VSM-Marina Combination Drives New Fox Sports Playout Platform

Fox Sports is now broadcasting its six HD channels from new playout facilities in Hilversum, the media city of the Netherlands. The Dutch sport broadcaster claims to be the biggest premium TV service in the country, broadcasting live coverage of both domestic and English football, international tennis, the NFL and Formula E motor racing from a broadcast centre equipped with VSM control and monitoring technology and Pebble Beach Systems automation.

Fox International Channels owns 51 percent of Eredivisie Media and Marketing (EMM), the company set up in 2008 by the 18 football clubs in the Dutch Premier League (the Eredivisie) in conjunction with international TV production company Endemol to manage all corporate media and sponsorship rights on the League's behalf. As well as Eredivisie coverage, Fox Sports broadcasts the Belgian Jupiler Pro League, the English Barclays Premier League, ATP and Wimbledon tennis, American football from the NFL, Major League Baseball and the eco-friendly Formula E season.

The new broadcast and playout systems were installed after EMM moved away from a managed delivery service so that it had more control over its operations and the ability to expand the capacity available to existing and new clients as flexibly as possible. A new distribution platform was installed for the 2015-16 football season, based on L-S-B Broadcast Technologies' VSM (virtual studio manager) control running with Pebble Beach Systems' Marina automation.

This set-up was installed by UK systems integrator Broadcast Networks, working with L-S-B's Benelux distributor LDM Audiovisual Systems, which is part of the Lawo Group. VSM was selected to manage facilities and allow operational locations to be designated. By using VSM's 'Boxing' feature, any operator's position can be used for any operational job. In this way an operator can select a channel and then perform a specific task, such as QC (quality control), monitoring, editing or ingest.

The system runs on an interface giving a graphical display of all facilities, allowing operators to select where they are working and which part of the production chain is under their control. VSM is used to control the major components of the playout system: two Imagine Communications Platinum IP3 routers, running on LRC protocol over IP, plus the company's SxPro 320 multi-viewers; Axon interfacing and conversion, also over IP; Guntermann & Drunck DVI ControlCentre Digital for managing the KVM infrastructure; and Pebble Beach Systems Marina automation.

By using VSM to control both the Platinum IP3s in parallel with the parameter controller of the Axon modular glue systems, Fox is able to run its logo inserters and drop in L Bars graphics. Multiviewer layouts are displayed graphically on the user interface, which allows default settings to be chosen and Tally functions to be carried out, such as showing when a Harmonics channel port is available for recording.

More crucially VSM integrates an automated interface to the Pebble Beach Systems Marina installation. Scheduled commands are transmitted from Marina to VSM, triggering multiple functions on other devices connected to the control system.

Marina replaces a previous Pebble Beach Systems Neptune device. The new playout platform currently incorporates ingest and playout of 15 channels, with the capability to be expanded modularly for additional channels in the future as required.

Commenting on the installation, Jinne Tania, broadcast specialist with EMM, said, "For sports you need to deploy best of breed technology across the board. So whilst we looked at implementing a modular IT or IP-based solution, we weren't satisfied that the responsiveness was up to our requirements. There are nights during the season when we are broadcasting 12 simultaneous live football matches while segmenting them at the same time for re-runs, so we went for the dedicated technology approach. We picked the most appropriate product for each function and in our experience it is way faster and more efficient to work with individual specialist vendors than with a one-stop solution."

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