One on One With Chip Adams, VP of Venue Engineering, NBC Olympics
NBC Olympics has equipment littered throughout the city of Vancouver — and the mountains of Whistler — and one man is tasked with keeping track of it all. Chip Adams, VP of venue engineering for NBC Olympics, decides what equipment, and how much of it, should be placed at each of the Olympic venues and is responsible for dynamically adjusting that plan as American medal hopes change.
“We size the production facilities based on what usually gets the biggest numbers on primetime,” Adams explains. “The bigger venues that have more interest will get larger facilities. That’s how we set up A-, B-, and C-level venues. Figure skating is the largest draw, then speed skating and alpine skiing.”
The ABCs of Venue Engineering
A-level venues are designated for events that draw the largest primetime audiences. Those venues have full mobile-production trucks on-site provided by NEP, NCP, and Game Creek Video. Vancouver’s A venues are Pacific Coliseum (figure skating), BC Place (ceremonies), Canada Hockey Place (hockey), Cypress Mountain (freestyle and snowboarding), and Whistler Creekside (alpine events).
B-level venues are shown in primetime and are of significant interest to U.S. audiences but are areas of possible cost savings for NBC. Vancouver has just one B-level venue, Richmond Oval, home to speed skating. Richmond Oval has a production truck on-site but a smaller editing facility than the A-level venues.
“C-level venues rely mostly on the host coverage, with a couple of cameras thrown in for interviews or a wide shot so we can break away from the coverage,” Adams says.
The C venues in Vancouver, where a flypack inside a cabin replaces a mobile-production truck, are the Whistler Sliding Centre (bobsled, luge, and skeleton) and Vancouver Olympic Centre (curling).
For UBC Thunderbird Arena (women’s hockey) and Whistler Olympic Park (biathlon and cross-country), NBC relies purely on the World Feed produced by Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS), with an additional camera in the mixed zone for interviews.
“At Whistler Olympic Park, we added that extra camera pretty late because, all of a sudden, the Americans had some medal possibilities in the Nordic events,” Adams says. “That’s usually what drives it. If we think an American is going to win a medal, then we’ll put facilities there.”
Sticking to the Plan
Once the headache of setup is over, Adams’s biggest challenge is keeping everyone happy, especially when he can’t give them what they want.
“The hardest part is managing production staffs’ expectations, because they always want to add a camera here or an extra EVS there or make changes to the production plan at a late stage,” Adams explains. “We usually can’t accommodate those things because of budgets and the problems involved in getting extra locations on the field of play.”
To obtain additional camera positions or video or audio splits from the host broadcaster, a request must be submitted to OBS and sent to the relevant sport’s federation for approval. In this Olympic Games, NBC’s requests are third in order of importance.
Vancouver World Order
“The host broadcaster is accommodated first, then the Canadian broadcaster, and then us,” Adams points out, “so we don’t get the most optimum camera locations that we’ve had in the past. Our production teams accept that, but there’s always discussion.”
Making do with what it gets, NBC uses cameras from the host broadcaster, and the Canadian broadcaster where appropriate, alongside its own cameras to cut an OBS-based show that caters to U.S. audiences. The exception to that rule is the most ratings-heavy sport of the Winter Olympic Games, for which NBC cuts its own full coverage.
“The only place where we have our own camera crews doing full coverage is figure skating,” Adams says. “For snowboarding, we have four cameras, speed skating we have six, alpine we have four. We really rely on the host feed nowadays to do the majority of our coverage.”
At all of NBC’s A venues, the production trucks are tied to at least one Avid system. Both Cypress and Creekside have traditional edit suites tied to the Avids and EVS servers, all networked using the DNX codec. At Pacific Coliseum and Richmond Olympic Oval, Avid systems are tied to an EVS without a traditional edit suite.
“All of the venues have the capability of turning shows around, editing pieces, and doing little features,” says Adams.
The C-venues are equipped with flypacks, but those packs have been super-sized since the Beijing Games.
“The C-kit flypack was originally meant to take three or four cameras, a small audio board, and a couple of tape machines,” Adams says. “Here, the pack has an EVS, graphics, two cameras, a bunch of people, and a big audio board.”
That big audio board is a Calrec, which is certainly not a portable console — “they’re a little too big, in my opinion, to bring into a venue and build,” Adams says — but the kit is flexible enough to be modular, so it can easily be built upon.
The equipment in those flypacks and any gear not in a mobile-production truck came through a rental deal with Bexel and equipment partner Sony. RF equipment was provided by Total RF.
In the Trucks Again
With the exception of the two C-roll kits and the pure world-feed sites, all of the other venues are supported with mobile-production trucks, which made Adams’s life significantly easier — and yet much harder.
“We weren’t flying in a lot of equipment, but, with that, we thought we could bring down install times,” Adams says. “We brought in people later, but Olympics has a tendency to use every feature on every piece of equipment, and a lot of freelancers are used to what they have on their trucks, not the DNX interface that we have here to do file transfers.”
On account of that, the first couple of days became live rehearsals for the production crews while they determined what they could do within a facility.
“If I had three or four days for those types of rehearsals and if the host broadcaster was there three or four days earlier, we could go on the air for the Olympics nice and relaxed,” Adams says. “But you see us showing up later at the venue to set up cameras. This time around, we were at the venue to set up before the host.”
Says David Mazza, SVP of engineering for NBC Olympics, “It’s nice being back in mobile units. You drive up a truck, and, within six hours, most of the components inside the truck are up and running. The flypacks are nice, but it’s a lot more work, and you’ve got to manage a lot more pieces. Driving up a truck is a good thing, no doubt about it.”