The Olympics, remote production & gold medal workflows
Regardless of the location, an Olympic Games is a massive broadcast undertaking. The 2012 Games set the standard for audience expectations. Now it’s almost mandatory that every moment of every event is available for broadcast and online viewing, no matter where in the world.
This desire for content everywhere means huge amounts of content that needs to be managed, processed and distributed. There are more than 200 rights-holding broadcasters who need access to all that content. For many of them, not only must events be shown live, but packages must also be created immediately for broadcast and online services.
This means the broadcast infrastructure required at any Olympic Games is complex. But for the 2014 Winter Games, the technical challenges were magnified as many events were in remote, geographically hostile locations, many miles from the International Broadcast Centre (IBC).
The stage was set for an innovative way of working. With the help of Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), the host broadcaster, a number of rights holders moved decisively towards remote collaborative production. They paired relatively small teams on site with much bigger post-production groups back at their home studios – from Russia and the USA to Norway and Sweden.
Central to all of these advanced workflows were servers, connectivity tools and workflows from EVS.
OLYMPIC BROADCASTING SERVICES
OBS is the body that is responsible for all international coverage. It arranges for outside broadcast units to cover each venue, renting them from local contractors such as Panorama (see below) or from further afield to meet the broadcast requirements.
In Sochi, each of the outside broadcast trucks was equipped with its own local network of EVS production servers to meet their own replay and live production needs.
All the venue feeds, along with the unilateral productions of many of the rights-holding broadcasters, were consolidated at the IBC in Sochi. The centre had a massive EVS server network, which managed all the content flowing through the operation.
There were 17 XT3 live production servers dedicated to recording all incoming feeds, with 1500 hours of capacity backed up by a further 2000 hours on EVS XStoreSAN networked storage. Keeping track of all this content was crucial, and a team of loggers watched every event, using the EVS IPDirector logging module to tag all the action and generate a colossal amount of descriptive metadata on all the action, tied to timecodes.
To meet the needs of the Olympic News Channel, an OBS production, as well as all the requirements of broadcasters, there was a parallel Avid server network. Using EVS’ XTAccess gateway solution, all content on the EVS network was transcoded, complete with all of its metadata, to the 3000 hour Avid ISIS server.
Smaller rights-holding broadcasters could rent time on the Avid network for their own local post-production. Larger broadcasters used EVS IPDirector to select the material they needed, which was then transferred to their own local or remote infrastructure.
The design – which is continually being refined by OBS - was a powerful architecture which managed vast amounts of content, and met the demands of all the rights-holding broadcasters, whatever their size, quickly, conveniently and securely.
ANO Sports Broadcasting, which operates under the name Panorama, was established in late 2009 to create a centre of excellence for sports production in Russia. Formed by major broadcasters OJSC Channel One, FGUP VGTRK, OJSC NTV-Plus and the Ria Novosti news agency, Panorama provides technical and production resources to guarantee very high quality coverage of major events, and was the Russian rights holder for the Sochi games.
Its outside broadcast fleet was a mainstay of the coverage, with three 24-camera trucks, four 16-camera trucks and five 10-camera trucks in service. For the Paralympic Games, which followed the Winter Olympics, Panorama was solely responsible for the international feeds as well as the national service.
For the Russian broadcast service, Panorama set up a split workflow, with much of the post being carried out in Moscow. The heart of the process was an extra vehicle, the Panorama Large Mobile Office (LMO), parked near the IBC in Sochi.
Inside the LMO was a network of 18 EVS XS servers (15 for ingest, two for playout and one bi-directional). They were linked to an EVS XStoreSAN for nearline storage. After ingest and realtime conversion by the Xedio Dispatcher for ENG footage shot on Sony XDCam, the content was then transported to XStoreSAN ready for editing.
All ingested content was immediately duplicated at browse resolution (low-res), using XTAccess. These proxies were held in main and backup stores on site, but more important they were transferred to Moscow over high-performance data circuits. The production workflow used a dedicated EVS XS ingest server at the Panorama Moscow headquarters. Panorama had its own team of loggers in Moscow, creating more than 215,000 log points over the Olympics.
Editors working in Moscow, using the same Final Cut Pro software as their colleagues in Sochi, cut stories using the browse resolution files. If the packages were needed in Sochi, then all that was needed was to send the EDL as a compact XML file down the line, to be conformed on Final Cut Pro workstations sitting on the EVS server network in the LMO. From there, the finished segments could be transferred on the local network to the IBC or to the outside broadcast unit that needed it.
The LMO was also equipped with EVS IPWeb, which allowed anyone with suitable privileges to search through any content. As well as empowering the remote production workflows, this also allowed multimedia teams to be working in parallel, and to generate large volumes of online clips.
Panorama partner RussiaSport put more than 3000 videos of the Olympics and 2000 videos of the Paralympics on line. Mobile network Megafon ran 239 live streams during the Olympics, and made available a further 306 video clips. All these workflows depended upon the EVS network and the workflows it enabled.
NBC SPORTS, USA
NBC Sports is the sports division of NBC Universal, the US rights holder for Olympic events, and is responsible for its highly-watched broadcast. With a sophisticated operation at its base in Stamford, Connecticut, the goal for the 2014 games was to make all content – new material captured in Sochi and the considerable archive in Stamford – available to all users, wherever they were, in a transparent and consistent way.
Making this happen involved integrating a lot of technology, but inevitably a large number of EVS servers and workflow tools were at the heart of the process. The IPDirector software allowed users to browse all the content, and to prepare clips for editing. Using the IPBrowse module, users could look through the NBC system to the OBS network in the IBC, giving them access to every minute of the action from the same research environment.
NBC Sports also used EVS technology for file transfers, as part of a plan to simplify the workflows and reduce human intervention. EVS’ Xsquare gateway and workflow orchestration solution covered approximately 70 watch folders, into which users could easily drop content for delivery.
Each watch folder was essentially a set of rules, so content could be dragged to the appropriate folder to be processed and delivered, often to multiple destinations, in a ‘set and forget’ process. Once the Games were up and running, this process was handling well over 2000 deliveries a day.
And while NBC Sports managed the extensive sports coverage, NBC News also needed quick access to content from Sochi. ENG shoots around the venues needed to be packaged up and dispatched to New York for editing to suit the needs of regular news programmes.
NBC News chose the EVS Xedio Dispatcher to organise all the files from an ENGshoot into a single story master clip, preserving the original field timecode to help the editor. Again, Xsquare watch folders were used to process and deliver the content to where it was needed.
According to David Jackson, director of bureau editing operations for NBC News, “We exported the files into Xsquare, and then seemingly moments later it was usable in the Avid Interplay. And because of the way that the guys at EVS engineered the Xsquare box, we can customize the destination folders inside Interplay.”
The process also generated a low-resolution proxy, which was available for browsing by users at any NBC Avid Interplay network around the world. Because of the way Xsquare processes the files in real time, to the users at remote locations, the play-while-capture looked like they were watching an incoming satellite feed.
The ability to so quickly and efficiently access all content was a tremendous boon to NBC News’ coverage of the Games, and marked the first time for such a sophisticated remote workflow.
For Norwegian broadcaster TV2, this was its first Olympics as a sole rights holder. It chose to broadcast live extensively, from its own studio near the sliding centre. This studio was kept simple, and much of the final production was carried out back in Bergen.
Each venue had an EVS XT3 server and operator for TV2, and the broadcaster also had a presence in the IBC. Here, more EVS servers were used to manage content and to push files to the edit teams, either at the venues or in Norway. EVS’ XTAccess and XFile gateway solutions managed these transfers.
Packages completed at the venues were pushed by ftp or accelerated file transfer home to Bergen, along with the packaged content from OBS, which was six streams at busy times of the event. TV2 used this to create three day-long broadcast channels, as well as extensive multi-platform coverage.
“That was done in Norway,” said Tore Storaas of TV2, “because we already have the staff and the infrastructure to do that at home.”
Just as in Norway, there was a huge public appetite for television coverage of the 2014 Olympics in Sweden. It was also the responsibility of a first-time rights holder. Viasat, which operates the most popular subscription service in the country, offered as many as 12 HD channels of live and packaged content during the games.
Supporting all this content were two studios: one in Sochi, one in Stockholm. A redundant fiber connection provided video and data connectivity between the two sites. Avid and Final Cut Pro editors sat in Stockholm, Sochi and the Mountain Broadcast Center near the skiing events.
All accessed a large EVS XT3 server network in Sochi, which was linked to the existing Viasat storage network in Stockholm. Through IPDirector, XTAccess and XFile everyone could browse the entire library and initiate transfers to their location.
The XTAccess gateway solution handled all the transfers into and out of the EVS and other editing environments, performing transcoding and transwrapping on the fly where required. For fast-turnaround content, playlists were assembled and triggered using MulticamLSM controllers. “The EVS NAS is the glue connecting these networks together,” said Viasat technology producer Mikael Krantz.
GOLD MEDAL WORKFLOWS
The eyes of the world are on any Olympic Games. Today viewers expect more than just footage of the winners. They want to be involved in every aspect of every event, through rich, immersive broadcasting and informative, engaging multi-screen content.
As Sochi clearly demonstrated, the technology is now in place to meet and exceed these viewer expectations, while at the same time controlling budgets and securing quality through the use of collaborative and remote workflows. This allows the production team to be split between those on the ground capturing the atmosphere and excitement, and those in home facilities where they are most productive.
This new process of remote production places huge demands on the technology, to ensure that the connectivity is secure and the bandwidth broad and fast enough. But it’s clearly reaping benefits and has now come of age. Smart techniques like only moving proxies and EDLs over busy data paths, as Panorama showed, make for even more efficient workflows. Indeed, Panorama reported zero errors over the whole Olympics and Paralympics period – definitely a gold medal winning performance.
Sources: TV Technology Europe, Mark Hallinger’s Sochi reports
- OBS - http://www.tvtechnology.com/news/0086/sochi-servers-in-sport/223816
- Panorama - http://www.tvtechnology.com/news/0086/a-games-greenfield-/269288
- NBC - http://www.tvtechnology.com/news/0086/servers-at-nbc-olympics-reaching-a...
- NBC - http://www.tvtechnology.com/article/file-based-news-production-arrives-/...
- TV2 - http://www.tvtechnology.com/article/tv--punches-above-its-weight/269289
- Viasat - http://www.tvtechnology.com/channels/0081/for-viasat-an-auspicious-debut...