Sport Production & Technology Summit 2021: Reflections on global industry transformation
After the great lengths the industry went to in order to keep sports on air during the pandemic it was a time for reflection, commendation and assessment of what comes next as the European sports broadcasting and production community convened at SVG Europe’s Sport Production & Technology Summit 2021.
It wasn’t lost on those attending the summit at Stamford Bridge, home to Chelsea FC, that this was a welcome occasion to get back in the room with friends and colleagues.
Hosted by sports reporter and TV presenter Natalie Quirk and sponsored by Panasonic, the conference and networking event was capped by the Sports TV Awards, sponsored by Canon, honouring the outstanding companies, teams and individuals that pushed sports broadcasting and production forward under perhaps the most challenging conditions ever.
Attendees had a chance to hear first-hand from thought leaders from Sky Sports, F1, NEP and Mediapro in extended round table conversations. Many shared similar experiences of guts and innovation in getting live sports back to air and now face the task of cementing the technologies and workflows that will continue to deliver remote and hybrid productions.
The sheer speed of change enforced by the pandemic has driven the adoption of IP and cloud workflows and tools, but this has also left a gap in skills that needs addressing.
Delegates also had a chance to hear the thoughts of SVG Europe sponsors about how their product and solutions strategies are responding to the ongoing evolution of sports broadcasting and production workflows.
Chris Clarke (pictured above, second left), CEO and co-founder, Cerberus Tech, said that his company had perfected the idea of self-service (or self-provisioning) where tools and services are accessed over IP and in the cloud.
“Many of the core functions like IP distribution and transcoding is a commodity function. We should be able to open that up to button pushers anywhere. That’s how we think IP and cloud will scale.”
M2A Media, another cloud native company, noted that more premium sports brands have adopted cloud workflows over the past year and this trend was only set to grow.
Marc Risby (pictured above, second right), managing director and CTO, Digibox, made the point that vendors and users now face decisions on keeping, pruning and prioritising the technologies that were adopted in haste at the beginning of lockdown.
“Companies, including ourselves, need to harden their systems and decide what to keep. It’s clear to us that SRT is going mainstream for delivery over the public internet, that NDI has taken a big leap and IP has suddenly been pushed forward much quicker,” he said.
Hawk-Eye deploys both hardware and specialist operators at venues and has had to reappraise its approach. “We were forced to think about doing so in completely different ways,” said Rasmus Larsson (pictured above, far right), product director, Sony Sports (Hawk-Eye Innovations and Pulselive). “When we move to IP and cloud we are minimising the space between linear and digital, and that enables us to do things we couldn’t do before using more automation and combinations of AI/ML and tracking technology.”
“Vendors have to offer more flexibility on price and move towards software as a service business models because that is what customers want.”
Per Lindgren, CTO, Net Insight (pictured above, middle), said: “In the move to cloud we need reliability, quality and security as well as better synchronisation of data, video and audio, but I think the bigger shift is not one of technology but one more related to business models. Vendors have to offer more flexibility on price and move towards software as a service business models because that is what customers want.”
Telstra’s head of global sales Anna Lockwood talked about the company’s rapid transformation to meet customer requirements. “We knew cloud and internet was something customers were asking for. We acquired MediaCloud in June this year that gave us a suite of significant software-defined and cloud-based capabilities, more than 70 cloud experts and a new MCR in London Docklands that is equipped with the capability to support major global companies and events.”
When the pandemic hit it wasn’t just broadcasters that were cut off. The fanbase was locked out of venues too. “We worked with a lot of broadcasters to make their broadcast more engaging by bringing the audience in and making them feel part of a community,” said Karl Kathuria, customer solutions director, Never.no. “It’s created a shift to an interesting format that gives people a chance to make their voice heard.”
BT Media & Broadcast showcased the connectivity it designed, installed and managed for BT Sport’s host production of the UEFA Super Cup on 11 August from Windsor Park, Belfast. Matters were complicated by the lack of native connectivity at the venue and the short timeframe in which to turn this around.
Laura Tressler, head of sales and client management, explained: “We needed to deliver 22 Gigs of bandwidth to carry 46 visions and data feeds in under 30 days from a venue that was not fibred. Typically, it takes 45 days to design, transport, install and test links for an event of this scale.”
The logistics of travelling trucks across the channel was another consideration but one that might be ameliorated with future advances in software defined networking (SDN). “In the future, we see a time where we can reduce trucks on site by introducing flight case solutions and SDN which will allow us to preconfigure kit and optimise bandwidth in a better way,” said Tressler.
Telstra Broadcast Services spotlighted its delivery of the America’s Cup, originally planned to be raced in Europe then diverted to Auckland when COVID hit.
“We had to reinvent,” said Steven Dargham, head of major events at the company. “We put in a remote production capable network that allowed us to ingest 44 video sources (including two on chase boats, two on helis and 10 on each boat) and deliver to 150 counties and 50 broadcasters as well as live streaming for Facebook, YouTube and the America’s Cup website.
“We took a multilayer multiservice approach, deploying a high-speed, high-bandwidth media fibre network and on top of this a remote operation from Sydney. We also deployed media edge kit to do H.264 and H.265 and devices capable of Zixi, RIST and RTMP.
Telstra said it was the world’s most watched event in 2020 with 941 million viewers across all screens (a record for the America’s Cup) representing a 3.2% increase in dedicated viewers compared to the previous race in 2017.
Executives also cast forward to 2022. On Sky Sports’ roadmap, virtual production is the next big area of investment; Mediapro plans to expand its HDR experience to other sports, increase the number of AR graphics in live production and “to change the mentality of SDI fans about discovering the magic of the IP world”, according to CTO and operations manager Emili Planas Quintana.
HDR is also on the cards at F1 and it’s at an advanced stage, with its most recent test during the United States GP in Austin, Texas. “There is still some work to do around making sure our SDR product looks great,” said Trevor Turner, F1’s head of new technologies for broadcast & media. “We have a huge variety of camera sources from cars to helicams [needing to co-opt into the workflow] to achieve an HDR and SDR quality product while controlling it all from the UK.”
“It’s close,” he hinted.
SVG Europe Sports TV Awards
The level of innovation and ingenuity demonstrated by the entries to the Sports TV Awards 2021 illustrated the capacity for innovation within Europe’s sports television industry.
Chair of judges and SVG Europe advisory board member Peter Angell said: “The quality of work and entries were incredibly high in-spite, or probably because of, the challenges of the past 18 months. All of the judges were looking to award those that have led by example, experimented, taken risks and ultimately achieved results that contribute to the forward momentum of our industry as a whole.”
Following an introduction by Ryan Kamata of awards sponsor Canon, the winners were revealed.
These included Sky Sports, StudioCoast, SimplyLive, Grass Valley and LiveU for the Outstanding Production Achievement – Innovation of the Sky Virtual Production Suite.
“We took something that nobody had seen before and went on air with it,” said Kevin Ramsey, director of Sky Studios who commended Sky’s operations people for the speed of deployment and ingenuity in getting the channel back on air during COVID.
The One Planet Award for Sustainability was won by IMG Studios’ Green to Screen initiative which targets net carbon zero by 2030.
“The biggest lesson we’ve learned is that we are not in competition [with other companies in the industry],” said Sarita Neto, Premier League Productions, production executive, and chair of IMG Productions & Studios Green to Screen. “If we can’t work together we can’t achieve anything.”
Winner in the Outstanding Production Achievement – Event category was Sky Sports’ remote football production achieved with partner NEP; while Salsa Sound and Manchester City FC took home the award for Outstanding Audio Innovation with its vCrowd Virtual Crowd sound solution.
WSC Sports beat out Sky Sports, LFC, Deltatre and BT Sport to the Outstanding OTT Experience honour for creating the automagical highlights behind the NBA Playoffs.
“Rarely does a game-changing product come along that immediately delivers on its promise, but this entry has managed exactly that,” raved the judges.
BT Sport’s United Initiative was justly praised for its commitment to diversity, especially women, and is a joint effort with RISE and Newham College.
“It’s important to change the face of the industry which is otherwise ageing and has a particular [white, male] face,” said Fatou Jeng, BT Sport, principal, broadcast regulation. “A lot of people are leaving because the pathways aren’t open to them. We need to encourage more women to come into the industry.”