IMG and Panasonic take live sport to the skies and seas

Sport fans on airlines and cruise ships will now have an opportunity to watch some of the world’s iconic sporting events thanks to a new service called SPORT 24, launched by IMG Media and Panasonic Avionics Corporation.
The 24-hour channel will leverage an existing IMG Media technical infrastructure and repackage events like the 2012 Summer Olympics, The Masters, The Open Championship, Roland Garros, Formula 1 races, and a number of European football leagues for fans who otherwise would be out of touch in the sky or on the sea.
“The service will become part of an already existing channel that we programme for the Barclays Premier League,” says Dave Shield, IMG Sports Media, director of engineering and technology. “When the idea for SPORT 24 began two or three years ago we decided we would use that channel as a backbone as it is already filled 24 hours a day with content like live studio shows and magazine programmes.”
SPORT 24, like the Premier League Channel, will rely on a Pebble Beach Automation system and the company’s Dolphin “channel in a box” system. Dolphin is an SD/HD video server, master control switcher, character generator and channel branding system that supports an extensive range of compression and file formats.
“We were a guinea pig for the first Dolphin system last August,” says Shield of a system that has been up to the task.
The production workflow for the Premier League matches will also be used for the new content. Matches and other content are recorded on EVS servers and then, with the help of a Vizrt Ardendo archive system, sent from the EVS servers to a nearline storage system and LTO5 tape drives. The Dolphin servers then convert the content to DNX120 files for editing.
“With DNX120 file we can turn around the matches pretty quickly,” adds Shield. “So while one match is shown linearly we can cut down the other matches and fit them into two-hour slots.”
SPORT 24 will operate out of a second Pebble Beach-based transmission suite that will operate in the same Master Control Room facility at IMG Media. It will also have its own graphic bugs and interstitials and will have addition content produced out of IMG’s facility in Chiswick, where live studios and magazine-style programmes are produced.
Of course, preparing content for delivery on small TV sets located in the back of an airline seat requires some extra work.
“In terms of production values we will have graphics that are a little larger than they are for broadcast,” adds Shield. The Pebble Beach Automation system has a built-in graphics engine and can also insert promos and countdown clocks to upcoming events.
“It’s been interesting working with Pebble Beach on that integration so that as viewers are flipping through channels they will see a graphic letting them know that a Formula 1 race is about to start,” adds Shield.
In order to get the content out to viewers, standard-definition signals will be encrypted and sent out over Ku-band using Panasonic’s eXTV communications service. A Ku antenna and onboard components then deliver the content to TV sets on the plane or ship. Gulf Air, Bahrain’s national airline, has committed to carry the service and the channel will also be available to Norwegian Cruise Liners beginning in March. There are ongoing discussions with a number of other airlines.
The new channel will be put to a test pretty soon as the sports that IMG has acquired the rights to will have overlapping events. For example, both Wimbledon and Euro 2012 will overlap.
“We will run those events in our production gallery and then weave them into the Premier League channel,” adds Shield.

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