Horse racing re-start: ITV Sport leads the way with NEP facility support

NEP’s Home Studio and Production Pods key to editorial and directorial control

A programme of 21 races headlined by the first Classic races of the Flat season was broadcast by ITV last weekend, as live sport returned to UK free-to-air television. Ed Chamberlin and Francesca Cumani led the coverage from 5-7 June, featuring the Qipco 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas with live races from Lingfield, Newcastle and Newmarket.

Seven races per day were shown on the channel on its return after 11 weeks. The card at Thurles was the last fixture shown before the sport was halted due to coronavirus on 21 March.

Chamberlin, Cumani and colleagues Oli Bell and Jason Weaver guided viewers from home, with commentator Roger Holles based off site in a booth. The production was facilitated by a number of technical innovations from NEP’s Home Studio offering, that allowed for remote talent contribution and interaction, all being produced by a production team from their own homes.

ITV’s production and direction team also operated from home, using NEP’s Home Studio production pods to enable remote editorial and directorial control of the broadcast.

ITV PA Vicky Andrews working from home

Challenged with connecting a distributed presenting team and production crew across ten locations, NEP made use of low latency encoding technology and bonded networking solutions to deliver a secure platform capable of real time communication with robust and reliable contribution facilities.

“Over the past few years, ITV Sport’s racing coverage has become synonymous with its ability to engage, entertain and indeed educate its audiences, and key to this is the chemistry between its on-screen talent,” said Jon Harris, technical projects manager, Horse Racing, NEP UK.

“We knew from the outset that any interruption in conversational flow could have a real detrimental impact on the editorial output of the show, therefore we knew we needed a solution that would allow the talent to communicate with each other fluidly.”

“This is one of the first high-profile live sports returning to a Public Service Broadcaster and as such there is no margin for error” – Roger Pearce

Combining solutions from a number of vendors, plus some custom development, NEP deployed a platform and ecosystem that enabled real time bi-directional communication and low latency signal transport. Deploying video conferencing methodologies, the presenting team were all able to see and hear each other all the time, as if they were in the same location while discrete signals were simultaneously being sent back to the hub to be used for the broadcast output.

“The solution provided by NEP allowed myself, Francesca, Oli and the rest of the team to communicate without the annoyance of any video encoding delays. We’ve all been there lately on awkward conference calls, where even a minor delay can lead to people talking over each other, or the dreaded silence while you wait for a reaction to the punchline of a joke! Luckily with NEP’s solution, that never happened,” said Ed Chamberlain.

Equinox hub provides technical firepower for the production

Using a combination of WebRTC and SRT transmission technologies, low latency signals were contributed discretely via an SD Wan network connected over the public internet. Using both domestic ISP’s and 4G/5G many data, each of the remote locations were connected to a NEP data centre POP. From here the network was extended over NEP Connect’s Anylive Fibre network to Ascot racecourse, where Equinox, ITV racing’s regular OB unit has been set up as a hub.

“It was important to us to have a solution that reliably delivered great programmes to the highest technical and production values,” said ITV Sport technical director Roger Pearce. “Whilst we are fully aware of virtual mixing solutions running in the cloud, we were working under many time and Covid 19 related constraints.

“This is one of the first high-profile live sports returning to a Public Service Broadcaster in the UK and as such there is no margin for error. The solution needed to be innovative but set around a known robust core.”

Sean Mehmet, NEP solutions architect and Dan Massey, NEP EIC working in NEP’s Equinox OB

Equinox, built for the bespoke needs of ITV’s Horse Racing coverage, provided the technical firepower to facilitate the production. The majority of the production crew operated remotely with just a minimum amount of technical crew located within the truck all operating within strictest of social distancing guidelines. The OB unit itself has also been physically modified to allow greater space considerations to ensure crew safety.

NEP’s remote Production Pods were deployed to the homes of production crew. The solution uses domestic Internet and 4G/5G data to extend the reach of the truck and its technical facilities, providing monitoring, talkback panels, router panels and device control such as PTZ cameras.

Paul McNamara, ITV director, working from home

For the broader production team who didn’t require the physical infrastructure for monitoring and control, a web-based solution was deployed. Developed internally, NEP’s Home Studio portal, is a web-based platform that offers low latency monitoring of video, audio and production talkback via a simple and streamlined web browser.

Designed as a multi-tenant content environment, security is a key design principle throughout. Supporting a range of codecs and transmission protocols, the platform acts as a cloud-based CDN and enables secure ultralow latency monitoring of video and audio content.

“To be able to be back transmitting live horse racing safely to an ITV Sport audience has been the result of a huge effort and collaboration between ourselves and our long term racing broadcast partner NEP,” said ITV Sport head of production operations Ben Russell.

“Making sure we create a safe environment for everyone, is paramount to all our planning. NEP’s excellent new workflow enables us as a production to be flexible with planning a phased return, in line with the latest social distancing guidelines. The ITV audience is at the heart of what we do and, in this current working climate, we are proud to be able to deliver live sport back to the nation,” he said.

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