SVGE/IMG Tour & Conference: Stockley Park production workflows with tech partners

At the unique Stockley Park event last week, IMG gave key technology suppliers a platform to tell us of their involvement with this giant project and to drill down into their own specialty area within the multi-faceted operation. Cambridge Imaging Systems and EVS told of their involvement with IMG Sport Video Archive, the world’s largest dedicated sports library. Audio supplier Lawo revealed how it rose to the challenge of delivering its largest ever audio network anywhere in the world. And Grass Valley took the stage to outline a vision for the future of broadcast operations – a vision that includes regular 4K production and IP-centric production on a software-defined networking base.

Tom Blake, Cambridge Imaging Systems, Chief Executive Officer

“We are a software development company. We’ve developed a product called Imagen that’s being used by IMG Sport Video Archive [‘the world’s largest dedicated sports library’] to basically publish and re-purpose archive content to find new revenue streams via a branded portal that is served up as part of the Imagen product,” said Blake.

“The logs we’re searching are served up to Imagen by EVS IP Director, which creates timecoded logs from video. Once you’ve found the image you’re looking for from the archive you can take a clip of that, mark the in and out points, give it a different name and aggregate lots of clips together into a playlist. Or if you have the right permissions (and it is all permission-based), you can hit the green download button which will initiate a workflow calling back the master quality footage, transcoding out and partially restoring just that section, and delivering it to your order basket.

“The origin of a lot of this content is the tape library downstairs in this building,” said Blake. “The content been digitised, logged in IP Director, loaded into the Ardome MAM system where we have an integration between Imagen and Ardome, pulling the content into Imagen where the workflow manager is creating the browse proxies and bringing everything together into this experience. The Sport Video Archive here can then license that footage for people all around the world.

“The master quality media gets written off by our storage service module either onto an LTO with low resolution proxies online, or (not used here at the moment) you could equally use S3 storage location if you wanted to have your proxies in the cloud and your masters on-premises,” he said. “That abstraction layer allows the system to grow to very large archives – we have some archives of over 1.5 million television programmes, due to the way the storage service is architected.

“On top of that we have a branded web interface to access the portal. One of the other workflows we have here at IMG is a partnership to provide a service for the ATP Tennis Tour. They had a need to create news clips for world broadcasters where they could access content in a near line environment,” he said.

“So we have another piece of software that sits upstream of this environment to capture the live DVB-S feed from a tennis tournament. A broadcaster can hit the ATP Media web site, log in, land in a panel and drill down to all the information they need, with live content coming straight off the satellite. That is running downstairs here in the server room.

“We are delighted with the partnership we have with IMG,” concluded Blake. “Delighted to be a supplier here and we’ve got a very clear path to upgrade our software to offer higher quality and higher bitrate deliverables to be able to integrate seamlessly with the file acceleration software they’re using here in order to improve the service and make that content more widely available worldwide.”

Jérome Wauthoz, EVS, Product Manager

EVS technology very much forms the backbone of the IMG Studios production worklfow, through replay, integration to archive and fast turnaround editing, nearlive production, logging, metadata, servers and more. EVS Is centrally involved across production, whether for Premier League Productions (which makes up about 50% of activity at Stockley Park), other football, or the variety of sports produced on-site including golf, tennis, rugby union and league, Formula 1 and cycling.

“You understand that this is lots of productions, thousands of productions every year,” said Wauthoz. “We have been working with IMG for more than ten years and they have one of the biggest sports databases that I know. In terms of live production and technology, this is one of the biggest in the world.

“Metadata is really key,” he said. “On a daily basis they keep 15,000 clips online so the production team can really access content for highlights shows etc. There are 20,000 log sheet containers holding all the metadata – 20,000 events logged and kept in the database.

“There are 2.5 million logs. In 2012, for the London Olympics, there were about 300,000 logs for the whole event. So now you can imagine how big this one is.

“In order to handle all of this you need good production asset management. That’s what EVS has in place here. Basically everything is centralised around the IP Director Live Production Asset Management (PAM), which is the workflow enabler at IMG.

“There are four parts. You need to manage the content; then you enrich it using all the logging information; all the production people need to be able to access the content so you need to provide the tools for that; and then at the end you need to deliver that content.”

“In terms of technology, we have 19 servers (T2 or XT3), with lots of flexibility in the ports. There are 40 IP Directors for production people to work on; ingest, playout and all the production efforts. We’ve got 10 IP Loggers, which are the shot listers. And 20 XTAcess systems for transfers and transcoding if needed.

“To manage the content you need to have a strong user rights system – and IMG does it really cleverly. They created user groups in terms of the kind of production – Premier League, Football League, golf and so on – and also dedicated to what the guys have to deliver, and where. When they log in they just see the environment they need to see for the production, customised for the targets and deliverables they require.

“Everything that is kept on the online storage is managed seamlessly by the IP Directors. Everything related to live is kept on the servers in high and low res, and everything non-live or archive is managed on the nearline storage via the IP Directors.

“From the IP Director, here at IMG we have three different types of delivery. The first of course is post production for the highlights, delivering to Avid. The second is to Ardome MAM for archive, and the third is on the web service [Cambridge Imaging, see above]. We have tight integration with all of these tools,” said Wauthoz.

Tobias, Kronenwett, Lawo, International Sales and Project Manager

“When IMG came to us they had already approached some suppliers so we were a bit late to the table. What they wanted was a new way of building a broadcast centre.

“Normally there is an island-based approach with a studio, control room, some commentary and post production,” said Kronenwett. “IMG wanted to be very flexible where they could swap studios around, and they wanted to extensively pool equipment together so everyone could use it.

“Of course it had to be reliable, so you couldn’t make it super-duper fancy. And there was one problem – there was a schedule. And the schedule was horrible!”

“When IMG and TSL got in touch with us, we thought ‘forget about it’”, admitted Kronenwett. “But finally we made it and it’s all based on a fully networked concept.

“So what we could throw into the ring? Thanks to the German broadcasters, we already have 25 years of audio networking experience behind us. In video people are used to networking and they’re used to clips and file-based workflows and server structures. But in audio, operators are, let’s say, a little reluctant to move to a networked approach. So the whole thing must be handleable; the operator must get the feeling that this is something he can drive when he sits in front of a console.

“It’s quite easy to network three, four or six consoles; when you talk about networking 14 or 15 together things get really difficult – especially with the sheer amount of available signals,” he said.

“Then on top was the IMG decision to use the BNCS control system. That meant we had to provide an interface to BNCS. And then there was user rights management. Audio guys tend to think that permissions mean microphone preamps. What’s much more difficult to manage is the output side. If you send a signal to an embedder and someone takes away the embedder, your whole programme is screwed. This was quite difficult for us, working in groups with both inputs and outputs.

“During the project we realised, OK this is really the biggest network we’ve ever built. It was absolutely at the max of everything we had done. So internally we had to run some tests to see if numbers we assumed five or six years ago would really come together,” he said.

“And IMG extended the network during the process, so we added another console a few months ago, making a total of 15 consoles. It’s ongoing, so we need to also be very future-proof.

“The other thing was the jobs IMG were doing were growing at the same time as we designed the system so that made the whole thing, IO wise, really big. But IMG were very aware of what they doing and they understood that we needed to have some rules and some discussions.

“Having built Russia Today just before this project, we also had something of a blueprint regarding what would be the difficulties and problems here. TSL did a very good job. It’s very very important to have a good SI – and if you don’t, such a project is just not manageable,” said Kronenwett.

“The result is a very open, friendly and welcoming studio complex,” he said. “At the moment we have 16 of our processing cores in the network, which is a lot. And we have fully networked sound control rooms so you can network literally every signal that’s available in the building. From our side it has been a really nice project.”

Eric DuFossé, Grass Valley, Market Segment Manager for Live Production

Rather than specifically address Grass Valley’s involvement in the IMG Studios operation, Eric DuFossé chose to provide an overview of GV’s capabilities and some pointers into the future for live production workflows and technologies (including 4K and an all-IP infrastructure). His presentation was titled, ‘The Future of Live Production’.

“We address the broadcast market, sports venues, and the new digital platforms,” he said. “Grass Valley has the reputation of being the ‘big iron’ company with expensive stuff. But today, 60% of our engineering developments are in software. There is a global need for live sports production and everyone wants to produce more content — but at different price points. We need to be more flexible, to cover the complexity of sports production from the high end to sports that do not have the same budget.

“You need to tell a better story,” he said. “That’s how to differentiate your production company, and we need to provide the tools for you to do that – such as the 6X slo mo we launched at NAB, which was a tremendous success for us, working with partners like EVS.

“The bigger challenge is transition to the next technology. When you look at the life cycle of a truck in Europe, it would be about 12 years? How do you protect that investment? At the moment, everybody will buy 3G-ready for high end production. And now, the next challenge coming down the line is 4K and the IP transition.

“First of all,” stated DuFossé, “4K is ready today. People want to start to use the equipment to experiment. We did an internal survey of our customers and discovered that 30% who are planning to build a truck in the next three years are focusing on 4K. That doesn’t mean they will build a 4K-only truck – that’s crazy. But they want to have the capability to buy a 4K-ready infrastructure, using HD today and 4K sometime tomorrow.

“The biggest challenge in this regard is the camera,” said DuFossé. “So at IBC we announced our strategy for the 4K camera. We are using a two-third inch lens mounting and we have the capability with the processing behind to use this at three times 2K and to use the raw 6K formation inside the processing.

“We use CMOS, a digital sensor (in comparison to CCD, which is an analogue device) to go through this 6K formation during the entire chain. The beauty of that is we keep all the advantages we have with the broadcast lenses – depth of field, zoom ratio – and it gives us the capability to have a reasonable price difference between the 1080p camera and a 4K-ready camera. A number of customers have said, ‘I will buy this camera: probably for the next two to three years I’ll use it HD, but I will be 4K-ready’. We have a product range today, ready for 4K.

“Moving forward, we all know the limitations of the video infrastructure. It’s OK today, but we are reaching the limits of cables, bandwidth and formats. The good news is that IP technology is now at a level for our needs in broadcast – under certain conditions.

“The topology of an IP network is exactly the opposite to today’s infrastructure, because it’s completely decentralised,” said DuFossé. “That’s a huge opportunity for our business. From now on, we’ll be able to deploy the abstracted topology of the infrastructure – you just won’t care where the box is. You can manage long distances, enabling new workflows for your production. You can deploy your architecture as your business grows.

“We announced the first phase of our IP strategy with two key decisions,” he said. “First, we will support the SMPTE standard to guarantee interoperability between vendors.

“And we will allow you to use generic switches; we don’t want to box you in with proprietary IP-enabled technology. We’re looking at the transformation from SDI to IP, using generic (Cisco) switches – because that’s the opportunity for you to use the best of both worlds, with determistic switching, broadcast infrastructure, and the capacity of IP networking in generic terms.

“To enable that we are developing a next-generation routing system that will allow us to control conventional broadcast operations but also control the generic switches to guarantee quality of service. This is called software defined networking. SDN — that’s the future,” he said.

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