Live from London: NBC Olympics venue operations take evolutionary approach

Chip Adams of NBC Olympics oversees the venue operations for coverage of the London Games,

Athletics action from Olympic Stadium in London is dominating the sport world’s attention this week and for NBC Olympics it calls for a special personal touch. Operating out of an NEP Visions OB unit, the team not only brings in cameras from OBS but also 26 additional cameras.

“They are in similar locations or next to the host in some locations, but we have our own location for the start of the 100 meters as well as cameras on the turns for longer sprints so we can have virtual graphics,” explains Chip Adams, NBC Olympics, VP of venue engineering.

Adams and his team have been in London since the end of May, overseeing arguably one of the most important pieces in the NBC Olympics puzzle: on-site operations at venues that give U.S. viewers a TV experience that tells the story of America’s Olympic hopefuls and champions. It’s a complex Web of venue circuits, moving camera crews, managing talent on the go, and more. And the situation at Olympic Stadium embodies the challenge that is spread across multiple venues.

“Like most stadiums at an Olympics the plans start with getting ramped up for the ceremonies and then having three or four days to up for athletics,” says Adams. “There is a lot of effort to do the ceremonies and then we plan where the cameras go for athletics. But once we are pre-cabled we are ready for both.”

NBC Olympics has two OB vendors assisting with coverage this year: NEP Visions at track and field, beach volleyball, gymnastics and tennis and then Euro Media Group providing swimming and diving OB units as well as a Flash unit. “They both have great crews and we like working with them,” says Adams.

The biggest challenge for this Olympics wasn’t the weather or even the long hours spent setting up in the pre-games phase. Instead it was simply dealing with the long list of health and safety rules as before any task was allowed to be undertaken NBC and all other networks had to first submit a Risk Assessment and Methods Statement.

“We had to fill out forms with the risk, how to mitigate the risk, and then outline safety methods,” explains Adams. “But every venue had different safety induction needs and it wasn’t standardized. So we were trying to figure it all out for the firsts few months. It would be nice if they had standardized a protocol across all the venues.”

When it came to transporting signals from venues inside the Olympic Park back to the broadcast center at the IBC NBC relied on full-bandwidth video and audio circuits. Gigabit Ethernet services were also available for delivery of IPTV and for intercoms and EVS transfers. Venues outside of the Olympic Park relied on 100 Mbps circuits. Sony XDCAM is also used for all ENG needs recording needs and a new celllular-based transmission system from Mobile Viewpoint, called WMT, was also deployed. The WMT system ties together cellular data from eight different cellular providers to create transmission circuits of 4 Mbps for ENG as well as IFB return. It also has a fixed delay of two seconds.

The biggest technical change? Delivery of audio splits via MADI.

“That was helpful and cut down on the cabling,” adds Adams. “But not that we have been doing HD for a few games there were no revolutionary changes. The changes were evolutionary as we are using the equipment in more productive ways and doing more with IP connectivity.”

With the Sochi Games only 14 months away Adams is already having discussions with OB vendors about what units are available. NBC has also had brief discussions with OBS about transport of equipment to the Russian resort.

“The bar of programming rises every games,” adds Adams. “It will be interesting to see if we can satisfy that for Sochi.

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