to a whole new level.”

EVS C-Cast, for example, exposed metadata and media so that the production team can easily offer different camera angles to viewers of an important play.

“Viewers can click on a camera and drive the bus, choosing what they want to see,” he adds.

McCrae agrees that, eventually, people having control over what cameras they watch and, hopefully, resulting in higher ratings.

“Advertisers want to buy eyeballs,” he says.

Eye on 4K

One of the buzz topics at CCW was 4K and while it is currently being used by Fox Sports in a “super zoom” capacity (allowing a full HD resolution close up to be extracted from the larger image) it could challenge those who build remote production facilities designed to last until 2020.

“If we could buy the 4K bits today we probably would but the best we can do is buy a 3Gbps infrastructure,” says Taubman.

McCrae explains that 4K is a tougher quandary than HD. For CBS Sports there are 300 network affiliates, some that still have not gone HD, that would first need to be addressed before 4K becomes a nation-wide phenomenon. So figuring out whether or not a new truck should be 4K-capable is a difficult question, even for a truck that will hit the road in 2014 or 2015.

And then there is the production food chain. The graphics, switchers, EVS servers, and everything else will need to be able to support 4K.

“Right now we are just getting to 1080p with a production switcher and 4K is still a ways off from that,” says Deutsche. “But once demand is there vendors will step up to the plate and enable 4K for an end-to-end workflow.”

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