SVGE’s Football Production Summit: World Cup update with Dan Miodownik of HBS

DSC01000The Keynote Presentation at Sports Video Group Europe’s Football Production Summit at Stade de France came from Dan Miodownik, Director of Production, Host Broadcast Services. Miodownik gave Paris delegates a comprehensive preview of the production plan for 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil including core technologies and operations; venues and file transfers; managing the IBC workflow; and the multimedia service plan for Media Rights Licensees.

“There are 436 services ordered in the Catalogue of Services (COS), and 230 MRL services are booked already and we expect a few more,” said Miodownik. “It is interesting to note that 83 MRLs want on-site presence at the IBC: it wasn’t that long ago I was hearing discussions as to whether or not IBCs were still relevant in the modern host broadcast.

“Maybe it’s the location of these events, but it’s becoming critical that there’s an on-site presence judging by the numbers that are turning up to Rio this year. Also there are 120 commentary positions booked for the opening match — it really does show the on-site intention broadcasters have for this event. Similarly with the world feed uplink, on which we’re working with Eurovision, again there are 120 takers and that excludes the unilateral signals. Globecast are helping us with the venue backup feed.

“We’re keeping the ‘dream team’ concept, which we developed in 2002. The idea is that the [match] director is chosen and he then selects his dream team to work around him — he has complete control over who he chooses to have on-site.

“In addition to those teams you have 12 dedicated match day minus one teams as well as those who are providing unilateral services dedicated to each venue for the duration – and to give you an idea of scale, nearly 1500 or half of the [HBS] staff working on the World Cup are going to be venue-based,” said Miodownik.

Core technologies and operations

“Moving on to the technical platform needed to support that production background: we did a lot of assessment after South Africa. We moved from an OB van set up in 2006 into a flyaway fixed installation in 2010. We weighed up all the options and came to the conclusion that the flyaway fixed installation option was by far the best.

“It comes with a certain number of risks,” said Miodownik. “You can’t move it is one of them! But it is significantly the best option for us, given the scale of the operation. There are 34 to 37 multilateral cameras and over 40 cameras in operation overall in each venue, and for that you really need to have a platform that is bigger than an OB van can provide.

“In the end after a formal tender process in conjunction with FIFA we partnered with Sony and that has proved to be a phenomenally successful partnership. Then we had to identify the sub-licensees that Sony were going to work with upon approval with HBS – those companies are AMP, CTV, Outside Broadcast, Presteigne Charter and Studio Berlin providing technical crew.

“What’s critical is that the broadcast equipment is the same. HBS manages the entire technical project integration, working very closely with SonoVTS for systems integration. There is a single set-up for football at all 12 venues, but the director can choose his preferences whether that is the monitor stack layout; where he wants the vision mixer; how the EVS replays are set up; and how audio is configured.

“We’re in a commissioning process that’s now coming to an end, being finalised in Munich. We have directors and their key staff out there now fine-tuning the exact set-up they expect to have whenever they work in a selected venue. There will be limited changes on-site, but as a whole that set-up is happening in Munich at this moment.

“In addition there’s a very complex RF platform in place, we’re working with Presteigne Charter on 36 systems. It isn’t just complex to work with the set-up you control, you also then have to deal with the management of frequencies from Brazil as well — which is proving to be a very complex operation. And then we have the inevitable involvement of our good colleagues from EVS, 192 XT3s, which I think you’ll agree is a very large number of blue boxes!”

Venues and file transfers

“There will be over 300 cameras active at the venues,” he said. “We’re very thankful to Sony who managed to find 64 triple-speeds — that’s a lot for the period of time we need them. And then you have the speciality cameras; we went through a validation process for the cable cams, crane cams, speciality cams, box cams, ultra slow mos and those from helicopters. Again it’s very complex working in aerial in Brazil; trying to manage over 500 flying hours is proving to be a significant challenge in a country which is regionalised and therefore there is not one central location to work through.

“Again the unsung hero of television is the audio. We’ve been quite specific about what we want to achieve – having single microphone choices for each venue through Sennheiser and Schoeps. We have 12 audio desks, all the same [Lawo], however they are configured and set up in the way in which the audio engineer wants to work.

“There are over 840 commentary units, which HBS owns, of which 240 are the IP-based Lawo units. And of course you’ve got to manage all those commentary systems, with CCRs at the venues and of course one [AES 67/Ravenna-based] CMR at the IBC. We have a single comms system for the venues provided by Riedel, which allows everyone to talk to each other at whatever time they need to do so for the entire period of the event.

“The bespoke TOCs are designed by HBS and managed for us by Gearhouse. And of course to put all that together you need lots and lots of cable. Over 120 kilometres, one hundred and seventy of SMPTE, and the rigging is done for us by Mahlzeit.

“Of course we then have to move all that content around. There’s venues to the IBC where we have a network backbone provided by Telebras. The 12 venues are permanently connected, each with (redundant) 10 GEth. On the four active venues each day there is additional dedicated 2 x 10 GEth connectivity. The telco integration is done for us by Media Links and managed by HBS. The management service for that integration is by Vidi Germany.

“And in addition you have file transfer services. We have those at the venues [Smartjog], which allow us to transfer content to the IBC as well as at an international level directly for the broadcasters. HBS editorially uses those and it also uses the 26 additional injection points we selected around the country to conform to the editorial production plan.

“This leads us easily into the ENG project — as those 26 injection points are used by our 43 ENG crews. There is one crew with each competing team, working with Panasonic P2 and EVS Xedio dispatch. We have nine story crews gathering up those stories about the events, away from the football and focussing on what’s going on in and around Brazil. They’re working with Canon C300 and Adobe Premiere. And there are two IBC crews, one with Sony F55 and the other with Canon C300,” he said.

Managing the IBC workflow

“You don’t have the long rollout period that you have for a league, especially in a county as big and as challenging as Brazil. We have to hit the ground running in the middle of June and we have to get out in July. So the planning we put in place has to work when we hit the ground otherwise we’re already playing catch-up,” said Miodownik.

“So we’ve gathered the content from the venues and the field from ENG crews, which takes us nicely into the IBC. Here we have 55,000 square metres of indoor space, with 88 MRLs. It’s a good indication to see that the MRLs feel there is a strong reason to be on-site – and while there was a sense that they would be using the IBC more as a coordination centre, we’re seeing they are still operating a lot of their editorial on-site.

“The largest is the joint German operation between ARD and ZDF with just over 2000 square metres. There will be 17 TV studios at the IBC; that’s a commitment by the broadcasters to be on-site. This excludes the ten studios we also have at Copacabana beach. So you really can see again – broadcasters intend to be on-site for an event of this type and location.

“To operate a lot of those feeds coming in we need an MCR, a PCR and a quality control area. This is all HBS equipment, which on the whole has been updated new from 2010, and to glue it all together we need 200 kilometres of cabling. The heart of the IBC still remains the FIFA Max Media Server. We started this in 2006 and it’s been growing ever since. We had a long planning phase with our colleagues from EVS to establish what would be the best structure and functionality. In the end EVS will provide a single media solution. We had two media servers in 2010, one for the host operation and one for the MRLs. This time around we’ll have one, which will ingest content live as well as allowing us to work live on that server.

“It simplifies the technical process significantly, but it’s no mean feat to make it work. We’ve got to make sure that the 36 edit suites we operate can not just edit but that they can push and pull content at ease. 24 ingest channels, and more than 100 IP Directors – it gives you an indication of the number of personnel broadcasters intend to have on-site.

“I mentioned the 36 HBS edit suites: the decision was taken to move from Final Cut Pro once Apple had decided (for reasons that have yet to be explained to me) that they were going to move away from, let’s say, the professional platform. We started working with two or three different suppliers and in the end we’ve selected Adobe Premiere. And we’ve been very pleased with the work we’ve managed to do with them to come up with a system that allows us to work very quickly on-site with those who may not have worked with Adobe Premiere before. We believe they will be able to arrive at the IBC and seamlessly start work.

“On the graphics and stats side, working with Deltatre we have the global contract with FIFA for the central resource system – but in addition they are providing services for us and for MRLs both on-site and off-site via the Magma Pro system as well as Deltatre football. HBS is using Vizrt Libero for its computer-generated sequences for enhanced graphics. In terms of numbers, we’re looking at 280 production personnel – that’s just production editorial staff. That does not include those in the IBC who are working on the administration and coordination of the event,” said Miodowniik.

The multimedia service plan

“Multimedia is obviously still the buzzword,” he said. “We’re seeing a huge increase in these services compared with 2010. To all intents and purposes we were then still a mobile phone service. We’re much more in the tablet and PC world now. We had a long consultation process with FIFA TV (led by Stefan Wildemann), and we got some very solid feedback there in terms of what they required. What they wanted was pretty much a little bit of everything!

“In terms of the MLRs it’s dependent on scale and size of operation, and dependent on rights with existing platforms. So we built a set of services we felt would answer all of the MLR questions. And this meant offering both customisable white label services as well as standardised component elements.

“And what was critical was that broadcasters wanted to know that they could manage these services themselves, leaving a lot of their multimedia crews at home – and therefore not having to have increased expense in a country as expensive as Brazil. We made this offer to broadcasters, and the feedback was that they wanted it to support their existing digital strategy and it had to support their social media strategy. While that’s not really a technical issue – it’s probably more of a rights issue – in itself it contains considerable complexity as well.

“So in terms of what we’re doing and where we’re doing it, we’re offering six live streams per match as well as a comprehensive VOD and clip service per game, with cloud-based storage in Europe (in Ireland). We’re starting at a relatively high end, again a reflection of broadcasters’ desire to be as high quality as possible and of course we’ll adapt downstream from there. So we’re 720p @ 10 Mbps as the standing starting mezzanine format; encoding is done at the IBC by EVS; and we have a redundant dedicated line for multimedia (which is critical, coming from somewhere like Brazil).

“We want to ensure we get our content back to our cloud-based hub provided by S3 with the transcoding done by Elemental. And in order to make the system work we decided to engage with Akamai for an optimised content distribution system – which fundamentally means it is more robust, efficient and safer to use as a gateway for MRLs to interact with the content.

“So who’s using it? Over 30 MRLs are active in over 80 countries, so a lot of people will see a lot of content coming through the services we provide. We’re supporting social media integration via twitter, Facebook and Google. On white label apps we’re working with Netco and EVS C-Cast and also Deltratre’s Diva player.

“One other feedback from MRLs was that if we were going to take a white label service they wanted to be able to have a way of pushing their own content and we’ve managed that with MRL news integration. They’ll have the ability to access what they need in the cloud. The EVS C-Cast is the back end for providing content in various forms — streaming VOD, multi-angle clip creation, stats integration – and the component elements are also available in the cloud.

“Which brings us back, pretty much, to where we started! Our job is to take all of that and to make it work from the moment anyone turns up in Brazil until they cease broadcasting mid-way through July. I’ll reiterate — this starts from design and development to contracting those who are going to provide the services; and the integration of all that into a very complex operation across all platforms and areas of the World Cup. What’s critical is the preparation and coordination ahead of people turning up, and the management and delivery of those services on-site in Brazil,” concluded Miodownik.

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