IP Production Technologies Get a Test by Pac-12 Networks
Pac-12 Championship Game, Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, CA
Pac-12 Networks, challenged with broadcasting sporting events from 12 leading universities in the Western United States, produces more than 850 live events each year. To achieve that, they expanded their production workflow to embrace IP technology. Here’s how they made it work.
Beginning about four years ago, Pac-12 Networks began designing a new model of remote broadcasting that allowed them to dramatically increase the number of events they could broadcast without adding huge production costs. Basically, the network built the gear itself, assembling system components from various manufacturers.
In essence, Pac-12 borrowed a technical model used on a larger scale by the Olympic games. They reduced the amount of gear and personnel needed at sports venues by using IP networks to backhaul the live feeds to one of five studio control rooms in San Francisco, where programs are remotely mixed for broadcast, and to master control in Denver. Currently, Pac-12 Networks is able to connect to 97 on-campus athletic venues.
The Pac-12 production model is working and being watched carefully by others, including ESPN, Sky Sports, Time Warner Cable and Fox Sports. As IP expands, it is expected that others will soon adopt the workflow model for other types of production as well.
Right now, among competing vendors, IP production is crammed with different technical standards and protocols. Pac-12 Networks had a big early advantage, since it could take advantage of the existing IP infrastructure at member schools being used for academic file transfers and other administrative functions. Since the schools own the broadcast network, it could act fast to use its own facilities to aid in the backhaul feeds.
“We needed to find a way to produce as many as 12 events in one day from our 12 member universities, all at the same high standards and with dedicated television facilities and crews,” said Jonathan Leess, executive vp of operations at Pac-12 Network. The answer was found in those existing IP networks.
By extending the IP networks to the San Francisco facility, Pac-12 was able to leverage the schools’ Internet 2 platform to create the largest private IP Network in the nation dedicated to sports coverage. The network now consists of more than 5,700 fiber miles and has a total network bandwidth of 40 GB per second.
Pac-12 engineers built the Mobile In-Out (MI/O) units for transmission from the venue with components from various vendors. A small portable rack about the size of an end table, can be plugged into power, cameras, microphones and headsets at the venue and can feed a fiber cable to the IP network. All the camera links, intercom, tally lights, audio and metadata are encoded to JPEG2000 before the live feed.
The box contains Nevion video encoders, RTS intercom systems, DSP processing gear and up/down conversion. Latency issues are overcome using DSP processing on the venue end. All audio (including 5.1 surround), tally lights and IFB systems work as if a technical director is working in a truck outside.
In San Francisco, the shots are called and the final production is assembled. It essentially becomes a virtual on-site production truck. Yet, there are no video circuits and no satellite uplinks, since all connectivity is achieved via IP links.
For audio, Pac-12 uses one pair of Calrec Artemis consoles and another pair of Summa consoles to take incoming audio feeds and mix them. Each are hooked to the IP network. The DSP in the field MI/Os generates IFBs for local commentators, which negates any latency issues to and from the production center in San Francisco when creating monitor mixes.
Kevin Emmott, marketing manager at Calrec, said his company’s audio consoles will connect to virtually any IP network and that the Summa consoles were designed with consultation from Pac-12 Networks for the project.
Though Pac-12 built their own field gear from various vendors, he said Calrec has been working to develop it’s own compact, efficient plug and play system. New Calrec components include a RP1 Remote Production unit, which provides local DSP to enable monitor mixes and IFB with zero latency, a Fieldbox for the connection of microphones to the network, and an Audio Over IP adapter. These devices combine to make IP field production even more compact and simpler to assemble.
The average cost savings for Pac-12 Networks is estimated to be between $12,000 to $15,000 per event, though IP backhauls also offer greater quality, consistency and efficiency. Since feeds can be routed anywhere in the world, the system takes on greater flexibility for backups and expansion to other areas and events.
“In the future we can go two ways with this – we can go deeper into our production schedule and cover more events, or we could go wider and develop more services and production values which can ride on this system,” said Michael Harabin, vp of technology and engineering at Pac-12 Networks.
“We are just at the beginning of this remote broadcast phenomenon,” said Calrec’s Emmott. “Pac-12 is an early adopter. I guarantee over the next five years more and more of the bigger broadcasters will be doing this. It’s just the start of a major trend.”
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