TranSPORT report: Cellular technology finds success at all levels of sports production
Cellular-bonding solutions have carved a niche in sports venues and ENG workflows in recent years and, increasingly, are popping up in live sports productions as well. At SVG’s TranSPORT event last week in New York City, cellular-solution vendors LiveU, Comrex and TVU Networks weighed in on how their wares are changing the way sports content is produced and delivered.
One reason vendors are experiencing exponential growth in the technology is increased reliability. In sports venues, enhanced WiFi networks are taking on much of the mobile traffic, leaving distributed-antenna networks free to handle cellular needs ranging from cellphones to bonded-cellular backpacks. Outside the venue, the major cellular carriers continue to enhance their LTE networks.
“Three years ago, it was really just one carrier that had LTE. Now all four carriers have LTE and actually pretty broad coverage maps for the LTE,” said LiveU VP of Sales Mike Savello. “Even so, you deal with areas of congestion. Everybody here has to deal with congestion in sporting events, and so reliability becomes a key concern and a key challenge I think for all of us, no matter who we work for.”
LiveU, known for its cellular-transmission backpacks, continues to enhance the RF technology in the units, which can overcome cellular congestion caused by mobile devices and access bandwidth from towers outside the devices’ reach. The company has also experimented with installing localised private networks for major events, such as the Super Bowl or the Papal visit.
However, bonded-cellular technology isn’t the only way that vendors are leveraging cellular networks. TVU Networks VP of Sports Sales Ken Valdiserri described his company’s use of aggregated cellular in its units.
“In an aggregated formula, any time you lose any modem cards, the throughput is picked up by the other data services that we aggregate within our formula and our system,” he said. “We have found that our customers feel it is much more reliable and there’s not as much pixelating, sputtering, or buffering of some of the video that is pulled over the air or over the web site.”
The cellular-technology discussion at TranSPORT followed several panels that focused on the growth of ‘at-home’ production — specifically, how at-home efforts can slash production costs — and the cellular vendors weighed in on how backpack units and other cellular technologies can cost-effectively enhance live productions.
“This is the direction that the industry is headed, and it’s clearly the direction that our customers are starting to head in as well,” said Savello. “Latency has been a concern in these types of environments when you’re trying to do at-home production, but I think that’s becoming less and less.
“The cost is coming down now as well,” he continued. “For instance, we’re working with some of the RSNs that deal with Major League Baseball, and one of the issues is spring training. To produce a spring-training game, the costs are exactly the same as to produce a normal game during the regular season, but the revenue is not always there during spring training. There is a need to economise on the production but still be able to deliver a very professional production.”
Cellular technologies can enhance live productions in other ways. Comrex’s Joe Torelli, who serves as market development manager for the LiveShot line — which delivers low-latency audio and video over IP — described how the technology was recently used by Fox Deportes during a soccer match.
“They like to have return video, and, when they need to have return video, it costs a bundle for them to see what’s being switched from L.A. into the programme,” he explained. “So [they] bring the portable [LiveShot] with them, plug it in, plug a modem into it, and they’re literally just pulling return video back from the station. It gives them the flexibility of covering the events wherever they are on the planet, as long as there’s service. If they’re unsure of what the cellular service is going to be, they’ll order up an Ethernet line because they’re only pulling tiny 256 K back, which is nothing but is enough for them to see [return video].”
The panelists concurred that, whether their technology is deployed in a sports venue, as part of an ENG workflow, or within a live sports production, the technology can enhance any broadcast by delivering content from more locations than would be possible using a traditional broadcast camera complement.
“CBS, [this season’s] Super Bowl rightsholder, is going to be deploying our equipment this February in Santa Clara and will be utilising a TVU Anywhere pack to pick up various locations in and around the Bay Area,” said Valdiserri. “They want to look like they’re everywhere, and, with TVU Anywhere, they will be everywhere.”