2021 - A Summer of Sports

  • By David Kirk

2021 - A Summer of Sports

Summer 2021 offers sports fans a welcome alternative to the ongoing contest between homo sapiens and the various strains of coronavirus - with David Kirk…

There is certainly no shortage of events, supplemented by the Tokyo Olympics currently in preparation for July 23rd through August 8th. Satellite, terrestrial and online broadcasting plays a more important role than ever this year given the globally prevailing recommendation to avoid non-essential travel. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic has caused huge disruption through isolation, social distancing and travel restrictions,” comments Argosy Director Chris Smeeton. “While no-one has escaped the effects, broadcasters have had to face very specific challenges, especially when it comes to the world of sport. In golf, the US Masters was forced out of its regular April slot in 2020, meaning there were two contests within five months of each other, in November and April 2021. Football seasons saw massive disruption and wrangling about promotions. And, of course the world’s biggest multi-sport event saw its 2020 Tokyo edition postponed for a year. But the complex situation has also seen orders brought forward, which can put pressure on vendors. Working from home became the norm. While some relied on Zoom, many production companies created home studios for on-air talent, requiring smaller cameras and modest lighting set-ups. That was another driver for studio developments to be put on hold: would we need the same facilities in future? Remote production in sport means fewer large OB trucks on the road with their limited productivity (they don’t earn while moving from racecourse to football ground to opera house), with more live control rooms in broadcast centres. IP connectivity has opened up large-scale remote production, which implies software-centric control rooms and consequent changes to the technology base, not to mention completely different cable requirements. The distinguishing characteristic of our industry, though, is the level of co-operation, communication and collaboration between vendor and user, and consequently the shared sense of responsibility. Being able to pivot and react quickly is where a good vendor stands out.”

UK-based MRTC is a UK-based specialist in motorsport communications, specialising in the provision of custom radio and intercoms. MRTC founder Ken Rumbold: “Communications are often at the bottom of the barrel in terms of consideration before a race. But once you’re onsite they are absolutely essential. Any lapse in communication could cost driver the race, whereas a small piece of encouragement coming through the driver’s headset could result in a win. The role of intercom in motorsports has grown considerably since the 1970s and 1980 when only a few key people were connected to two-way radios. The integrated network of today means all aspects of an event, even broadcast, are connected over IP via a MADI feed. We started working with Clear-Com over 10 years ago. The Clear-Com products that were introduced then were revolutionary. Most contemporary sites were already wired with network-ready Cat 5e/6 cabling so Clear-Com IP intercom systems could be brought onsite without major infrastructure updates. “IP systems offer security, flexibility, and extremely high audio quality, as well as impressive bandwidth, allowing teams to connect easily between different systems offsite and at the track. This enables critical intercommunication between different team personnel, with a choice of point-to-point or one-to-many connection. IP systems can provide connectivity to any industry-standard intercom or audio devices over LAN, WAN, or IP networks. It is common to switch selected intercom chatter from the race drivers and race control systems to a multi-channel feed out of the intercom which broadcasters can use as background audio in their commentaries. “Whereas up to 4,000 racing team members were onsite at motorsport races pre-Covid, it’s now narrowed down to around 1,000 staff onsite. In a recent event at the ‘restart’ of motor racing, I was in the UK and able to remotely program, manage and monitor a system in Germany using my Agent-IC Mobile App while the live event was going on. There were a couple guys onsite with the primary system but most of us connected over VPN and it was like we were there! Agent-IC operates on smart devices over 3G, 4G, LTE and wireless internet networks. It connects to the Eclipse HX digital matrix or LQ series interfaces. “Some customers and senior management don’t want to risk going to a racetrack during the pandemic but they still want to be able to have input in event operations. In this case, they can download Agent-IC on their phones and connect to the main intercom system from anywhere in the world.”

Cobalt reports that many OB service providers and sports broadcasters rely on its 9905-MPx openGear scaler/frame-synchroniser card for producing sporting competitions, including golf tournaments, baseball games and arena events. The 9905-MPx provides four independent signal paths of UDX/frame-sync/audio embedding and de-embedding on a single card with flexible AES and MADI embed/de-embed for each path. Each path also incorporates 3D-LUT and ANC bridge as well as trouble-slate/logo import/insert. When used with Cobalt’s HPF-9000 20-slot chassis, up to 24 channels of processing can be supported in a single frame. 4:3/16:9/4:3 aspect ratio conversion is provided. Color correction and 3D LUT functions allow SDR and HDR processing for downstream HDR systems. The 9905-MPx can be software-converted to a 4K Quad-Link Input SDM/2SI 4K UDX/Frame Sync card with an optional software license. 

CP Communications will make a stop on the Korn Ferry Tour, the developmental circuit of the PGA Tour. The TPC Colorado Championship at Heron Lakes will be CP’s first project with the PGA, and will be available for viewers on PGA Tour Live.
For the three-day event, the company will provide four bonded cellular camera kits using Mobile Viewpoint Agile Airlink mobile encoders, Sony PMW-400 cameras,and CP’s Custom Paint Control. CP will assign two on-site technicians, while the PGA Tour will assign its own on-site production crew. The REMI production will be managed from the PGA Tour’s new global headquarters in St. Augustine, Florida. CP will install a flight pack at the St. Augustine facility that includes main and backup playout servers, a camera control indoor unit, a Mobile Viewpoint TerraLink return video encoder, and a WebRTC virtual return video encoder. All video and audio feeds will be routed through a Simplylive ViBox production system. Programme audio and crew communication will be native Dante digital audio networked to the PGA Tour control room using Unity Connect and Unity Intercom. “The ability to have less infrastructure and manpower on site while producing similar coverage to traditional RF setups is the reason we feel bonded cellular is the future of these tours,” comments CP Communications’ CEO, Kurt Heitmann. “The PGA Tour has a need to produce broadcast-quality coverage at a reasonable price point and that’s what bonded cellular technology delivers.”

Dalet has been working with customers to bring sports events back live. This includes France TV, Sky Sports in the UK and Fox Sports and SBS in Australia, using Dalet Galaxy-five or Dalet Flex to manage part, or all, of their content supply chain, covering major events such as the UEFA Euro 2020 and the Tour de France. “These allow our customers to ingest, produce, manage and deliver content to viewers across both linear channels and digital outlets,” says Dalet’s Bea Alonso. “Additionally, we are working with a number of sports teams, leagues and federations who are bringing live events back in full force.” The Fédération Internationale de Volleyball is running the Volleyball Nations League, delivering video content and highlights across their new website and app, managed and orchestrated by Dalet Flex. The NRL in Australia continues to engage fans through digital properties powered by Dalet Flex. The International Olympic Committee in Lausanne uses Dalet AmberFin transcoders and standards converters which will be employed during the upcoming Olympic Games. It also uses Dalet AmberFin for content processing within its historical archive, la Fondation Olympique pour la Culture et le Patrimoine.

Dejero reports that Diving Plongeon Canada (DPC) has organised virtual meets powered by Dejero EnGo mobile transmitters and WayPoint receivers, to reduce the impact of Covid-19 on the sport. The live video solution enabled athletes to compete from different locations simultaneously, while judges score dives from their homes. The Virtual Nations Challenge, a transcontinental competition between the top divers of Great Britain and Canada, competing in their own pools on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, was the first live international meet for the Canadian team since the country enforced its Covid-19 lockdown measures in early 2020. In Montreal, DPC also displayed the live production feeds from the EnGo mobile transmitters at each venue onto a large poolside video wall, allowing the Canadian team to watch their competitors perform. The multi-location event was streamed to Vimeo through DPC’s website. The production studio in Thunder Bay, Ontario centralised the live streams received from three Dejero EnGo mobile transmitters at the poolside locations and delivered them via a Dejero WayPoint receiver, with less than a one second delay, to judges around the world watching and scoring. French channel, TV8 Mont-Blanc, live-streamed the Dynastar X3 Courchevel Triathlon 2021 and the Torgon Trail 2021. A combination of Dejero’s video contribution technology and Dazzl’s cloud-native live video production capabilities was used for live broadcast coverage of both events in a complex network environment across the Swiss-French border. Each race lasted around six hours and encompassed a mix of different physical challenges across various alpine landscapes, in a region that is notorious for fluctuating network coverage by both French and Swiss telecom providers. 

NBC Olympics, a division of the NBC Sports Group, has selected Grass Valley to provide IP audio and video routing along control and monitoring systems for production of the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Japan. Grass Valley has been supplying infrastructure to NBC Olympics since the 2006 Torino Olympics. It has delivered a range of open standards-based IP systems for the Tokyo Olympics, aimed at driving efficiency within NBC Olympics’ studios inside the International Broadcast Centre in Tokyo. Grass Valley IP infrastructure will support processing of live video and audio feeds, both from studios and remote event venue, ready for delivery to the broadcaster’s production and editing control rooms ahead of live broadcasts. NBC Olympics will deploy Grass Valley’s IP Media infrastructure at the Tokyo IBC, integrating Cisco Spine and Leaf switching topology through the GV Orbit NMOS compliant router control and configuration system. “The move to IP-based infrastructures delivers the scalability and flexibility needed to provide new services and handle the sheer volume of signals coming in from multiple locations during the Games, smoothly and efficiently,” says Grass Valley president Tim Shoulders.

IHSE Marketing Manager Dan Holland states that the company’s KVM over IP is being used for remote production of live sports and entertainment broadcasts. “Live sports is finally coming back but many planned in-person production events will retain the remote workflow concept. For mobile production or broadcasting, workflow is tremendously improved when operators can share multiple computer sources, whether centralised or located across the globe. Our SIRA Gateway for KVM adds more flexibility to the Draco tera matrix series without sacrificing the philosophy of securely isolating the core matrix and signal management from TCP/IP. Encrypted signal transmission via IP ensures protection of intellectual property while still offering the most flexible access to matrices connected from remote locations via private or public networks.” 

Kent State University in Ohio is using Marshall Electronics’ miniature CV503 POV and CV730 PTZ cameras to capture esport player reactions and interactions. KSU broadcast engineer Jason Forbes: “To capture athlete reactions, we placed one CV503 POV camera at each of the 12 player stations as gamer cams. We also installed two CV730 PTZ cameras in the arena space to shoot wider shots of the players, and then an additional CV730 in the casters studio. The control room houses the observer computers as well as the Marshall controllers. The menus are self-explanatory, which is very important as our productions are primarily student-run. In addition, having PoE has made our life so much easier as I did not have to bring an electrician in to get the cameras powered up. The other important piece of the puzzle is the price point. Operating on a university budget, Marshall’s price is spot on.”

Tedial’s Smartlive automated live sports production software was recently used by Proximus Media House (PmH) in Belgium to capture UEFA Champions League football. Smartlive tools were used to produce real time highlights via satellite and social media. Smartlive is designed to integrate with third party systems such as Adobe and Avid editing. Smartlive processes can be applied to create highlight packages using data files from Opta/Stats or EVS IP Director.

TVU Networks is partnering with London-based Laminar Global to support remote production of live sports customers. TVU offers the ability to stream rights-protected live sporting events in multiple languages to millions of viewers. 

Laminar is adopting TVU’s RPS (Remote Production System) TVU Producer (for multi-camera live production), TVU Partyline (for collaboration and broadcast-quality conferencing), the TVU Anywhere app and the TVU CloudRx receiver to deliver content to its OTT infrastructure for distribution. “Our partnership with TVU ensures that Laminar receives the highest quality content that can then be streamed to millions of fans, almost instantly, says Laminar Global CEO Narendra Nag. “This partnership is further proof of our commitment to lowering the cost of remote sports production while offering the type of low latency, synchronised multi-camera coverage associated with more expensive and complicated systems,” adds Paul Shen, CEO, TVU Networks.”