How ‘Slow TV’ watching moose migrate is accelerating live cloud workflows at SVT

Credit: Den stora älgvandringen/SVT

The slow meandering trek of herds of moose doesn’t have much in common with the turbocharged power, noise and control of rally cars but right now in Sweden, they are virtually joined at the hip.

Swedish broadcaster SVT’s month-long round-the-clock live broadcast of The Great Moose Migration (Den stora älgvandringen) was the latest test of an organisation-wide digital transformation project that will soon encompass the next leg of the World Rally Championship (WRC).

“It’s a slightly insane project,” says Dennis Buhr, SVT head of production development, chatting with SVG Europe about the remote production initiated for this year’s Great Moose Migration. “It’s not that common that your show is 500 hours long.”

About the Moose Migration

Every spring, for thousands of years, Sweden’s population of moose (or European Elk) in Västernorrland in the north of Sweden migrates across the same tracks in the forest to get to greener pastures. Since 2019, SVT has live-streamed the ‘action’ over several weeks.

This ‘great moose migration’ has proved hugely popular with the public ever since with viewers rising from a million in 2019 to about nine million this year on SVT Play alongside more than 300,000 chat interactions – an increase of 30% on 2023.

The show has also been broadcast live on Twitch reaching nearly 15 million views around the world. Men aged 16-25 seemed to enjoy the respite from hardcore gaming.

“Den stora älgvandringen is a slightly insane project. It’s not that common that your show is 500 hours long.”

The livestream is now a national springtime phenomenon and a classic example of ‘Slow TV’ which this year is also being aired on Finland’s YLE and RTL in Germany.

“It’s always been a huge technical struggle to get this to work in a forest with a wild river and at time of year that turns from winter into spring with huge ice melts,” says Buhr.

SVT lays thousands of metres of cable across the forest area to connect 30 camouflaged cameras and 28 mics. In the past, these feeds were all sent to a remote production gallery built on site.

This year the Moose Migration has gone truly remote.

New cloud-based workflow

“First and foremost we decided to keep all our production staff inside our TV building in Umeå,” says Buhr. “Immediately that cuts down the costs of having staff on site for a month.”

In this new setup, the cameras (a mix of Sony PTZ during the day and Axion surveillance cameras at night) and mics are converted from SDI to IP by VideoXLink and transported as H.264 streams over the internet to SVT’s hub at Umeå, a 3-hour and 250km drive away.

Two cameras in this year’s production were positioned next to a wild bear spot. Unable to run either power or fibre to that location they used solar power and a Starlink satellite internet connection.

At Umeå the rest of the IP streams are captured into Agile Live, a software-based system jointly developed over a number of years by SVT and Agile Content. Image mixing and overlay graphics are performed by operators in Umeå with rendering done on-prem in Stockholm 650km away.

“The technical cloud workflow of this is not particularly difficult,” says Buhr. “The actual work is the shift in mindset we have gone through at SVT. We have had to rethink production.”

He elaborates, “You can’t stream high-res images everywhere as you are used to. You have to think about who needs to see what, when, and in what quality. You need to understand and communicate the advantages of it rather than comparing this workflow to how it used to be done.”
This year’s production has brought together SVT broadcast engineering with its IT teams. Many, it seems, had never met before, yet here they are working to deliver the production together.

“All of a sudden you have meetings and you see people inside the organisation you do not regularly see. They might be responsible for computer services in whole other areas of the business. They are experts in networks, computer hosting and IT security. Everyone gathered to make a TV show. That was a new thing for me – and for everyone.

“I’ve been doing broadcast for 22 years and this is the first time I’ve seen computer guys getting a credit on the show. It made me extremely happy.”

The culture clash between IT and broadcast worlds that is often mentioned as a management nightmare didn’t materialise. Or, if it did, everyone treated each other professionally and understood the overall mission.

“We have had our discussions shall we say, but it has not been a hassle – more of a learning curve,” says Buhr. “Early on we asked for a feature from the network department and gave them four days’ notice. They said, ‘You can’t have this short a time span.’ But when you work in live TV with the red light about to flash, four minutes is a long time, let alone four hours.  That was one cultural difference but people have genuinely been getting on very well and understand it is a joint venture.”

Having previously trialled the arrangement on a local sports production, the 2024 Great Moose Migration is by far SVT’s biggest proof of concept to date of its transformation project Next Generation Online (NEO).

NEO is an organisation-wide glass-to-glass approach to making production and distribution under the same roof. It is aimed to be 100% software, based on COTS servers and standard IT using the internet.
“It’s a huge scope but we started early, in late 2018, and now we are live with a working product.”

The same set-up will be used by SVT to produce the ERC Bauhaus Royal Rally, part of the WRC calendar, on June 13-15 at several different locations in Värmland, near Karlstad.

“We are also adding in a new product which is our re-invention of the intercom 4 wire system as an entirely software-based system web technology and standard IT hardware.”

The software-based 4 wire intercom is a collaboration with fellow Scandinavian broadcasters NRK, YLE and TV2.

“We still produce TV today the same way we did in the ‘60s but in a software environment if you want to be more efficient with money and cut the carbon footprint you must rethink who does what and why and when,” Buhr stresses.

“If you want to transform TV production from cables to software and you don’t think about how your staff will work in a facility you will only not have the cost of investing in new technology but the same staff costs as before if you are adapting it to an old school way of making TV.”

Den stora älgvandringen was streamed live from 22 April until 9 May 2024

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