SVG Europe Guest Opinion: Solving sport remote production challenges

Olivier Suard, Nevion, Marketing Director

Olivier Suard, Nevion, Marketing Director

There is one absolutely inarguable factor that drives sports television: it has to be live, writes Olivier Suard, Nevion, Marketing Director. No one sits down to watch a game knowing who wins. There may be a case for highlights packages and ‘best of’ reviews, but the main driver for any sports channel is and will remain live coverage.

For the big events – Premier League football, The Ashes, Grand Slam tennis and more – there is a big audience. That brings significant advertising revenues, which justifies a big production budget. It is not hard to justify rolling the big outside broadcast trucks to top football matches; 20 or 30 camera productions can be justified at Indian Premier League or Rugby World Cup.

That still leaves sports broadcasters with a dual dilemma. How do they fill the remaining hours, and how does they cover the sports events that feed into the bigger events – lower leagues, college games and niche sports?

The answer lies in flexible and extremely cost effective remote production. That means taking critical hardware to site – the cameras and the microphones – but keeping the production equipment in a central location. If you can make it work, it reduces the costs and can potentially create better coverage.

Sending a full outside broadcast unit to site is an inherently expensive business. The truck is a big investment, which is not making any money while it is driving from site to site. The crew need to be moved to site, too, and provided with meals, accommodation, warm clothing and all the other practicalities.

But what if the director, vision mixer, sound supervisor, replay producer, highlights editor and all the other production staff stayed back at base? As well as saving on travel time and costs, productivity is increased. They could even cover two games in a day if the pictures and sound came to them rather than the other way around.

IP connectivity makes this possible. With mild JPEG2000 compression, it is possible to send multiple cameras and microphones down an IP connection or over dark fibre. Where bandwidth is constrained, H.264 compression can be used, with minimum loss of quality. With our technology, the multiple signals will maintain synchronisation and low, predictable latency to ensure that live is really live.

With IP connections being ubiquitous and comparatively inexpensive, coverage can be delivered from virtually any location back to the central production. Furthermore, modern media network management systems, like Nevion’s VideoIPath, can make it extremely simple for non-experts to set-up and tear down connections on demand.

Pac-12 Networks cover the sports at universities on the west coast of America. They have recently adopted remote production, covering no fewer than 850 live events a year from central control rooms and post facilities in San Francisco. The venues are up to 2500km away, and all are connected over IP.

The benefit to Pac-12 is that they see savings of between $12,000 and $15.000 per event. Across 850 events a year, that is a huge saving and a very rapid return on investment.

There are also advantages of remote production in the largest sports events. The 2012 Olympic Games saw a huge upsurge in remote production, with leading broadcasters having a presence in Sochi but doing a lot of the post production and presentation from their own bases.

It takes advantage of smart solutions that ship proxies of all the content back to the home base in Europe or America. Editors and producers made their selections, and only the required takes need be moved over busy IP circuits. This makes the best use of the available bandwidth, provides a fast turnaround, and does not compromise high production standards.

For a sports broadcaster, contribution over IP for remote production is a win all round. It raises production standards on the big projects and makes niche sports and lower leagues a practical proposition for live broadcasting, while saving costs at every level.

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