HBS ramps up for World Cup Sweet 16

By Ken Kerschbaumer
With the World Cup in its Sweet 16 phase HBS (Host Broadcast Services) is turning up the heat on its coverage, adding more cameras and more personnel to each successive match to ensure viewers around the world don t miss a single grab, kick, trip, or yellow card. And it s all in glorious HD.

“HDTV is the shining tip of the iceberg when it comes to delivering the innovations of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, says Francis Tellier, HBS CEO. The rest of the iceberg, says Tellier, includes an extended stadium feed, two new PlayerCam feeds, unencoded discreet audio channels, and Dolby E commentary circuits with CD-quality audio.

HBS became a part of the World Cup story in 1999. When the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cup broadcast rights were handed over to ISMM and KirchGruppe the two companies had an obligation to provide FIFA with a dedicated host broadcast organization (namely HBS). Since then there was a management buy-out by top management of the two companies and a new company, Infront Sports & Media, took over the responsibility of rights distribution worldwide. HBS works both as a service provider to FIFA (via Infront Sports & Media) and as an independent company that provides consultation to event organizers and on other events like the 2006 Doha Asian Games.

The World Cup championship on July 9 will crown three years of planning by HBS. The International Broadcast Center measures 30,000 square meters and is home to 90 radio and TV broadcasters. HBS also manages another 50,000 square meters at the venues. All in all, says Taylor, it took 966 tons of wood to build the technical rooms and offices, 740 tons of air conditioning, and 2,000 kW of power to keep the World Cup coverage on air.

When the action on the field ends HBS will begin mining a massive knowledge management database to track how nearly 12,000 World Cup-related tasks were completed.

HBS is free to choose its suppliers so it has no obligation to work with FIFA sponsors, says Nicola Taylor, HBS spokeswoman.

That freedom will allow HBS to ensure the 2010 World Cup from South Africa taps into the best available technology. For example, this month the FIFA Command Center involves Avaya, Toshiba, T-Systems, Yahoo, Deutsche Telecom, and Philips.

Expect the 2010 technologies to be nailed down in 2009 for a full round of testing. For example this year s HD demo venue was set up in Frankfurt last June and all of the new technology was put through its paces.

We had to make sure all the equipment was truly debugged, says Taylor. We also had to make sure the staff knew how to cope with the new technology and deliver 4:3 protected areas within the 16:9 HD frame. The vast majority of our customers are still using SD feeds.

The key technology provider on the broadcast equipment side is Grass Valley. The company began working with HBS for the 2005 FIFA Confederation Cup with two HD remote trucks and two slow-motion vans outfitted with LDK 6000 HD cameras, Kalypso production switchers and slow-motion HD gear.

For the FIFA World Cup that relationship expanded greatly, with seven HD remote production trucks, seven HD slow-motion vans on hand to cover events at the 12 venues. More than 182 Grass Valley LDK 6000 and LDK 6200 cameras, Grass Valley Kalypso and Xten DD HD switchers, 12 large-scale Grass Valley routers with 6,000x 6,000 inputs and outputs and more than 900 modular signal processing devices are in use.

Other vendors include Tektronix (providing waveform monitors), monitors from Panasonic, Sony and Barco, Dolby and Glensound providing audio gear, Avid and EVS handling media server and editing.

One of the new technologies used this year was T-Systems fiber infrastructure. Two complete fiber rings were used as well as a backup to transport uncompressed multilateral HDTV feeds and lossless encoding for transmission of unilateral SDTV feeds. A total network capacity of 480 Gbps plus 26 HD feeds / 118 HD feeds are leaving the IBC satellite farm in Munich simultaneously during the event and all, according to Taylor, at cost effective rates.

One of the major issues facing the 2010 Cup is whether there will be a similar infrastructure available for signal transport. Recent press reports have already raised concerns that fiber and Internet infrastructure simply can’t be built in time. Regardless of the infrastructure look for HBS to find a way.

We re always pushing the envelope because FIFA wants the most readable coverage possible of the game to suit a truly global audience, says Taylor. We ll identify the needs of the world broadcasters and work with the broadcast industry on the latest trends and technologies.