SVG Summit: Broadcasters Increasingly Turn to IP for Signal Transport

IP-based workflows took center stage during a session at the SVG Summit in mid December, highlighting the positives and negatives of new production methods that will transform the industry. The transport of camera and audio signals over IP- and fiber-based backbones from a venue to a broadcast facility is already the norm for a number of events, but there is still much to be learned about just how best to use the technology without negatively impacting storytelling.

Tom Sahara, VP of operations and technology, Turner Sports, reported that the use of IP transport has allowed TNT’s NBA Overtime to stream alternative camera views from a central facility in Atlanta.

“The encoders are sent out, and the cameras are at the game site,” he explained. “We then turn it over to a producer in Atlanta who can sit in a room and select from a variety of cameras and cut the cameras and audio feeds remotely. And instead of needing a budget of $20,000 per event, we can cut that to less than half of that.”

Connection costs, he added, can make up two-thirds of the costs, but it also means that the product reliably can hit budget without affecting the quality of the production.

“This type of remote production is great for host sets and specialty events, but, with regards to larger sports productions, it is doable, but there is a collaboration that happens with the production and technical teams rubbing elbows [at an event],” said Craig Schiller, VP of engineering and operations, Bexel. “At a regional or conference level, this makes a lot of sense. We have been involved with the Longhorn Network rollout that has a hub-and-spoke model to produce a lot of events around the campus.”

CBS Sports recently made use of the workflow for the pregame coverage for the SEC Championship game between Auburn and Alabama and, earlier in the season, for a game at Texas A&M. Working with Bexel, the network brought four camera feeds and audio feeds back to New York City and switched them in a control room. Instead of two completely independent on-site production units (one for the game and one for pregame, halftime, and postgame needs), only one was needed.

“Audio and camera signals are not hard,” said Scott Davis, VP of broadcast operations, CBS Sports. “It’s the comms, camera tally, and latency depending on the bandwidth that are hard.”

To minimize latency, CBS Sports lowered the amount of bandwidth dedicated to the return feed in order to lessen the audio delay.

Leon Schweir, SVP of production and operations, Pac-12 Enterprises, said that use of dedicated fiber circuits from Pac-12 campuses to the conference’s broadcast facility in San Francisco has allowed the network to produce 500 events with IP the primary form of transmission.

“[Production personnel] are understanding that they are able to do the show because of [IP transport] because, if we didn’t do it this way, they would not have the toys to do the show,” he added. “So they have been receptive to it.”

There are, however, changes to the way the events are produced. Camera meetings are held over a headset, and there is a bit more to learn about how to have effective preproduction meetings. It also allows more skilled personnel to work on more events, evening the quality of the productions.

“The idea is that five or six games could be produced by the same team in the same place and, from a quality standpoint, you would not have the same quality if we needed different individuals at each site,” said Schweir. “There has been no pushback from announcers.”

There are, however, limits. A six- or eight-camera show may be possible, but a production with 20 or more cameras? Transport costs would quickly eat up any cost saving and shows of that size usually cannot afford to have any massive technical problems.

“The BCS Championship or the Rose Bowl — I don’t foresee a time when those types of events are done remotely unless it is the old-fashioned way,” said Jason Taubman, VP, design and new technology, Game Creek Video. “Truck EICs are the unsung heroes in our business.”