SPORTS BROADCASTING: CAPTURE AND DELIVER

Televised sports is a lucrative business for broadcasters, with its multimilliondollar rights deals, revenues from TVCs and cross-promotion. A global audience hungry for more diversified content, faster delivery and better production value is just fuelling advances in broadcast technology – but can technology providers deliver? Asia Image finds out.

When England faced Germany in Bloemfontein on 27 June, an estimated 26 million viewers saw Frank Lampard make the goal that could have been, but wasn’t. World Cup referee Jorge Larrionda and his assistant Mauricio Espinosa did not realise the ball had entered the sixyard box until they watched the video replay at half-time. “With the game delicately balanced at 2-1 to Germany, the disallowed goal had a huge impact on the outcome of the game through its adverse effect on the morale of the English team and corresponding spur to the German players,” said Camera Corps managing director Laurie Frost. “The crucial images from Net-Cam were captured by broadcasters, online news media and the worldwide press as proof that this goal should quite definitely have been allowed. The referee has been quoted as responding ‘Oh my God!’ when he eventually found time to watch the camera output.” Despite the obvious color contrast between the ball and the pitch, the eyes play tricks when a football is travelling at an average of 70mph. FIFA stance on technological aid aside, kinetic depth perception becomes less of a problem with today’s technology. From the early days of photo finishes, sports coverage has evolved beyond broadcasting instant replays shot from the sidelines to showing just about every conceivable angle, provided by devices such as stump cams and player cams in SD, HD and increasingly, in 3D. Camera Corp’s Net-Cam, which captured evidence of the bad call, is a miniature HD camera with ultra-wide-angle lens. It is designed specifically to capture the entire goal-mouth from the rear corner of the net plus the full length of the goal interior without wide-angle distortion or aberration. An integral ultra-compact remotecontrolled pan, tilt and roll head allows the viewing angle to be adjusted in the event of direct collision from a football. The Net-Cams at each goal are controlled remotely by an operator via a CCU panel rather than requiring anyone to supervise the camera at each goal-side for the entire duration of a match. Sports was first televised with the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and since then, the challenges of capturing and delivering a live production, wherein the movements, duration and outcome are often unpredictable, has only increased in technical complexity as TV formats and viewership demand have diversifi ed. Live, on air The Red Bull Air Race World Championship, which is produced in HD, is one of the most logistically complex and technically demanding productions, according to Red Bull Air Race GmbH, which organises the annual event. The introduction of fl ight adds a third dimension to a motorsport, where 15 of the world’s best pilots race individually through a low-level aerial race track world’s best race pilots on the ground and in the air is one of the most challenging jobs in televised sport. The producers of the world programme have managed to continually improve the incredibly high levels of production over the six years since the championship began,” Bernd Loidl, CEO of Red Bull Air Race GmbH, told media after the awards ceremony. The Red Bull Air Race GmbH has a partnership with European companies, West4Media, SiVision, SkyMedia and Riedel Communications to produce the Red Bull Air Race World Championship TV programmes from each race along with U.S. production partner Grace, for post production and final delivery to Fox Sports Network, which aired the programme in the U.S. “The Red Bull Air Race definitely drives the technology and people to the limits,” said Thomas Riedel, the managing director of Riedel Communications. The Germany-based intercom, fiber and audio systems provider also supplied the wireless video links for the planes’ onboard cameras to deliver sharp and interruption-free images from the pilots’ perspectives. Riedel had provided the radio communications systems for one of the first races in Budapest in 2003 and was then asked by Red Bull Air Race CEO Bernd Loidl if he could develop a better system for the on-board cameras. “At the time we only supplied the radio equipment. We weren’t planning to get into wireless video. We only started because Bernd asked us to. We really learned a lot from the needs of the race and yet on the other hand we helped support its development. We feel we’re indeed a partner in the development of the whole format,” Riedel said in a press statement. “Usually you have a race car and it’s just on the ground. But here we had something that is threedimensional – in the air and making high-speed turns in all directions. On top of that, it’s not only the pilots who are pulling up to 12g, it’s also the equipment. So it was all pretty challenging,” the managing director said. “What made it work is a combination of a lot of things: finding the right kind of positions for the antennas, using the right electronics and the right components that can handle the high G forces, and it’s the experience. It took almost two years to make it work on the level we’re at today.” Riedel, which provides the radio and wired communications technology for the Olympics, the World Cup, the European soccer championships and the Asian and Commonwealth Games, has a 15-member team at every Red Bull Air Race to set up and operate all the radio and wireless communications technology for the entire crew and the race’s media centres. The company also supplies the radio communications for Formula One teams. Sending signals Delivery of live sports productions has also evolved into a matrix involving several players with the complex mix of content, formats, rights, regulations and demand. Take for example the 2010 FIFA World Cup – the sporting event with the largest worldwide audience. The game sequence is straight forward: Eight groups of four teams, ten different stadiums, nine South African cities. Each team plays the other three teams in their group once. Then the top two from each group move on to a single-elimination tournament. But to deliver footage of the 28 live matches to more than 15 rights-holding broadcasters in fi ve continents, GlobeCast deployed 12 SD and HD SNG uplinks, provided feed points at as many as 50 of the 64 games, sold more than 300 MHz of satellite capacity on the IS709, W7, W3A and MEASAT satellites and more than 1,300MB of full-redundant, networked SDH fibre connectivity over the six-week period. And that’s just a blurb of GlobeCast’s deployment. A subsidiary of France Telecom/Orange, GlobeCast is a provider of media management and global content delivery services for broadcasters and content creators. It has a secure fibre and satellite network connected to dozens of teleports, technical operations centres and points-of-presence worldwide. This summer, GlobeCast helped bring the World Cup to Asia by providing the uplink of live feeds to both rights holders and non-rightholders such as Softbank (Japan), CCTV (China), Beijing TV (China), Shanghai Media Group (China), TVB (Hong Kong), Korea Telecom (Korea), TV Asahi (Japan), RTM (Malaysia) and RCTI (Indonesia). For the World Cup, GlobeCast uplinked 3D HD feed in DVB-S2 MPEG-2 modulation and SD feed via Intelsat to London, with fibre backup into London and Frankfurt. The signals were redistributed worldwide from London. A long way from the finish line At IBC this year, four conference sessions will look at the past, present and future of sports broadcasting, spanning content creation and business streams. Manolo Romero, managing director of Olympic Broadcast Services, will give the keynote speech on IBC Sports Day, which falls on 11 September. One of the sessions, led by Peter Angell of HBS, the host broadcaster for the World Cup, will look at how stereoscopic 3D could change the face of sports on television. “Television and live sport were made for each other, and the need to engage audiences has driven many of the technical innovations in our industry,” said Michael Lumley, chair of the IBC2010 conference committee. “The key driver for 3D has been sports,” said Paul Maroni, assistant general manager of live production products for Sony Asia-Pacific. “For HD, the driver was [also] sports.” Sony, the main sponsor of 3D coverage for the World Cup, captured a total of 25 matches in 3D. Seven pairs of Sony HDC cameras on rigs were used to provide the 3D coverage of the matches via a 3D OB truck. Eight of the matches were shown live in 3D in various digital cinemas and selected venues in 26 countries worldwide, and FIFA is working with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment to produce and distribute the offi cial FIFA film in 3D on Blu-ray this year. The FIFA World Cup production in 3D was managed by the event’s appointed host broadcaster, HBS, using Sony technology, with GlobeCast managing the uplink. While 3D content is readily available to viewers Australia, Japan and Korea, for the rest of the region, HD has just begun to take off. “Going forward, definitely HD is in play,” said Jason Yeow, head of sport for Asia at GlobeCast. “As we move ahead, major events especially sports that create good sponsorship and syndication [such as] football, cricket, basketball, golf, [the rights for which] broadcasters buy – they will move into the direction of HD.” ESPN STAR Sports (ESS), which started introducing ESPN HD to Asia’s audiences this year, said it has received encouraging feedback. “ESPN HD viewers have shared good reviews about the compelling sports content we showcase, saying that the major jump in visual quality contributed to the overall great experience of watching sports on the channel, as if they were there themselves,” said Craig Dobbs, executive vice president of programming and production at ESS. 3D however, is still very much in its infancy, and with the costs and complexities involved in setting up a live 3D broadcast, it could take a while for uptake to reach the same level HD technology currently has. “Some networks around the world are looking into upgrading their broadcast equipment to digital HD, and are now faced with a huge investment to get 3D cameras and broadcast equipment to these events. The cost of producing a 3D broadcast is much higher than the standard 2D – it would cost a premium to broadcast 3D content,” Dobbs said. “The reality is that every broadcaster is grappling with the cost and logistical issues with regards to 3D broadcasting – such as requiring a separate outdoor broadcasting system and delivery paths, and limited ownership of 3D TV sets in the market.” Sports broadcasting is also showing potential on the IP delivery platform. “Viewers of sports networks want to be closer to the action and with the increasing number of global online viewers, sports networks seek new solutions and new channels to reach their audiences,” said Martyn Reeves, Asia-Pacific regional director for DMS at Irdeto. The company’s content management solution was chosen by Malaysia’s cross-media broadcaster Astro to power the live streaming and on-demand broadband delivery of all 64 World Cup matches on the Astro B.yond Player. Additionally, Irdeto powered mobile access to live matches via Astro sister company Maxis, offering exclusive streaming of all matches, replays and highlights. However, with online piracy threatening the value of multimillion-dollar sports broadcasting rights, content protection is vital. “Some of the challenges involved while trying to achieve this includes protecting and transporting the relevant content to a brand new entity without losing vital information or audience share. The quality of content should also remain unaffected if not improved, even with the introduction of the new channel,” Reeves added. With the rapid advancement of technologies, the sports broadcasting landscape could change by the next big global sporting event – the 2012 London Olympics. At last year’s IBC conference, Roger Mosey, the BBC’s leader for the London Olympics said even though most homes might not have the equipment to view high-quality images such as super HD and 3D, it would be a shame not to capture those historic moments in the advanced formats. “Both 3D and super HD are currently posing questions and opportunities rather than solutions,” Mosey said. “Nobody would expect the games of 2012 to be comprehensively in 3D because the technology will be nothing like widespread enough. But it would be a shame not to have any images of London that were part of an experiment with what will be one of the next big waves of change.”



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