SailGP returns for a second season with ‘the ultimate remote production’ set up

Data-driven, remotely produced, sustainably-minded and featuring fabulous locations and very fast boats, the second season of SailGP is underway and the broadcast production values are even higher

SailGP is back. The thrilling high-speed foiling catamaran race that takes place in spectacular locations around the world has returned following the postponement of the 2020 season, and the award-winning live broadcast coverage is even more innovative than before. 

The Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess marked the opening event of the second season for the sport’s pinnacle league and is the first of eight events that take place throughout 2021-2022 across three continents. Fans will be able to enjoy the action worldwide with broadcast coverage now reaching 175 territories.

From Bermuda, Warren Jones, chief technology officer for SailGP, gives SVG Europe the lowdown: “For Season 2 we are bringing viewers closer to the action at each race. Key to this is how we communicate with the F50s [SailGP’s supercharged foiling catamarans] via a direct connection to a remote Oracle data centre in London. This technology allows us to deliver real-time data to racing teams and fans alike, enabling spectators to gain a greater understanding of the sport and appreciation of the skill of the crews.”

SailGP Season 2 features teams from Australia, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand, Spain and the US, including veteran sailors and Olympic athletes

Remote production

Jones acknowledges SailGP has been fortunate in that COVID-19 has not had too much of an impact on how the race is actually broadcast. “SailGP deployed its first remote production in January 2019 in Sydney, continuing throughout Season 1, including San Francisco, New York City, Cowes and Marseille. This season, we built on the remote production ethos we developed in Season 1, bringing more services and software stack into the Oracle Cloud to enable a greater level of remote production.”

The live coverage is once again being produced from a dedicated gallery at Timeline TV’s Ealing broadcast centre by host broadcaster Whisper Films, but here too enhancements have been made, according to Daniel McDonnell, MD of Timeline Television.

“This season, we built on the remote production ethos we developed in Season 1, bringing more services and software stack into the Oracle Cloud to enable a greater level of remote production”

“At the core, it’s the same sort of concept as last season, a complete remote OB,” says McDonnell. “There are no production facilities on site, every single source comes back to our Ealing broadcast centre and that’s where the director, the EVS operators and graphics [are based]. This year we took it even further. We brought the umpires back into Ealing, we brought all of the camera racking back and all the boats were controlled from within Ealing, so no operators were on site.”

“We have a high-speed, private fibre network provided by Tata from Ealing broadcast centre to the OB,” he continues.  “So that gives us a huge opportunity to bring back all the feeds.”

According to Jones, this takes the form of two redundant, dedicated, high-availability links installed for SailGP between each venue and the production based in London for every race. “Each F50 has two on-board cameras that are operated in London alongside three camera boats, two ENG cameras and one helicopter camera,” he says. “We also manage SailGP digital output from London, including the SailGP app that has live data and video plus all social media output including YouTube and Facebook live streams. These feeds were streamed to London from 4,000 miles away in Bermuda and produced and distributed in near real time, which is an incredible feat of technology.”

“There’s no internet involved, it travels two ways around the world to give us a full level of redundancy,” says McDonnell. “Once we’ve got all the feeds back into Ealing we can put them all in a MAM. We also had multiple OTT streams, so we had the ability for rights holding broadcasters to take their own onboard camera feeds if they wish to supplement the world feed. The opportunities are all very scalable. This is the ultimate way to do remote production, to get everything back.”

The F50s have a crew of five: a helmsman, wing trimmer, flight controller and two grinders

Onboard setup

The boats have a crew of five – a helmsman, wing trimmer, flight controller and two grinders. The catamarans are state of the art in terms of sailing prowess, but they’re not lacking in terms of comms and AV either. Each boat carries customised video cameras and microphones, and athletes are miked up, allowing producers to jump to individual crew members and cameras for detail-level shots or when an incident occurs.

Specialised onboard hardware, including GPS antennas and receivers, telemetry antennas and data radios, tracking equipment, inertial measurement units, wiring harnesses and batteries – most of which are fitted in the hulls of the F50 in protective Pelican cases – allow SailGP to achieve 2cm positional accuracy of each craft.

 “With the postponement of Season 2, we looked closely at improvements on the F50s, particularly with the ambient sound that these devices create,” says Jones. “For Season 2, in addition to the camera feeds, each F50 has two effects microphones installed within the platform and we have improved the athletes’ communications between the team on the water and with SailGP departments. For the Bermuda SailGP race, for example, Iain Murray our race director was located in Sydney while still being able to communicate with each SailGP team. Craig Mitchell, SailGP chief umpire, was located in London and was able to speak directly with Iain and the athletes. SailGP has a system that can scale with the locations of all the key individuals needed for a SailGP race, regardless of the person’s location.”

According to Jones, fans will be able to listen to crew interactions and tactical calls, while McDonnell says the additional communications to the boat makes each crew member available individually for interviews. “There are now eight boats in the season, and eight [national] teams. In terms of cameras, it enables us to offer other broadcasters the chance to interview their team while we are interviewing a team on the world feed.”

Cloudy conditions

The SailGP competition was founded by Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, which provides much of the ‘intelligence’ behind the race. 

“Each individual F50 has 30,000 data points; that’s 240,000 combined data points available across all eight teams on the water,” explains Jones. “SailGP generates 40 billion database requests per sailing session, per day, so the ability to access this information quickly and securely is essential. Oracle Stream Analytics in parallel with Oracle artificial intelligence and machine learning platforms enable us to analyse this enormous amount of internal data, automate repeatable tasks, improve predictions and ultimately helps the teams to make smart decisions when sailing the F50.”

“These advancements are the cornerstone of SailGP’s future data roadmap and will help to provide the most fan-friendly and informative race broadcast the sport has ever produced,” he adds.

 The data-driven innovations don’t end there. Jones says SailGP is working with Oracle Data scientists to identify anomalies within the data housed within SailGP autonomous databases.

Each Sail Grand Prix includes two days of epic racing and culminates at the end of the weekend with a three-boat podium race to decide the winner

“Machine learning and artificial intelligence are the key technologies that we are looking to expand on, with the ability to anticipate split-second decisions on the race course, compare huge amounts of data in real time to find why a team is faster than another team and ultimately make decisions based on the data,” he explains. “Moreover, SailGP operates an open-source data policy; we don’t segment any data within Oracle Cloud and all eight SailGP teams have access to real-time and historical metrics to identify areas for improvement versus their competitors, creating a thrilling, boundary-breaking, ultra-competitive level playing field.”

“Machine learning and artificial intelligence are the key technologies that we are looking to expand on”

This wealth of data doesn’t just help with the race and the broadcast, it also ties into the SailGP app. “Fans can select teams to follow more closely, receiving key performance data from the boats and crew,” Jones adds.

For the production, Timeline, Whisper and SailGP make use of FastConnect, which creates a private connection between Ealing and the Oracle Cloud infrastructure.

“We can deliver all of the media that we record from sites to the Oracle Cloud,” says McDonnell. “We have videographers filming who can upload rushes direct to the Oracle Cloud. We can access those on-demand as needed and then download the required components for edit, so the Oracle Cloud has played a large part in the delivery of the operation.”

Ben Ainslie’s Great Britain SailGP Team was crowned winners of the opening event of SailGP Season 2

AR graphics

Another beneficiary of Oracle Cloud is LiveLineFX, an Emmy Award-winning graphics package that inserts key storytelling graphical elements into the live broadcast.  

LiveLineFX uses AR graphics to provide the viewer with information on the key race elements – from the field of play with the boundary graphic, start and finish lines, who is ahead or behind, with the 100m lines, the turning mark or gate circles, to name a few. The key to the integration is the high-precision tracking solution that is used that knows precisely where the boats are on the racecourse.

“LiveLine FX has been traditionally deployed at each venue with the LiveLine team and computer travelling to every grand prix,” says Jones. “For Season 2, the team will be working from the London studio with all the systems hosted on the Oracle Cloud.”

“For the Bermuda SailGP, we introduced the LiveLine boundary; a virtual wall that identifies the field of play for the TV audience,” he continues. “As well as enabling SailGP to brand the boundary with SailGP partners for desired exposure, LiveLine is essentially the SailGP equivalent of a digital perimeter board at a football stadium.”

Sailing green

Then there are the environmental savings. SailGP is committed to being a net zero tournament and is a serious contender in the sustainable sports stakes.

“Thousands and thousands of tonnes of CO2 have been saved by people not travelling halfway around the world and staying in hotels. That’s a big deal,” says McDonnell.

“When you’ve got boats sailing around Bermuda you’re always going to need some [technical] crew, but the name of the game really is to identify as many roles that can [be performed remotely] as possible,” he adds. “All the post production is done in Ealing. All of the feeds come back so we’ve got multiple edit suites cutting features, highlights and bespoke programmes, all the jobs you would normally expect to see in an OB, and none of those people have to [get on a plane].”

The number of international broadcasters has risen for the second SailGP season, with 30 more rights holders on board than last season

“There is a small compromise: sitting in Ealing controlling a boat by fly-by-wire when you’re a remote operator is not quite the same experience as when you’re on the shore, because there is a slight latency,” he adds. “However, it’s quite a small compromise and the benefits are that we can have more boat operators; we’re not having to fly them out there, so we can scale it up here.”

Also with racking and the technical operation of the cameras being carried out in Ealing, the production doesn’t have to fly out people to look after cameras for a day or two, as is the traditional requirement. “When it’s in Bermuda and you’ve also got COVID isolation, that’s a lot of days taken up to fly out to control some cameras,” says McDonnell. “The experience is probably 95% as good when in Ealing.”

Fully centred

McDonnell also points out the benefits working from a central broadcast centre over a traditional OB operation. “We can have people on late shifts and night shifts, whereas if you’re trying to recreate that in an OB, you’ve got to think about power and security and hotels and travel and buses. In the broadcast centre, we are geared up for 24-hour operation, it happens day in, day out. We carry on editing throughout the night delivering for different timezones and delivering for [international broadcasters].”

The number of those international broadcasters has risen, with 30 more rights holders on board than last season.

“It’s another good example of how [remote production] is a big advantage over the OB,” says McDonnell. “We offered tailored language feeds for different broadcasters. We had one director directing the race, but when they cut, for example to the live water graphics, different rights holders got a bespoke feed substituted. So we were generating the French feed, the Spanish feed and a Japanese feed, and all these feeds are able to have bespoke graphics and wipes and AR graphics, and then we delivered to broadcasters via BT Tower or via different fibre methods. To do that on the OB would be really difficult, but because it’s remote we can scale that to as many broadcasters as needed for those services.”

“It’s great to see so many different elements working together, from directors, graphics and replay operators to umpires and commentators,” he continues. “After the first few minutes of getting used to it, the commentators forget they’re not at the event. In fact everybody just gets into the zone and makes the programme and forgets about the fact of it being a remote production. I think that’s the mark of it being successful – if after it people are talking about what a great race it was and not about how it was produced [remotely].”

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