GUIDE TO SPORTS TV PRODUCTION
How Will Sports
Thrive in the Age of
Coronavirus? Empty stadiums, remote production a sign of the times
SPORTS ON TV: ACCELERATING THE MOVE TO REMOTE PRODUCTION By Tom Butts, Content Director, TV Technology
The world of sports TV has always provided a stage for innovation in our industry, prompted by viewer expectations and technology advances. Sports is what drives live TV and while our world is currently on pause during this pandemic, our industry is examining its role in covering the action safely once sports resumes en masse. Covering sports remotely has grown increasingly popular over the years but current events are accelerating the move. Almost 25 years ago, we saw the first serious trials of remote production during NBC’s coverage of the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. Over the years, NBC has perfected the process to the point where the majority of people involved in the production of the Games never actually set foot on the Olympic campus. Dave Mazza, who helped architect the network’s remote production services over the years, talked about their progress to TV Technology in 2016 after the games in Rio. “From a purely technical perspective, the best moment or accomplishment was simply that we erased the barrier of long distance. We really could do whatever we needed on either continent without concern about distance, or latency, or picture quality, or proximity. To some degree we have been working on that since Atlanta in 1996, and the fact that we’ve eliminated the barrier of long distance is a big deal.”
ON THE COVER: Jean-Marc Werner wears a face mask as he watches a match during day 2 of the Tennis Point Exhibition Series on May 2, 2020 in Hohr-Grenzhausen, Germany. The tournament is the first since the suspension of all matches at the beginning of March and one of the first non-virtual sporting events held during the Coronavirus crisis.
Back then, monetary and technology considerations drove the move to remote production; today you can add “safety” to the list. As access to facilities and public services become limited or are cut out entirely, broadcasters must find alternative ways to bring sports to viewers. “Fan-less” matches forced by social distancing rules and safety precautions among the players themselves, not to mention the people who are covering the games, could be the norm for the foreseeable future. The games will go on and live sports will return. The evolution of remote production has accelerated and will impact the business in ways we may not have even envisioned yet. “As broadcasters, other rights holders and leagues make the gradual transition towards normality, finding new, safer ways to deliver the compelling live sports content that fans demand is imperative,” says Glenn Adamo with The Switch. “Indeed, the time is right for remote production.” What are your thoughts about the current state of sports TV and what do you think the future holds? Send us your thoughts at tvtechnology@ futurenet.com.
Esports Take Their Turn at Bat.........................................................4 Fox Sports, NASCAR Face Live Production During a Pandemic..................................................... 13 Jon Diament Executive VP, Chief Revenue Officer, Turner Sports....................................................................................... 17 How Remote Production Can Help Get Live Sports Back on the Air Amid COVID-19................................................... 19 Audio Over IP Meets the Challenges of Remote Production...................................................................... 21
Photo credit: Alex Grimm/Getty Images
ESPORTS TAKE THEIR TURN AT BAT With live events sidelined by COVID-19, an emerging category finds itself as the only game in town By R. Thomas Umstead
The MLB The Show 20 Players League pits real players, such as Brett Phillips of the Kansas City Royals (top l.) and Jeff McNeil of the New York Mets, against each other in an esports tournament hosted by MLB Networkâ€™s Robert Flores (top r.).
GUIDE TO SPORTS TV PRODUCTION | MAY 2020
Chicago White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito is on the mound, preparing to pitch to Tampa Bay Rays slugger Ji-Man Choi in the first inning of an April 23 baseball contest. Choi rips the first pitch from Giolito over the right field wall for a two-run home run, setting the table for the Rays’ 9-2 victory. The scenario sounds like one from a typical Major League Baseball game. Except in this case, it took place on a computer screen rather than a baseball diamond. Giolito and Rays superstar Blake Snell were competing in a MLB The Show 20 Players League video game tournament, televised recently on ESPN2. With all major pro sports events on hiatus for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic, networks such as ESPN, Fox Sports and NBCSN have turned to esports to help fill the void created by the loss of live action. While the audience for a virtual baseball game will never rival the ratings for a real
one, executives said that video game-driven content has served up a scheduling option for networks looking to fill a sizable void due to the loss of live sports. “Depending on how these things are being presented, they can have a certain energy and excitement, and viewers are looking for that,” media consultant Bill Carroll said. “If this were normal times, this might be a different conversation, but in the current environment the sports networks are looking for every reasonable opportunity that they can pursue.”
Already in the Mix While mostly featured on streaming sites like Twitch, esports programming is no stranger to linear television channels. As early as 2006, USA Network aired gameplay for such video games as Halo from esports company Major League Gaming. But for the most part, the genre is considered niche TV programming, although growing in overall popularity. A McKinsey & Co. report from last August identified some 21 million esports fans in the U.S., 10% of whom watch more than 20 hours of streaming esports programming per week. “Esports has been out there for years, but because of live sports, there weren’t any opportunities to take more chances and see what people connected with,” Brad Zager, executive producer, executive vice president and head of production and operations at Fox Sports, said. “There was no proof that esports would either do well or not so well. Now that live sports has disappeared, we have an opportunity to find out.” Manny Anekal, an esports analyst and founder of esports website The Next Level, said the dearth of live sports programming has forced some sports networks to turn to the genre in an effort to satisfy fans who miss watching games. He counted more than 50 esports events covered by sports networks in the past 45 days. “People want to watch something fresh, so in the near-term, it is serving as a pretty good filler for live sports programming,” Anekal said. Some of those events—like Fox Sports’s NASCAR iRacing events—have garnered ratings surpassing the other programs sports networks have leaned on during the pandemic, such as replays of classic games and talk shows, he said.
Welcome Race Fans — and Others Fox and FS1’s weekly iRacing telecasts, created after NASCAR shut down in March, have built a following among stock-car racing fans and casual viewers alike. More than 25% of viewers for FS1’s March 22 iRacing telecast were non-NASCAR fans, according to Nielsen. Continued on page 8 ❱
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The races—in which current and retired drivers sit in virtual cars with standard steering wheels and screens that replicate the feel of driving on a real track—have provided much needed inventory and new, unseen programming, as well as a powerful viewership punch to Fox and FS1. The April 26 iRacing event, simulating the experience at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, averaged 1.2 million viewers on Fox, second only to the 1.3 million viewers that tuned into the March 29 event from virtual Texas Motor Speedway, according to Nielsen (see chart on opposite page). Zager said the telecasts are treated much like live NASCAR events, with celebrity singers such as actress and COVID-19 survivor Rita Wilson performing the national anthem, right down to simulated military aircraft flying over the track and Fox announcers calling the race. The additional touches give race fans something resembling a real NASCAR viewing experience. “We wanted to give people a sense of normalcy when people tune into a NASCAR race, so doing an anthem before a NASCAR race provides a sense of normalcy,” Zager said. “Hearing someone say,
Real-life competitors from the NBA are doing virtual battle via video game, and giving sports networks replacement fare for their live exploits.
GUIDE TO SPORTS TV PRODUCTION | MAY 2020
‘Gentlemen, start your engines,’ provides a sense of normalcy. It really goes back to people gravitating to engaging content.” ESPN and NBC are among the outlets televising professional athletes playing their specialty sport— except with a video game controller instead of a bat or a ball.
Esports Take the Field, Court ESPN has stepped into the esports ring in a major way, televising tournaments based on video gameplay of popular National Basketball Association, National Football League and Major League Baseball video games by current players representing their respective teams. From the network’s five-day NBA 2K20 tournament telecasts in early April, featuring such NBA stars as Kevin Durant, Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker playing the 2K sports-produced NBA 2K20 video game, to the MLB The Show Players League Tournament, in which players from all 30 MLB teams battled head-to-head via Sony Interactive Entertainment’s baseball video game, the network has fully embraced the esports genre, ESPN Vice President of Digital Programming John Lasker said.
LOGGING ON TO ESPORTS Most watched esports programming on television in 2020, by total viewers * Date
1.3 million *
1.2 million *
1.1 million *
NBA 2K Pro Tournament
NBA 2K Pro Tournament
NBA 2K Pro Tournament
NBA 2K Tournament Preview
NBA 2K Pro Tournament
* Does not include FS1 iRacing telecast numbers; SOURCE: Nielsen
“Esports has been out there for years, but because of live sports, there weren’t any opportunities to take more chances and see what people connected with.” —Brad Zager, executive producer, executive VP and head of production and operations, Fox Sports
“The circumstances surrounding the pandemic created a unique challenge and opportunity, in the absence of most live sports, to serve sports fans of all kinds with the best possible content available,” Lasker said. “We are fortunate to have existing and long-term relationships in the games and esports space, which has allowed us to execute some terrific programming.” ESPN has been pleased with both the audience engagement and quality of its esports presentations, Lasker said. The network’s NBA 2K20 Pro Tournament, for example, averaged 201,000 viewers across four nights in April. It’s not only the sports-focused leagues playing on the virtual competition field. On May 1, NBC aired a Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown virtual horse race from a simulated Churchill Downs, in which 13 past Triple Crown winners competed to determine the greatest of all time, per the network. The race follows NBCSN’s April 26 coverage of the ePremier League Invitational Tournament finals, with English Premier League stars playing on EA Sports’s FIFA 20 soccer video game, as well as the April 6-9 eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge, featuring drivers such drivers as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin competing on virtual versions of popular racetracks. Continued on page 12 ❱
NASCAR drivers are taking the wheel of virtual cars in the stock-car circuit’s esports events.
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“With no live sports and under social distancing guidelines, these events have provided viewers a way to experience live action surrounding the sports they love,” NBC Sports said in a statement. “We look forward to the return of live sports, and will continue to evaluate where eSports best fit on our platforms.” In April, Fox Sports launched an eMLS Tournament involving such Major League Soccer players as Paul Arriola, Adama Diomande and Tyler Miller. Esports content is not only serving the needs of sports fans, but also the athletes themselves, Fox Sports’s Zager said. “They need a release while their sports are off, and esports have given them that competitiveness, which for a professional athlete is really important during this time,” he said.
The English Premier League are doing virtual battle via video game, and giving sports networks replacement fare for their live exploits.
GUIDE TO SPORTS TV PRODUCTION | MAY 2020
Esports events deliver a younger-than-average audience. Fox Sports reported that its iRacing content dropped its average viewership age by three years compared to live NASCAR telecasts, while the NBA reported that 48% of viewers for ESPN’s four-day NBA 2K20 tournament telecasts were under 45. “These events are driving a newer and younger audience,” Anekal said. “We’ll see if that translates over into the real world when live sports come back.” Also still to be determined is the advertising support for esports content. Though ad revenue for live sports programming dwarfs what esports content is currently generating, according to industry observers, the genre has drawn its fair share of blue-chip advertisers. Companies such as IBM, Verizon, FedEx and Progressive have purchased ads in Fox’s iRacing events. “As the television industry adjusts to the current environment, advertisers have to look for the opportunities that exist, and certainly esports would fall into that category, especially since live sports events are not likely to happen in the immediate future,” Carroll said. “The normal esports audience looks to fall in line with the demographics of many advertisers who are normally in regular sports would be looking for.” As for the genre’s future once live sports returns, Anekal said that the esports platforms that can appeal to viewers beyond the traditional on the field play could exist side-by-side with live events. Added Zager, “When sports comes back we’ll see what survives in this world and what we can build on.”
Fox Sports covered the Darlington 400, the first NASCAR event to be held since the coronavirus pandemic began in March.
FOX SPORTS, NASCAR FACE LIVE PRODUCTION DURING A PANDEMIC COVID-19 restrictions have scaled down production, but also open door for new capabilities By Michael Balderston NASCAR was one of the first professional leagues to return with live competition following the outbreak of coronavirus in March. With a series of seven races over 11 days between two locations, Fox Sports (FS-1) was tasked with bringing back the thrill of race day to fans while keeping both its production crew and NASCAR team members safe from the potential spread of COVID-19. The NASCAR season got underway with the Darlington 400 at the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina on May 17. Michael Davies, senior vice president of technical operations for Fox Sports, spoke
with TV Technology about how the broadcast crew meets the demands of the production while staying safe.
Solid Bandwidth It all begins with something that was put in place even before COVID-19. The connectivity installed at racetracks—which was added just a few years ago with help from AT&T, according to Davies—enables crew at the track to communicate with others off-site. “We have an immense amount of bandwidth that Continued on page 16 ❱
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we’re able to share with NASCAR to be able to connect those sites,” said Davies. “We are able to leverage that technology to look and work a little bit differently.” For example, remote operations. A number of crew members are working remotely for these races, including the announcers. Those working remotely were able to get some practice over the past two months with “iRacing,” virtual races that NASCAR organized and broadcast, something that made the production crew more comfortable with the new reality, said Davies. There are still a good number of crew members at the track on race day, albeit slimmed down. Davies described mobile production units as the “antithesis of social distancing,” and as a result have a limited number of crew operating from within on race day. There are also fewer crewmembers covering the pit areas, as NASCAR has adapted how race teams handle pit stops.
A Wider View Still, Davies says the look of the race is similar for those watching on TV, as most of the main camera positions are in place, as well as in-car cameras. There may even be an advantage to the fact that these races will be held without any fans in the stands. “I’m looking forward to see how we can use the entire racetrack, whereas before we had to work around, obviously, a very large audience,” Davies said. “That could be one of the interesting side effects of things not only in NASCAR but other sports as well, where you might actually have places where you couldn’t put cameras and now you can.” Of course, there are extra safety precautions that need to be taken to try and prevent the spread of the virus. In pre-COVID days, a lot of equipment would be shared among crew members, something that is
GUIDE TO SPORTS TV PRODUCTION | MAY 2020
not advisable in this current environment. The solution was easy when it came to headsets—everyone got their own—but for cameras and other equipment, Davies said they are relying on UVC robots that can sterilize the equipment between uses. Mobile units also have a specific cleaning regimen.
Smaller Footprint Fox Sports is also attempting to minimize its footprint, as well as its ease of operation, by using the same crew and equipment for all of the scheduled races, driving the mobile units from Darlington to Charlotte, N.C. “The problem with NASCAR is it’s a pretty purposebuilt kind of deal, so if you were to use different facilities and what not, what you would gain in potentially in a little less driving you would lose again in how much and how many people it would take to set up,” Davies explained. As of mid-May, NASCAR had not announced any additional races beyond the seven it scheduled ending May 27, but Davies does share that there are plans to continue the season after that date. As the season progresses, Davies expects that Fox Sports’ broadcast procedures will evolve as well. “Safe be said, we’re looking to learn from this first one, and we know the production is going to evolve,” Davies said. “I’ve just encouraged everybody to be agile and that unlike a lot of other things where you can just say, ‘alright, this is what we’re going to do for the entire season,’ we just need to be ever vigilant on change. “And with a dynamic situation like this, it’s important to have your eyes open in terms of better ways of doing things as technology grows, as the response and ability to do different things grows,” Davies added. “While I’m really happy where we are starting out, I have no doubt that things will evolve as we move forward.”
JON DIAMENT EXECUTIVE VP, CHIEF REVENUE OFFICER, TURNER SPORTS Sports TV insider adjusts to a life without live games For a guy who grew up a Knicks fan in Bergen County, New Jersey, it seemed like Jon Diament has one of the best jobs in TV, selling commercials for Turner Sports. Then the coronavirus shut down the National Basketball Association, cancelled the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and delayed the start of the Major League Baseball season, snuffing out what had been shaping up as a fairly lucrative year in terms of ad revenue for Turner. Diament and his Turner colleagues helped live sports make a comeback in May via a charity golf event featuring a rematch of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, with quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning joining the fun. But like other sports fans, Diament is looking for activities to keep himself physically and mentally fit. “I find an half hour in the middle of the day to do a spin class or weight lift, anything to break up the monotony of being on the phone or a Zoom meeting,” he said. B+C business editor Jon Lafayette talked with Diament just before the charity golf event about life without sports. An edited transcript follows.
How did this golf match come about?
What was your reaction to the NBA and the NCAA basketball tournament being canceled? From a financial perspective, we’re super-disappointed. We sell the NCAA Tournament with CBS, and we claimed our sellout position months before the tournament. That never happened before. With the NBA, we were pacing way ahead of where we needed to be, and then all of a sudden we got the rug pulled out. It sounds like a small thing with how bad the pandemic’s been, but it did hurt us.
What do you have to sell now? We have some things going on, but we miss not having the tournament and the NBA in the second quarter, that’s for sure. We’ve got NBA TV, NBA.com. We also have Bleacher Report in our portfolio. We’re doing podcasting Continued on page 18 ❱
This is a rematch. We did the first one in Las Vegas and we’ve been thinking about a new format to make it more interesting. When COVID hit, we decided we’d be one of the first, maybe only, live sporting events. Bringing other celebrities was always in the works, and playing for charity felt like the right thing. Hopefully it will be an entertaining few hours of relief of being able to watch live sports again, during the coronavirus crisis.
Turner’s Jon Diament hopes a match-play rematch between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson (l.) will sate fans who miss live sports.
❱ Continued from page 17
with some of our personalities and producing things for social media. So I wouldn’t say we’re completely not working, but I wouldn’t say we’re at full capacity. We should be in playoff mode right now. We’ve been quite busy, having a lot of discussions with clients about what their plans are.
What are you telling advertisers? When do you guess sports will be back? We’re long-term partners with most of the advertisers; 82% to 90% of them are consistent with us from year to year. We try to work with our advertisers and encourage them to participate in the media we currently have on the air, whether it’s CNN, HLN, TBS, TNT, tru TV or Cartoon Network. We’re hopeful the NBA will come back and we’ll talk about some of those commitments when that happens. I think the folks at MLB and NBA are working feverishly to figure out how to salvage the summer and get live sports back on the air.
Are you a Zoom guy or a Hangouts guy? We use a Microsoft app called Teams. I have a happy hour with people from the sports industry every Thursday. We have league people, agency people, talent firms. It’s a tough time for the industry, but we all get together using Team for that.
GUIDE TO SPORTS TV PRODUCTION | MAY 2020
BONUS FIVE Shows in your queue? The Sopranos again and Ozark. Book on your nightstand? Mental Toughness by A.C. Drexel. Favorite podcast? The Stream Room with Charles Barkley and Ernie Johnson. Destination on your bucket list? I am so excited to travel, I’ll go anywhere. … I’ve never been to Australia, so that’s where I would go. Recent memorable meal? In early March, the Men’s Basketball Committee Meal at Quality Italian [in Manhattan]. It’s a formal get-together between Turner, CBS and the NCAA. On the way to the dinner, I bumped into an NBA exec who said they were talking about the Warriors game being played without fans. I was shocked.
HOW REMOTE PRODUCTION CAN HELP GET LIVE SPORTS BACK ON THE AIR AMID COVID-19 A return to life as normal won’t happen soon By Glenn Adamo With lockdown measures easing in many places around the globe and a return to something resembling “life as normal” hopefully on the horizon, one thing in particular is on the minds of ardent sports fans: namely, getting live games back on their screens. Rebroadcasts of classic games and sports documentaries such as “The Last Dance,” the acclaimed Netflix and ESPN series, are feeding the appetite for all things sports while live events have been put on hold. A spike in esports on TV screens, such as the record breaking eNascar iRacing series, has also helped. Yet these options only go so far in
satisfying sports fans’ hunger for genuine, live physical events. As the world steadily comes to grips with the global pandemic, leagues and broadcasters are now keen to find the most straightforward ways to get live sporting events back on air as soon as they can. A return to life-as-normal is of course a shared goal for most industries but what has become clear is that, even with an easing of restrictions and economies slowly opening up, the effects of COVID-19 will continue to reverberate in sports and other walks of life. Continued on page 20 ❱
The Switch production team capture all the of the NFL Network CUSA game at the Burbank remote production facility.
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A world in which arenas are packed with fans, and international travel is once again the norm for teams and sporting personalities, will not return any time soon. Instead, sports leagues and rights owners must prioritize the welfare and well-being of staff, fans and players, likely leading to a “halfway house” scenario: games played behind-closed-doors with just key participants attending. As broadcasters and sports leagues around the world look at ways to begin bringing live sports back on air, one approach makes more sense than ever: remote production (REMI).
faster and safer route for leagues, rights holders and fans to get what they want: live sports back on air. As we steadily move into the post-COVID era, remote production of live sports events is coming into its own—especially where rights holders tap into the expertise of a partner that understands live sports and has deep experience in remote production. In fact, remote production has already been leveraged by major sports networks and rights owners, such as NFL Network, which leveraged The Switch’s REMI services to produce and deliver a 10-game Conference USA college football schedule in 2019.
Kick-starting the sporting calendar
Preparing for the ‘new normal’ of live sports
While the remote approach to live production has been leveraged for some larger events, it is still the exception rather than the rule for mainstream sports. However, as broadcasters, other rights holders and leagues make the gradual transition towards normality, finding new, safer ways to deliver the compelling live sports content that fans demand is imperative. Indeed, the time is right for remote production. It is a practical, deliverable and proven option for producing live events that lightens the load when it comes to travel, equipment and onsite staffing.
Post lockdown, the advantages of remote production go far beyond the ability to have smaller crews and less equipment on site. The more than 30% cost savings give broadcasters and other rights holders the scope to improve efficiency and even explore ways that they can deliver live content, from online streaming of shoulder programming through to social media integration. Traditional linear TV has traditionally dominated live sports viewing, but it is far from the only game in town today. The live sports on-air vacuum is accelerating consumer take-up of streaming, with the new stay-at-home society accessing more streamed content than ever. Online streaming platforms have witnessed a 43 percent jump in viewership in the week starting March 29, according to analytics firm Stream Hatchet. Similarly, esports streaming service Twitch saw a 60 percent jump in viewership in March this year. When normal conditions resume, traditional sports broadcasters and leagues will need to meet this uptick in the demand for content across all platforms. Aside from significant cost savings, remote production offers the potential for higher quality production, with the ability to support more camera feeds and specialty equipment, such as SkyCam and RF cameras. Centralizing production also brings the advantage of greater flexibility, and the ability to cover multiple events in one day—and REMI’s reduced need for travel and shipping of equipment makes it more environmentally friendly. What’s more, having a core group of experienced technicians covering a series of games for the same league is of huge value to broadcasters. An experienced crew knows what to expect, what to do and, critically, having worked together on a number of high-level broadcasts they will have established great communication, ensuring productions flow seamlessly and maintain the same look and feel across the season.
A world in which arenas are packed with fans, and international travel is once again the norm for teams and sporting personalities, will not return any time soon. Remote production eliminates the need for large mobile units and crews at the event venue itself, creating a safer environment for production staff by ensuring that social distancing guidelines can easily be met. Employing remote capabilities means broadcasters and leagues can centralize production at their home studios or a dedicated third-party location—such as one of The Switch’s remote production facilities in Burbank or New York—with minimal crews onsite. This model involves broadcasters transmitting camera feeds, audio and equipment control over a private fiber network, at low latency, to the central facility. From here, operators can then remotely configure cameras and other equipment at the event site. In short, as lockdown conditions ease, the REMI approach—pioneered over the past few years by The Switch and other live broadcast innovators—offers a
GUIDE TO SPORTS TV PRODUCTION | MAY 2020
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AUDIO OVER IP MEETS THE CHALLENGES OF REMOTE PRODUCTION
Technology advances, cost savings just a few of the advantages By Tom Butts As sports producers adjust to current events impacting how they produce for television, audio remains an important component of the fan experience. TV Technology recently spoke with Martin Dyster, vice president of business development for Telos about the opportunities afforded by the move to audio over IP.
What are the advantages of using audio over IP in the world of sports? The traditional model for live sports broadcasting
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Life beyond lockdown By enabling production crews to work in a home studio with reduced travel, remote production can also transform the impact on the work-life balance of staff, making careers more sustainable. This also means the pool of talent widens; skilled people who are normally unable or unwilling to constantly travel will now be drawn to working in the sector. These considerations will likely play an increasingly central role in the future evolution of live production. Remote production offers a win-win for fans and
has been to roll up an outside broadcast unit to the venue, install temporary audio and video facilities and produce the game from the mobile or temporary production control room parked at the edge of the stadium, arena or race circuit. Audio over IP has been part of this traditional model for some time, with AoIP connecting microphone and line level stageboxes to the console and used to deploy commentary and comms wherever it is needed. Continued on page 22 ❱
rights holders, and it makes a compelling case for becoming the ‘new normal’ for live sports. With rising costs and elevated consumer expectations already putting pressure on the live sports industry, remote production provides many of the answers that broadcasters and content producers seek. In addition to providing a means to get live sports back on air as soon as possible, this approach also provides the tools broadcasters need to take sports production to the next level. Glenn Adamo is Managing Director of Production Services at The Switch
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connect subsystems such as intercom, mixing, commentary and telephony on the same common IP network. Previously, before AoIP became ubiquitous, these different elements of the production workflow would have existed as islands, connected by analog, AES-3 or MADI tielines and treated as entirely independent entities.
In recent years with the move towards REMI (or “at-home” production) gathering momentum (more so now as a result of Covid-19), where the crew at the event is minimized and the production center remoted to the broadcaster’s HQ (or literally “at home”), using AoIP is truly advantageous. With high-speed national or international network connectivity often meaning that What are the biggest challenges? VLAN can extend from the broadcaster to the venue, Using AoIP in remote production models introeven on the other side of the world, AES67 and SMPTE duces challenges caused by latency created by geoST2110-30 streams can easily be connected between graphical distances. For example, a commentator at a remote endpoints and the audio from the sports event stadium who receives an IFB generated by a mixing and communications brought together over a network console thousands of miles away will hear any stadialmost as easily as if they were in the same facility. um content delayed in their headphones by two times Aside from the technical advantages of using AoIP, there the latency caused by distance (there and back) plus is a significant cost saving to be made by utilizing existing any processing delays. This can be extremely distractproduction infrastructure at the broadcast centre, and the ing, particularly if there is any spill of their own voice subsequent additional financial benefits in not having to reaching themselves as an echo. send so many crew members to remote locations. There are other positives to the manpower element too, with staff more AoIP in the form of AES67 and SMPTE content at not having to travel away from home to work for long periods of time. ST2110-30 has become the de facto connectivity
What new possibilities in sports can be created using AoIP?
standard for intercom and production audio.
The financial and technical benefits of REMI and “at home” productions have enabled content producers and rights holders to expand high quality coverage of fringe or minority sports to subscription and mainstream audiences. There are many examples of how AoIP has helped this to occur and some good examples are the extension of live broadcast of the English Football League Championship Division, where a skeleton “at venue” camera crew, at-home commentator and remote production team present up to 10 live games on any given match day, with audio and comms connected to a London hub via AoIP. Or at Wimbledon in the last few years where live coverage of all matches during the All England Tournament has been made possible via the use of AoIP from outlying courts to the Broadcast Centre, integrated with a fully automated AI driven production system.
How is it being used currently in sports? AoIP in the form of AES67 and SMPTE ST2110-30 has become the de facto connectivity standard for intercom and production audio. All major manufacturers of audio mixing consoles and communications equipment either use AoIP as the backbone of their products, or to interconnect between endpoints or their own or third party manufacturers solutions. In sports specifically, AoIP technology is used to inter-
GUIDE TO SPORTS TV PRODUCTION | MAY 2020
Similarly, the latency of an AoIP signal through the production workflow and that of a related video signal can sometimes be so far apart that it can be impossible to synchronize them. It is not unusual to watch a soccer game where the commentator is out of shot, but the ball kicks and crowd noise are several 100ms out of sync meaning that you can know a goal has been scored before the ball even crosses the line on screen.
Does it require much training or education on the part of sports broadcasters? The convergence of IP, IT and broadcast technology has been gaining pace for a decade or more. The IT infrastructure in broadcast used to be limited to file-based media production and control systems, designed, installed and managed by dedicated IT specialists. Now broadcast IT/IP includes realtime uncompressed media transport, core production and communication systems, their management has become the remit of the broadcast engineer. As a result, AoIP (and media over IP in general) requires dedicated training and re-skilling of engineering staff in order to manage their core broadcast systems. The good news is that there is plenty of help available and that compared to understanding audio transmission line theory, learning enough about IP to be competent isn’t so bad after all.
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