NBC Olympics Venue Engineering Team Gears Up For Games

By Ken Kerschbaumer

For most broadcasters the challenge of dealing with one venue is enough to fill a day. So for NBC Olympics’ Chip Adams, NBC vice president of venue engineering and his team of 25 technical managers, dealing with 44 distinct Olympic venues this summer has been a test of patience, planning and fortitude. First and foremost they needed to wade through 870 pages of plans and diagrams that outlined the venues and Beijing Olympics Broadcasting’s plans for those venues.

“As you get closer to the beginning of the games, things start to change as the venues are delivered in their final configuration,” says Adams. “Adjustments to commentary platforms, camera mounts and locations are just a couple of the things that change due to final seating assignments for guests and dignitaries.”

NBC will have 50 broadcast cabins across 11 venues that will serve as temporary facilities. In addition an OB van, serving as a “flash” vehicle, will be on hand for cycling, time trials, road racing, and triathlon events.

The backbone for NBC Olympics and BOB will be a contribution network built by Chinese National Communications that connects all of the venues with the IBC. “BOB is providing the equipment to transmit and receive the HDI signals in an uncompressed format to and from the IBC,” says Adams. “The venues outside of Beijing will be encoded with MPEG-2 DVB at the various profile levels for SD and HD and those will come back to the IBC on satellite feeds or, if the circuits are available, the SDH network that CNC runs within the country.”

NBC Olympics will concentrate its facilities on the “A level” venues including the National Stadium (known as the Birds nest), home for the Opening and Closing ceremonies and the track and field events. The two other “A” level venues are the National Indoor Stadium (home to gymnastics events and the National Aquatics Center that is the home of swimming and diving events.

“For these venues we typically supplement the host coverage with a number of our own cameras, tape machines, and edit facilities,” says Adams. “With our cameras and recording devices, in conjunction with the split feeds from BOB, we can produce more personalized coverage that focuses more on the athletes and their stories.”

There is only one B-level venue this year, beach volleyball, and NBC will have a flypack at the venue comprised of six Sony cameras, six Sony HD XDCAM recorders, and three EVS XT-2 systems. Editing facilities include an EVS XT and Apple Final Cut Pro system to give the up-and-coming sport it’s due.

This year NBC Olympics, is also taking a new approach to the C-level venue. “We have upgraded our C-world production kits to handle HD video and be able to deliver a Surround Sound program,” says Adams. “On the video side we kept the core unit and added additional patching and terminal gear to accept a variety of switchers.”

NBC Olympics will use two Sony MFS-200 switchers in the C2 kits and a Sony MSF-8000ASF for C+ venues. “The C+ kit can handle more record devices and graphics systems for venue that needs a little more equipment, while still relying on the Host Feeds,” explains Adams.

The C-world fly packs can be up and running in a little more than a day and each has a technical director an engineer-in-charge, a cameraperson, audio mixer, and tape operator.

With discreet audio available at the venues, and with some of the C-level venues actually being broadcast live on some of NBC’s networks, all the kits are HD and have an audio console capable of 5.1 Surround Sound productions. “That’s a big addition to our C-world kits,” says Adams.