Live from the World Cup: Sander Reflects on Final Tech Push

The last time I had a chance to chat with Jorg Sander of HBS, the host broadcast services provider for FIFA TV and the 2014 FIFA World Cup currently being held in Brazil, he was about to begin the final push for making sure technical operations were good to go for what arguably has been the most challenging World Cup production ever or a number of reasons, including producing 64 football matches in 12 disparate venues in 12 disparate cities across a massive and beautiful nation that is still struggling, in many corners, to enter the third world, let alone the first. But there were plenty of other challenges for FIFA TV and HBS.

They included providing fiber-based connections to dozens of ENG crews scattered across the country so that they could file feature stories and team reports; building out an IBC facility outside of Rio that would not only provide a safe and technically secure home for more than 80 media rights holders but also have ample backup power as well as connectivity to broadcast facilities around the globe; and embracing “next generation” EVS workflows that, for example, allow production staff around the globe to browse low-res proxies of thousands of hours of content, make edit decisions, and have high-res files delivered seamlessly.
All of those elements were just some of the reasons why Sander and the team were so focused on a warm up match to be held on June 8 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, just four days ahead of the start of the tournament.

That was nearly a month ago. Much has happened since then but one thing has remained constant: viewers around the globe have been able to take in the action without missing a bit of the crucial action and production personnel all across the country have stepped up to the challenge. And now the tournament is down to its final eight matches and, soon, it’s final three stadiums.
“We’ve dismounted six venues and have already derigged and airfreighted everything out and we’ll finish another two in the next two days and continue the export process,” he says.

Sander is based in the World Cup IBC located to the west of Rio ( a trip that can take anywhere from 45 minutes to, well, two hours and counting as I am writing this article…IOC, you’ve been warned) and he says that after some early hiccups that were identified during the first test match things have gone “super well.”

People, as usual, are making the difference.

“The key factor to the success is many members of our team have worked with us previously and we have also been able to integrate some new comers,” says Sander. “But having a team that is experienced and having familiar faces that are used to our ideas and workflows in such a complex project is the difference.”

The test match held on June 8 in Sao Paolo proved to be important as it identified problems that are unique to an event the size and scale of a World Cup. But it also identified one problem that every “traditional” broadcaster is facing. The move to software-based systems and workflows offers plenty of benefits but when there are difficulties it is much more difficult to identify the problem. For example, the massive efforts undertaken to have EVS clips published to consumers via cloud-based services really could not be tested fully until an actual match, complete with the hundreds and hundreds of clips that are created and delivered, was underway.

“It requires a different level of system integration,” adds Sander. “For me integration has always been about having the right piece of equipment and the right cabling. But with multimedia and when you push files into a cloud there is no clear boundary like delivering a signal to a patch panel and then picking it up. So it will be important for the industry to define responsibilities [in cloud-based workflows] because it is tough to find where the problem may lie.”

And, ultimately, the workflow problems were solved without disconnecting a single piece of equipment and, instead, via some coding. Welcome to the future of broadcasting.

The June 8 test also proved important for broadcasters who were concerned about the amount of commentary positions that would be available for the first match.

“The last circuits for the tribune weren’t put in until June 8 so everyone was pleased after the warm up match and we had all the big stuff out of the way,” explains Sander. “So at the daily briefing on day one we were able to say there were no major issues.”

As for technical challenges at the venues it is the usual headaches, like RF interference from military walkie talkies, that are popping up. But the actual venue operations that rely on the production equipment that was pre-cabled and assembled in Munich, Germany, have been going smoothly.

“The whole pre-integration we did in Germany was a life saver,” says Sander. “We were able to be ready in five days as we could just focus on things like cable runs.”

That pre-production process is even more valuable here in Brazil as each of the 12 venues have, truly, operated independently of each other. And then there are the studios at Copacabana Beach as well. And in many instances the venue management personnel have just recently begun working at the venue meaning they don’t have the years of experience that staff at more mature venues, like a Wembley Stadium in London or a Soldier’s Field in Chicago, would have.

“It’s really like dealing with 12 different World Cups as we have one set of requirements but 12 different ways to implement it,” adds Sander. “But that’s what stands out for me: the level of production we have implemented at venues like in Manaus that are just excellent and have gone off without a glitch.”

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