Sky Sport Italy Summit 2024: Behind the scenes of Sky Italia’s Euro 2024 setup

Held on 27 June at the Milan Santa Giulia headquarters of Sky Italia, the Sky Sport Italy Summit 2024, opened with Manuela Baraschi, head of content partner & Sky production services at Sky Italia, moderating a panel entitled ‘Euro 2024 Insights: Bridging Germany to Italy’. She was joined on stage by Alessandro Alquati, Andrea Buonomo, and Luciano Consigli, while Ferruccio Zanotti and Fabio Buzza connected from the IBC in Germany.

Ferruccio Zanotti, senior manager editorial production at Sky, explained how Sky managed the UHD HDR production of the European Championship. After a year of preparation and guideline definition, this new production standard was adopted and will also be used for the Champions League.

Sky’s European project began with booking and drafting specifications. The filming focused on training grounds, using two bonded cameras to support four reporters who followed the national team’s entire day. Cinevideo handled the integration of the unilateral feed, supplying an on-site broadcast-class mobile unit.

The main studio in Germany is equipped with three cameras, one of which is mounted on a Jimmy Jib. A second studio has been created pitchside, equipped with two cameras, one on a Rockycam with anamorphic lenses, while a super slow-mo camera captures profiles during matches, and a flash position camera conducts interviews. Two bonded cameras operate around the stadium to ensure 360-degree coverage alongside live events.

During the group stage, six matches were broadcast live with commentary and UEFA pre- and post-match connections. An additional nine matches were also covered. For the opening ceremony, the studio operated in remote production thanks to LiveU equipment, distributing three separate signals and three more in SRT as backup. The studio at Adidas Village in Berlin, opposite the Reichstag, hosted four newscasts. The project achieved significant cost savings by sharing backpacks with Sky UK and Germany.

The MCR at the IBC

The technological heart of the operation, the MCR, was created at the IBC in Leipzig in collaboration with Globecast and Cinevideo for signal distribution, using four J2K fibres for HD and HDR matches and six MPEG4 fibres for ancillary signals provided by UEFA. The entire system was configured in a dual ring with simultaneous delivery to Rome.

Zanotti emphasised the production centre’s commitment, managing over 200 hours of broadcasting, while continuing to work on other sports such as motorsports and tennis. High audience ratings crowned the event.

Globecast’s managing director Alessandro Alquati and chief technology officer and Fabio Buzza described “how the distribution model has changed over the years”. “New technologies with smaller encoders have improved signal delivery quality and security, thanks to a redundant architecture,” said Alquati.

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A 1GB redundant fibre ring connecting the IBC to Milan Santa Giulia was described, accompanied by a disaster recovery solution with an alternative route connecting Rome. In case of issues, Sky’s fibres connecting the two sites are used.

Buzza explained: “The technical configuration involved the use of new encoding platforms. The most significant change was the switch to J2K encoding to avoid latency issues. This allowed for greater variability.”

System monitoring was also explored. At the IBC, a facility was set up to monitor all matches with a structured monitoring system, allowing verification of the signals generated in Germany, those delivered, and those actually received in Santa Giulia. The end-to-end configuration facilitated troubleshooting.

Another crucial element was replicating the same monitoring at Globecast’s MCR in Rome, creating a double verification level. Circuit redundancy is essential in these contexts, and an additional disaster recovery level was added, with MPEG4 equipment, to ensure the security of this very important and expensive product.

Andrea Buonomo, executive sales manager of Cinevideo, highlighted: “Technologies have evolved significantly, increasingly operating according to a remote production logic, allowing the creation of high-quality content. This approach has consolidated through experimentation in numerous major international events.”

Cinevideo implemented a remote signal control system managed at the IBC for the Euros held in 2021, similar to the one used in the current edition. In this configuration, Sky can directly select signals to send via fibre from Leipzig to Milan Santa Giulia. For on-site personalised production, Cinevideo used an OB van in 12G HDR standard, which in this edition operates in 1080p HDR.

Also, in the studio in Germany, the cameras operate entirely in HDR, including the Cinelook on Rockycam support, a full-frame camera. This was possible thanks to previous tests conducted with Sky on two Champions League matches in 2023, which introduced a completely HDR workflow for the first time.

Tests in real-world situations helped the team overcome the biggest challenge: ensuring that the on-site conversions and those made in Milan were of the same nature and quality. In practice, Cinevideo had to ensure that the native HDR workflow converted to SDR maintained the same quality and colorimetric parameters as the international signal distributed by UEFA to users in 1080i SDR. This process ensures that the HDR standard will be maintained without surprises when the Champions League resumes.

Luciano Consigli, senior manager – broadcast engineering at Sky, delved into the new opportunities for the Sky group, highlighting HDR production methods, on-site studio coverage, and synergies between the UK and Germany offices. “These are the three key points that emerged,” he said.

The production of the 51 matches in UHD HDR required infrastructure alignment between the various stadiums, a complex task. LUTs (Look-Up Tables) were essential for this operation. Furthermore, all UEFA matches over the next three years will be managed in HDR/SDR progressive, a significant commitment that involved a complete overhaul of the reception system, as UEFA opted for DVB-S2 distribution for progressive signals. LUTs and NBCU were explored to manage the technical parameters needed for HDR and SDR, including white compression.

For Sky, this means dual workflows: signal transport is dual, as is reception and alignment at the MCR, the production chain, graphics, playout level, and distribution. This dual system ensures optimal compatibility across devices. The ultimate goal is to obtain a single feed, both HDR and SDR, that the MCR receives in progressive, ensuring an optimal production level. This requires the entire production centre to operate in progressive, with updates already underway, even in the production part, and implementing a cloud-based playout infrastructure directly in progressive.

Consigli concluded by saying: “Two crucial points were remote production and collaboration between the various international crews; the latter allowed for the sharing of many resources, starting with the shared backpack filming thanks to Globecast and LiveU Matrix connections.”

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