File-based Workflows Revolutionize Olympics Broadcast Coverage

2/26/2010 6:50:06 AM

TV Technology Europe Editor Mark Hallinger is in Vancouver covering NBC's Olympics coverage and shared some of his thoughts about the experience:

"What are the technology stories of the Winter Olympic Games? Sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re in the middle of it, as every angle is just a tree in the forest. I’ve been here just over a week now, covering the coverage of NBC Olympics courtesy of Dave Mazza and crew, and taking some time to talk to other broadcasters and the ‘host’ broadcaster, Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS).

To be sure, it’s an HD story, and truly the first fully-HD Winter Games. But Beijing was a much bigger ‘first HD Olympics’ really, in terms of the number of venues and hours of competition, etc.

Between working on a few side projects and the sheer size of what’s going on in the halls and rooms of the IBC, one thing that really does stand out is just how far along servers and file-based workflows have crept in to an event like this. They haven’t crept in, it’s been an avalanche over the last five years or less.

So much of what NBC is doing here comes courtesy of servers and the workflows they allow. NBC’s ‘Highlights Factory’ is where more than 1,017 clips for the web, iTunes, sell-through on, VOD, mobile phone video etc. were created as of Wednesday of this past week, a bit more than half way through the event. It used seven EVS XT-2 servers and about 20 seats of EVS’ IP Director, which were used to manage the content on the servers and create basic clips.

It’s not an Avid when it comes to polishing pieces, but it’s a shallow learning curve that has allowed NBC to use English speaking local talent to handle the load. Most, if not all of these workers, had not used the software until just prior to the event. Can you imagine trying to create that many clips in a non-networked, linear world?

Getting those clips home in a hurry required the use of an Omneon MediaGrid, which also converted files to 50 Mb Long GOP ready for transfer to a second MediaGrid in New York using Omneon’s ProCast data transfer acceleration system.

And that’s just a bit on how important servers were to the new media part of the broadcast. The overall broadcast production workflow also relied on XT-2 servers, from ingest through to sending requested clips over to an Avid ISIS storage array, to EVS for play-out. The ability to do file transfers directly from EVS to Avid continues to be a huge time saver, and something that has only been happening since around the Torino Games in 2006.

And the host has made huge changes this time around as well, all reliant on pushing servers and clips-as-files deeper into the workflow. Everything from pushing content to a satellite feed on a regular basis for smaller rightsholders with no on-site presence, to allowing rightsholders to access clips directly off venue servers, to an expanded Olympic News Channel Operation (ONC), using networked EVS production and the somewhat new Xedio software. ONC journalists at the venues are able to send full-res clips back to the IBC via a laptop with a Gigabit Ethernet connection.

More on these host beakthroughs later...

(Be sure to check the April 12 issue of TV Technology for our entire Winter Olympics wrapup!).