Olympian Effort: Tokyo 2020 Host Production Upgrades To UHD, IP And Cloud

Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) the host broadcaster for the Games was founded twenty years ago and has arguably gone through its hardest and most intense period of digital transformation for Tokyo 2020.

What it does matters hugely to the wider Olympic movement since rights holding broadcasters generate a massive 75% of revenues for the IOC.

It also impacts the broadcast industry at large since it showcases with the highest profile what is possible with technology for the production and distribution of live events at scale.

For Tokyo 2020, during which it plans to output 9500 hours, 4000 hours of which are live, OBS is leading the charge into 4K UHD, IP and cloud. Its on-site production footprint in Tokyo will be 30 per cent smaller than it was at Rio 2016, while content production will be up by about 30 per cent. That’s only possible because of cloud, global fiber and IP links, and OBS’ digital repository of content called Content+, which allows more broadcasters to stay at home and remote.

There are other service innovations too including extensive tests of AI and 5G workflows which are planned for wider introduction in six months’ time at the Winter Games, Beijing.

We’re going to concentrate on the main uplifts – UHD, Cloud and IP.

Almost all of the content captured will be produced natively in UHD HDR. OBS will deliver the UHD HDR feeds to rights holders, while simultaneously ensuring content delivery in HD 1080i SDR. To do this, it has created a single HDR/SDR production workflow model that will allow the OB trucks to generate an HD 1080i SDR output via conversion from the primary UHD HDR signal.

A new full IP infrastructure has been built to support the transport of the signals for the contribution network. OBS’ Venue Technical Operations team has developed a set of LUTs in-house to maximise the quality between all cross-conversions. By natively capturing the content in UHD HDR or up-converted to UHD HDR, then down-converted again, OBS claim the final HD 1080i signal delivered to the RHBs will offer higher quality across all platforms than if produced in a standard HD production.

OBS has made substantive changes before, notably the transition from SD to HD at Beijing 2008. The change now is similar in terms of breadth, but the challenge is greater because the step between HD and UHD is much more demanding than between standard and HD. There is also the additional element of the transition from SDR to HDR and WCG.

“UHD technology has reached a maturity level such that we are all confident that it is ready for Tokyo 2020,” says OBS Chief Technology Officer, Sotiris Salamouris. “Technologically, it is a big step and made even more substantial because of the size of the broadcast operation at an Olympics. We need to support more than 40 venues – this means a comparable number of available production units. There are more than 50 outside broadcast vans and fly-pack systems that we need to cover the Games, and all of them need to transition to UHD and HDR/WCG. It is a tremendous change and requires a lot of attention to how it is being engineered.

“Everyone in the industry knows that it has been coming, and while they may have expected it to take place over a number of years, the reality is that it has recently been speeding up, especially in the world of sports. Most of the equipment that is reaching the broadcast market now is UHD ready and works on UHD workflows. However, this is not something that you can take lightly, especially in our own production environment, since there are so many moving parts that need to be brought together.

“We understand that there is a lot of attention on us and on what we are doing in Tokyo. It has a major impact on the broadcast industry because if we weren’t to introduce it for the Olympics, it would probably take even longer to be widely adopted.”

In terms of tech specs: the SMPTE 292 standard is used for the production of the 1080i/59.94 HD-SDI signal and the UHD production will adhere to the SMPTE 2036-1 standard and follow the 59.94 Hz specification with 5.1.4 audio configuration. The HDR standard is Hybrid-Log Gamma (HLG).

What OBS are not saying is how many of its broadcasters are taking the UHD feed natively. NBC for example is not, choosing to upconvert from HD to select affiliates. The BBC planned to stream a feed in 4K, presumably over iPlayer as it has done in the past, but having to remote all of its production back in the UK has crunched bandwidth costs so again all its output is HD.

Migrating to IP has been on the cards for a while. What is happening now is actually the last part of the transition to IP, with reliable IP-enabled solutions for live transmission. For Tokyo 2020, all OBS’ UHD overlay design, on top of its HD broadcast systems, is based on IP, with IP being used for all UHD contribution and distribution.

“It was even more demanding as we implemented a full ST-2110 platform to carry, route and distribute UHD content, with its extremely high bandwidth requirements,” says Salamouris. “But for us, it was a step that made sense. In our environment and with our own very extensive and complex requirements, when it comes to signal contribution, processing and then distribution, IP, and in particular ST-2110, was probably the only technology that could scale with all our needs. Using IP offers us more flexibility and a far higher scalability than the legacy technological stack.”

© 2018 Olympic Broadcasting Services / Owen Hammond.  Infrastructure such as the OBS Media Server room (here at PyeongChang 2018) will soon become obsolete as the future of broadcast systems is dematerialised and cloud-fit.

© 2018 Olympic Broadcasting Services / Owen Hammond. Infrastructure such as the OBS Media Server room (here at PyeongChang 2018) will soon become obsolete as the future of broadcast systems is dematerialised and cloud-fit.

In collaboration with Alibaba, OBS has created a suite of cloud services, specifically designed for data-heavy broadcast workflows. It says this allows broadcasters to carry out a virtualisation of a great part of their broadcast systems and network platforms in their own private cloud installation, integrated with Alibaba Cloud technology.

“With the launch of OBS Cloud, OBS can accommodate tailored, fully-fledged cloud-based front and back-end solutions for the RHBs to help them more easily set up all or part of their processes in the Cloud,” says Isidoro Moreno, Head of Engineering, OBS. “For broadcasters, this is a dramatic inflection point in the cost structure of their on-site production as they reduce up-front investments. Also, they can significantly keep their set-up time to the minimum and have their equipment all prepared for their Olympic coverage before even setting foot in the host city.”

Salamouris elaborates, “Cloud technology is already adequate for several of our demanding post-production workflows. Not only that, cloud may be the best option available to address some of the unique challenges that we are facing when trying to implement complex workflows, especially in an unforgiving environment such as the broadcast of large sports events where the most scarce resource is actually time.”

He argues that cloud will benefit OBS’ mission in generating more content, covering more hours and distributing an increasing volume of additional footage.

“As a result, the size and complexity of the broadcast systems that we have to install and operate locally in our facilities in the host city(ies), both in the IBC and in the venues, has continued increasing. The time available, however, that we have to build our technology systems in the host city(ies) is on average eight to 10 weeks, and that isn’t going to increase. So, though we have an expectation to continually increase our production output, the timespan available to build all the necessary infrastructure will always be the same, or may even have to be further reduced in the future.

OBS can see a hard limit approaching if this trend continues and that this is precisely where cloud technology helps. “It provides us with the opportunity to implement our systems much earlier and without any dependency with the local infrastructure in the actual Olympic venues, including the IBC,” he says. “You can build systems on the cloud, test them properly, switch them around and do all your preparation well in advance, all before setting foot in the host city(ies).

Then you can fire it up, just before the Games, with all the systems already configured, tested and ready for operation. So now that you can disassociate yourself from being local in the venue or the IBC and being able to operate off-site in the cloud, it means that you can continue increasing the size, the complexity of your systems, and consequently, the volume of your output, without further increasing your infrastructure in the host city(ies).”

Nonetheless, it’s not clear which broadcaster is taking advantage of OBS Cloud for Tokyo 2020.

“In terms of broadcasting, it is still relatively early days in the full change to cloud technology, and Tokyo 2020 will mark a first step,” admits CEO Yiannis Exarchos. “The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics may then become a facilitator for its wider use.”

For Tokyo 2020, OBS intends to leverage AI-led solutions in some of its broadcast workflows, as a way of testing how it will evolve to be included in future operations. OBS will run an Automatic Media Description pilot project based on athlete recognition and this pilot will be conducted on a select number of specifically chosen sports.

OBS will combine existing metadata such as the Broadcast Data Feed and video logs with image recognition based on athlete bib. Additionally, it will use speech-to-text technology to complement and improve the tagging of media assets. Such applications will allow a faster and more efficient turnaround of workflows such as image selection, automatic searching and clipping. By Beijing 2022, OBS is aiming to expand this process to as many sports as possible, make the most of AI-driven tools in its internal workflows and open the service to RHBs.

“Ultimately, OBS is trying to develop applications that can use this enriched data to create automatic summaries and create pattern detections,” says Guillermo Jiménez Director of Broadcast Engineering. “Data generated through AI-based solutions can be used post Games to analyse production to help improve the predicted content for each user. Combined with the IOC’s Sports Data Project, AI can provide insights into the expected performance of athletes and comparisons with previous Games and other major events.”

Catering For Digital
With the change in viewing patterns in the last decade has come a shift to digital in the approach taken by OBS towards content production and delivery. Traditional linear TV is no longer the sole way to watch live content and enjoy all the action from the Games.

An OBS services designed primarily for digital is Content+, which is an online resource offering short-form content from across the Games that can be easily shared across all platforms. OBS will deploy dedicated crews in Tokyo to generate behind-the-scenes content from the competition venues, the Olympic Village and around the city. It will also generate content with smartphones, providing short video clips from back-of-house athlete areas that will be available to broadcaster’s social media teams.

Overall, between 7,000 and 9,000 clips are expected to be produced to help enhance and supplement RHB coverage. Additionally, it plans to produce 1800 fast turnaround clips from all sports, offering broadcasters access to highlights content.

Main Feed Production
OBS will use a total of 1,049 camera systems for the broadcast of the Tokyo 2020 Games of which more than 210 are slow-mos and 11 are four-point cablecam systems. Aside from the main international feed, from some of the venues, it will produce a Multi Clip Feeds (MCFs) which run simultaneously with the main coverage and offers unseen angles from point-of-view and super slo-motion cameras, and other specialty systems. They help broadcasters tailor their own programming with enhanced analysis. There will be 75 multilateral feeds and 28 MCFs coming from the venues in Tokyo, with 68 multilaterals distributed in UHD.

It will also be employing Intel's TrueView system in Basketball which can utilise virtual cameras for immersive replays. In Tokyo, a total of 35 4K cameras will be mounted at the concourse level of the Saitama Super Arena to capture volumetric video that, once processed, renders 360° replays, bird's eye views and freeze frames from any perspective on the court.

“With 3D Athlete Tracking technology, we will be able to reveal never-before seen insights into athletes' velocity and acceleration, and how they perform against each other,” says Mark Wallace, OBS Chief Content Officer. “The technology can convert that data into visual overlays which can be broadcast over replays, providing commentators with a great tool for analysis and further fan engagement. There is a unique phenomenon with the television audience for an Olympic Games. Many are what I would call the Olympic viewer. They are someone who doesn’t usually watch a lot of sport and they decide they want to watch the Olympics because of the storytelling, narrative and personalities. Our job is to entertain, inform and educate the viewer, engage them and keep them interested in sport and the story.”

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