Rethink and reconfigure: Telstra on why flexibility is the key to a successful future
By Anna Lockwood, head of international at Telstra Broadcast Services
Working in live sports broadcasting over the last two years has been a rollercoaster, but it has been a privilege to be able to continue to bring sports to audiences around the world. As a service provider enabling the broadcast of global sporting events, Telstra Broadcast Services (TBS) has had to work more closely than ever with customers and partners to understand, and proactively respond to, the ever-changing requirements of producing live sports during a pandemic.
This past year has seen continued change in the sports broadcasting industry. Innovative technologies and new ways of working have been embraced, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to require an openness and flexibility of approach to planning and delivering live sports. Over the course of the next year, we will need to manage through ongoing uncertainty. Fortitude and flexibility will continue to be important, particularly in the technology and solutions we rely on to deliver major sporting events to fans around the globe.
Challenges and opportunities
The pandemic accelerated existing trends in both technology and operations for producing live sports. There is a heightened requirement for business continuity, a demand for producing content remotely, along with the need for more flexible, efficient, and cost effective workflows. There is also a rising commitment to sustainable practices at the individual company as well as industry level.
The impact of COVID-19 saw the introduction of national lockdowns, border closures and restrictions on international and even domestic travel. These impacts, coupled with the business need to continue delivering sports to audiences even more hungry for live events, saw a significant increase in sports broadcasters and rights holders relying on international remote production, internet delivery and remote service assurance.
Over the course of 2021 TBS invested in cloud and internet-based live video transport networks to enable the delivery of content to many more rights holders and social media platforms. Key use cases last year included transporting additional content to rights holders, ensuring network redundancy, and providing for additional business continuity. Internet delivery was combined with satellite and fibre networks to augment distribution options for live sports. By managing content offerings through virtual and cloud environments, we helped broadcasters to cost effectively achieve the flexibility they needed to manage the impact of the pandemic.
Alongside internet delivery, sports rights holders have also turned to remote production to negotiate the challenging environment we now operate in. When the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 was a pandemic, everyone involved in sports production had to consider how a remote production solution would be able to help us continue to produce international events.
One of our first challenges was working on the 36th Americas Cup from New Zealand. In January 2020 we had been awarded the contract for the contribution and distribution of live content for AC36 in New Zealand. Along with the Americas Cup team, we eventually needed to rethink and reconfigure our network design for AC36 into a hybrid model that supported both on-site and remote production workflows, along with delivery to a cloud platform for content access, and distribution via internet, satellite and fibre networks to multiple rights holders, broadcasters, and social media platforms.
The pandemic also changed the way we collaborated with our customers on the Tokyo Olympic Games. Alongside our network deployments for the Games, we also built bespoke workflows to deliver additional broadcast services to rights holders who were sending smaller crews to Tokyo and doing more at home. These connectivity and broadcast services required more bandwidth, including building a fully managed and protected low latency connectivity network between Tokyo and Los Angeles, which provided 40Gbps of capacity for North American broadcasters. In total, TBS delivered 400Gbps of capacity globally via 12 subsea cables. Network flexibility and resiliency was more critical for rights holders during these games as more of the live production was reliant on home studios at the far end of the network from Tokyo.
Living with rapid change
The success that broadcasters have enjoyed in responding to the challenges posed by the pandemic underlines the effectiveness of the new strategies. It also has highlighted the crucial role that sports broadcasters play in pushing innovation forward in the media and broadcast industry. The pandemic is going to continue to impact the sports industry, and responsiveness and flexibility are going to continue be important as we move in 2022. Last year everyone working on live sports events had to adopt and improve new technology and operations at rapid speed, while striving for minimal disruption. We expect to leverage these experiences to further improve in 2022, driving more cost and operational efficiencies; and with a focus on responsive technology and workflows, encompassing tools that enable broadcasters to adapt quickly to rapidly changing circumstances.
For 2022 we expect further innovation and acceleration in cloud adoption in live sports production, contribution, and distribution. This process is already underway and will continue to accelerate with a strong appetite and interest in proof of concepts, trials and shadow productions that test out live cloud production workflows. Broadcasters will continue to seek agility, speed, customisable workflows, cost effectiveness and elastic, scalable capacity in major sporting event delivery.
Another area that we are seeing rapid change powered by the cloud is targeted advertising through dynamic ad-insertion technologies that enables content personalisation and supports the harnessing of artificial intelligence technology in video. Sports broadcasters are experimenting with and executing new business models that are crafted to multiple different target audiences. Because cloud workflows allow for great flexibility, we are seeing a democratisation of technology and services which previously had a premium price tag – enabling further innovation among broadcasters. Cloud adoption will form part of new strategies from rights holders and broadcasters to future-proof themselves against ongoing uncertainty. These strategies will be grounded in responsiveness, flexibility, and the ability to adopt new solutions in very short timeframes.
The next twelve months will be exciting! We expect even more change in the sports broadcasting industry. We are privileged to be a broadcast services business at the heart of these changes, enabling our customers and partners to continue to bring the excitement of live sports to audiences and fans around the world.