Solid as a ROC: EMG and Gravity Media bring reliability to remote audio and video

EMG’s head of audio technology, Simon “Foz” Foster [left] with EMG UK’s CTO Sean Mulhern [right]

Live sport is about passion, drama, and the unscripted joy of watching skilled athletes compete for our entertainment. But behind the scenes, live sports broadcasting is much less about the drama and much more about reliably getting that drama to the screen.

As any guarantee engineer will tell you, setting up an OB is no simple task; bouncing an articulated vehicle and scores of people to a stadium hundreds of miles away is not the most efficient use of time or resources.

When EMG merged with Gravity Media at the beginning of 2024 it gave both companies an opportunity to elevate their existing remote production workflows. They are now working on developing more flexible ways to produce content in more controlled environments, and to build systems that are much more reliable than sending an entire team to a rainy stadium at the end of a motorway.

Now bedded into its new home at Westworks in London’s White City, EMG and Gravity Media deliver remote production facilities for all Premiership, Europa and Champions League games for TNT Sports.

EMG UK’s CTO Sean Mulhern makes adjustments to the racking for TNT Sports in the EMG and Gravity Media rack room

Enjoying a gradual move

EMG has been producing football remotely at the highest levels for years, and was remotely producing Rugby League in conjunction with Canada’s Dome Productions back in April 2019.

Audio was embedded onto the video feeds and backhauled to High Wycombe, says EMG UK’s chief technical innovation officer (CTIO) Sean Mulhern. “The audio feeds were distributed to the audio desk, the video feeds to the vision mixing desk, we added some Talkback, tallies over a VPN and hey presto; we had a remote outside broadcast. COVID enabled us to go much further; we built three remote control galleries at High Wycombe to cover rugby, boxing, and football remotely, and within six months we converted a gym in Stratford into a full remote operations centre.”

A football match is split into two main elements: match and presentation. For the match, EMG uses a remote surface model. This means the remote centre becomes a network extension of the OB truck, allowing full remote control of the OB truck components. For presentation, all signals are backhauled to the remote centre, incorporating video, audio and data.

“Working in partnership with BT Sport we scaled that up to run its football service. It was a full backhaul of video, audio and data, and once there was an opportunity to review, it was clear that there was an environmental, social and governance aspect to all this and an opportunity to lower our overall CO2 footprint. Once we realised that remote was staying, we really looked at how to make everything more efficient,” notes Mulhern.

That opportunity came when the BT Sport HQ at Stratford, London, closed down as part of the joint venture between BT Group and Warner Bros Discovery, which saw BT Sport rebranding as TNT Sports. For EMG that merger meant finding an entirely new home, and while EMG looked at a number of potential sites, the prospect of moving into the central London facility at The Westworks as part of the EMG and Gravity Media merger was something EMG grasped with both hands.

“The merger with Gravity Media was incredibly fortuitous,” Mulhern says, “and the Westworks is exactly what we had envisaged. It makes perfect sense for both brands: Gravity Media already excelled in international events and EMG were fulfilling a number of domestic contracts. Between us we really fill this place.”

Everything under one roof

The result is a scalable SMPTE 2110 IP infrastructure which is dedicated to flexible working and future growth. The Westworks facility provides four large and two medium production control rooms (PCRs) each with an adjacent sound control room (SCR). It has two large and two medium replay rooms, six flexible multi-booths, six edit suites (and another five coming online in June), three media management rooms and two flexi control rooms. Designed for fully immersive audio mixing, SCR1 boasts a full Dolby Atmos speaker array using Neuman KH 310s with KH 120s for the height channels.

EMG has now rehomed its full remote production centre from Stratford – as well as one remote surface gallery from High Wycombe – into Westworks, with PCR1 serving presentation and PCR2 serving match coverage.

Following extensive engineering tests and parallel soft launches, EMG and Gravity Media christened PCR2 with Manchester United’s 2-0 win against Everton at Old Trafford, with both the presentation and match elements produced from the Westworks.

From TNT Sports’ standpoint, this is the same tier one football production, and there are similarities with EMG’s proven way of working; its Nova 53 OB unit provides all the feeds for full UHD HDR Dolby Atmos presentation mix at Westworks, and its Nova 118 unit is remotely controlled for match coverage. Nova 53 is a scaled down version of Nova 118 built solely for remote production. With built in UPS, in a smaller footprint EMG and Gravity Media are able to deliver the service with greater and improved sustainability.

The biggest difference now is that everything in under one roof, and with layers and layers of redundancy designed into the system.

A Calrec Artemis is situated in sound control room 1 at Westworks

Lift and shift

“Previously, the match was remote controlled out of the High Wycombe facility, and the presentation was a full remote out of Stratford; now they’re all in the same building it’s better for our clients and provides a more streamlined use of the technology,” says EMG head of audio technology, Simon “Foz” Foster.

“We were very fortunate that we had already invested in very forward-thinking technology, and moving everything over has been virtually a lift and shift,” Foster comments. “One of the reasons that Gravity Media and EMG work well together is that the technology is the same. From audio consoles to network fabric to vision mixers to intercoms, we’re all using the same kit, which made the technology merger very simple, and makes things easier to plan for future expansion.

“The match is still UHD HDR Dolby Atmos and all signals and acquisition is done at the OB end. Due to the bandwidth, required for the back haul of 25+ UHD cameras and associated audio, it’s all processed and mixed on site in the OB vehicle.  This also allows us to service and add on OB clients directly on site and provides a robust disaster recovery plan.

“The presentation is fully remote and everything is kept separate on diverse red and blue networks. For presentation we’re able to use embedded audio, so we have 16 channels of audio per video stream, which it keeps it phase coherent. That said, because it’s UHD HDR there is still some compensation for transmission delays, but that conversion is all done internally at the Westworks, while the RP1 means that the timing planes for IFBs and presentation mixes are in real time,” says Foster.
With remote production relying so heavily on communication, and despite using the same RTS intercoms kit as before, EMG also took the opportunity to fine tune how it manages intercoms.

“Communications between remote centres and OBs are a priority and working in remote production means providing facilities that are identical to what our teams expect on site,” explains Foster. “Our intercoms consist of trunked matrices which give us full flexibility. We have intercom frames at the Westworks and another at the OB, and our system allows us to conjoin those two frames so they act as one matrix. It means we can access any services they have, and vice versa. Meshing the intercom networks together means we can access everything from everywhere, so it gives us a full dynamic resource across the intercom frames.

“Meanwhile, communication between the two independent production teams for the match and the presentation is also much easier as they are literally next door to one another!”

Sound control room 1 is fully rigged for full Dolby Atmos at Westworks

Lots of splits

Although the production teams are no longer split by geography, moving to Westworks has enabled EMG to introduce splits everywhere else, and each one introduces another failsafe. While the ST2110 network already provides seamless protection switching via the ST2022-7 standard, Westworks has built in masses of redundancy on the structural hardware layer.

“The remote infrastructure at EMG and Gravity Media is divided into three sections: Formula E, ATP Tennis and TNT Sports,” explains Foster. “We can pull services in from any client, but this is the demarcation for all the backhaul. Everything is split across red and blue networks, across dual power supplies and services are split across each ingest. There’s not only diversity in how we get the signals around the country and across the globe, but also in how it gets into the building with distinct ingest pipes at different ends of the building.”

Audio always on

Sixteen 3G presentation video feeds are split across the red and blue networks, and each is accompanied with 16 channels of discreet audio. Also, two match UHD feeds are also on the diverse networks. “It means that the red network carries 256 channels, and that is mirrored on the blue network. If one goes down, we still have access to every audio channel,” says Foster.

Meanwhile, comprehensive network monitoring provides full real time diagnostics of everything both at Westworks and at the venue, as well as the ability to dial in and reconfigure the network in the truck. EMG can even remotely control and manage the radio spectrum for its radio mics from Westworks, which allows them to not only pre-empt issues, but, says Foster, “enables our people to concentrate on working with the floor managers and talent at the stadium”.

He continues: “It’s very difficult to do all this at Old Trafford on a laptop at pitchside in the rain! They don’t have to worry about any of this, because we can do it from here in a controlled environment.”

Westworks is also able to remote into the Calrec RP1, as well as the console, while having an actual 32f audio console in the truck provides an additional level of physical redundancy. “If the desk in the PCR or the connectivity to it falls over, we are still able to run a disaster recovery mix on site,” explains Foster.

More reliable than a truck

Remote production is nothing without the network, but EMG’s integration into Gravity Media’s infrastructure has enabled it to develop multiple levels of redundancy and resiliency that delivers a way around everything. With over 25 years’ experience in outside broadcast trucks, Foster believes this is a much more stable way to work: “The most problems we see on the road are at switch on. An OB goes from job to job, with a different configuration each time and in between each job the OB truck is constantly bounced up and down a motorway.

“Here we can manage all that. We can manage our services, schedule maintenance plans, house everything in a centralised facility with a sustainable technical core and multiple UPSs. And the kit never gets turned off.  It’s an enabler for stability, reduces the amount of technical downtime and it prolongs the life of the equipment.

“We have a scheduled plan to migrate everything from High Wycombe where we still have two remote service galleries, remotely controlling OB trucks; we’re still scaling up, but we can support everything here.”



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