Guest Comment: the potential of AoIP for enhancing fan engagement
In a world dominated by rapid fire communications and small interconnected screens, stadiums and other event venues around the world are racing to maintain and expand engagement with fans who are increasingly satisfied with the experiences they can get in their homes, writes Audinate Senior Product Manager Brad Price.
The immersive technology now available to fans ‘on the couch’ is a potent combination of excellent video and sound that is instantly selectable for replays and commentary, multiple screens on multiple connected devices, and deep interaction with other fans via social networks. This is driving venues, teams and AV consultants to match, supplement and exceed these experiences, providing exciting reasons for fans to show up on game day, digital wallets in hand.
IP networks are the essential foundation upon which this modern connectivity is built and deployed. It delivers the media that fans have always demanded – audio and video feeds – and goes well beyond that, connecting fans together via social groups on the internet, delivering vital stats, commentary and instant replays to those who demand them, and offering a personalised experience on each mobile device. Compared with point-to-point technologies of the past, networked AV offers tremendous advantages in scalability, speed of deployment, ease of reconfiguration, and cost of installation. Using fiber, Ethernet systems may easily traverse hundreds or thousands of meters with no degradation of performance, matching the massive scale of today’s sports and entertainment arenas.
“Because we are not using analogue audio and now using an IP network with digital audio, we are immune to many kinds of signal interference. Once you move over to networked audio you get rid of all kinds of audio distortions, buzz and ground loops. It definitely increases the overall audio signal quality and reliability,” says George Hoover, chief technology officer for NEP Group Inc.
Equally important is the separation of zones and responsibilities in a stadium environment. There will be entertainment taking place upon the field, creating an effective AV zone that is contained within the field of play. The field of play is itself being captured by a broadcast zone that covers the action of the game, plus the reactions in stands and the technical areas occupied by team members. Beyond this are concourses, seating and restaurants, each demanding their own AV experience. Finally, a Public Address and Voice Alarm (PAVA) zone includes the areas both within and without the stadium proper, delivering critical messages in the event of an emergency.
The ability of an IP network to carry multiple media types simultaneously and redundantly to all points makes it a natural fit for sports venues of all sizes. But complex systems capable of delivering different media into multiple zones require not only careful planning and deployment, but equally well-considered management. Large numbers of people will be piloting different areas of the system, choosing where and how to send feeds of audio and video, and responding to dynamic requests as games and events unfold in real-time. Defining and enforcing order is key to ensuring that the system continues to run smoothly.
Managing AV networks
IT professionals have been managing large IP networks for decades, and have developed robust security practices that allow them to define what users are able to do or see, what devices are permitted on the network, and to closely monitor the systems for which they are responsible. Until recently, AV network installations lacked equivalent toolsets, resulting in workarounds that force physical separation of AV devices or the use of multiple networks. While effective, such approaches reduce the overall flexibility and logical control available with IP-based solutions.
Many manufacturers offer tools that limit changes made to individual products, but these tools do not offer a system-wide, multi-vendor solution. In large, multi-function AV networks, control over network routing of AV signals must be kept in the hands of trusted individuals, no matter the brands of devices that are in use. Managers must be able to define both who is able to access and control network routes by zone, and what devices are permitted in each zone.
“Dante provided the distributed network to hear broadcasters presenting in the Theatre of the Horse, bettors listening to bookmakers’ calls, race calls screaming to the track front, and background music through the corporate suites. Dante handles this all at the same time, over the same backbone. That is pretty cool,” says Josh Jones, Project Manager at The P.A. People, regarding a deployment at the Royal Randwick Racecourse, NSW Australia.
In response to these clear needs, Audinate has developed Dante Domain Manager. Dante Domain Manager allows AV managers using Dante audio networks to define secure zones of devices, administrators and operators. Any number of devices may be placed into a zone (or domain), even if that zone encompasses multiple subnets (e.g. broadcast domains). Users must authenticate in order to observe or change any properties of the zone, and authentication can be linked to existing services such as Microsoft Active Directory or LDAP. Dante Domain Manager provides constant feedback about all zones in the system, ensuring that key personnel are kept informed should anything require attention. Detailed logging means that problems can be tracked down to devices, people and events.
The wide embrace of Dante audio-over-IP by the AV industry means that Dante-enabled products from hundreds of different manufacturers are available for interconnection and management using Dante Domain Manager. Now the crew running sound for a live act at half time doesn’t have to worry that a broadcast feed will be interrupted via a routing mishap. Commentary feeds sent to skyboxes will not be inadvertently replaced with background music meant for a concourse. For the first time, a truly interoperable, IT-level security and management solution for audio networking is available to AV professionals, helping fans enjoy the game just a bit more.