Football Production Summit: Delivering a cost-efficient remote IP production solution for Belgium’s Proximus League
The rapid development and deployment of a ground-breaking solution that allowed the coverage of more matches in the Proximus League – Belgium’s second football league – was the subject of a fascinating session at the recent Football Production Summit. Organised by SVG Europe, the event took place at the Allianz Arena, Munich, on 22 March.
In just two months, Proximus group production company Skynet iMotion Activities (SiA) oversaw the development of a reliable and cost-efficient solution to cover matches at eight stadia across Belgium. Joining SiA’s manager Media Handling & Facilities, Rodrigo Sternberg, to discuss the projects were representatives of several key partners: Stef Lambrechts, project manager at Videohouse Media Facilities; Dirk Sykora, technical sales manager, Lawo; and Geert Thoelen, technical project manager – EIC, NEP Broadcast Services.
In a nutshell, the core set-up comprises three flightcases that travel around the country to connect all cameras, microphones and comms in the stadia with the remote IP product infrastructure in two MCRs in Brussels – more of which anon. But Sternberg began by outlining the business and organisational context surrounding the project.
SiA, he explained, “is a company with 33 employees and is owned by the Proximus Group. SiA’s core activity is football production for TV, as well as providing VoD and TV channel playout available exclusively to Proximus customers.” So a wide variety of competencies fed into the latest project, but its impetus was actually “a very concrete business problem. At the start of the season my MD told me that the good news is that we have the rights for the Proximus league for the next years; the problem is that we have to do 50% more matches but without any more money. Previously we were not doing all matches but now we are [and that is obviously] good for the people who watch the Proximus League.”
Faced with the need to coverage more matches but without a drop in quality, Sternberg quickly realised that efforts would have to be focused around two key areas – “efficiency in crew and efficiency in the equipment”. It was clear that an IP solution was the way forward, and although SiA had conducted a number of trials in the area it was decided from the start that the company would tap the services of tried-and-trusted partners – in this case Videohouse Media Facilities, Lawo and NEP.
“They have [all been doing this a long time] and they are the best,” said Sternberg.
Efficiency with crew
Minimising expenditure on crew means that – at the stadium side – SiA now fields a team of eight, comprising six camera operators and two runners / trainees. There is a double commentary position with double-feed to accommodate the Dutch and French language versions required. The commentary areas are overseen by two technicians – one for video, one for audio – rather than engineers per se: “They are not ‘full’ engineers; [instead] we trained systems assistants so that they became remote technicians, which was more cost-efficient.”
On the gallery side, “we had a close look at [how galleries operate] with a view to finding a more efficient way to produce.” The result of these deliberations was a five person team: a director who does the switching; an EVS operator; a [technician] who works with the
technician on the field; a sound engineer who works with the audio technician on the field; and then a senior engineer who takes care of connecting the games to the galleries. We have two galleries running the system, and when the first gallery is on air with the production crew he starts testing the second game that will go on after the first game. [As a result] the same gallery team can produce a second game.”
Efficiency with technology
Prior to the initiation of the Proximus project, some very useful groundwork (no pun intended!) had been established when Lawo provided technology to connect all the stadiums in France ahead of the EURO 2016 championships. “We used an IP network that was based on dark fibre; it provided very high quality network connections and used a massive fibre backbone,” recalls Sykora. “There we had the challenge to make a full production – all audio and video – over a single 1GB connection [and it was on a shared network too].”
Lawo’s V_remote4 – which is designed to provide a one-box solution for all the requirements of video and audio signal transport and processing in WAN-based remote productions – was integral to the French stadium deployment, and so it proved again with the SiA/Promixus project. In this latest case, “we have a bi-directional [set-up], transferring to and for the stadium, using the V_remotes as a base technology.”
Proximus has provided 1GB networks in every stadium, while back in Brussels these network connections are received with a primary and back-up 10GB connection between the network chain for the stadiums, and the switches located in the MCR. As well as the audio signals, there are a total of eight video signals going from the both galleries to the MCRs in Brussels, and eight returns. “Using the same boxes we send back the programme return for the camera people as well as the video used at the commentary positions.”
Everything is received in Brussels by the existing control rooms and MCRs, so essentially “all the glue and boxes in-between were provided by us and were used to extend the existing infrastructure.” Consequently, the user experience for those working in Brussels is “not very different” to what it was previously.
The Lawo VSM Control and Monitoring System has also been integrated into the set-ups to allow deployment at all eight of the venues: “We needed to be sure that everything would work well with each other.”
With NEP supplying expertise at the venue end, the result has been a huge success for Proximus, SiA and its partners. “It has worked very well,” concluded Sternberg, who also drew attention to the feat of having “connected, configured and [made the system work] at 8 stadiums” in a mere two months.