UK's latest sports broadcaster launches three channel multi-platform broadcast operation to cover premium sports
BT Sport is a new broadcast operation from UK telco BT. The three new channels will air through BT’s IPTV package, BT TV and BT Infinity, as well the Sky DTH platform for television viewers. For tablets and smartphones viewers can use the BT Sport app, or for PCs the BT player.
The line-up includes Premier League football, rugby and a host of other sports. The channels include two live sports channels and one for analysis, studio shows and documentaries.
BTs expertise lies in telecommunication, so for this new venture in program making BT partnered with a group of production companies and Timeline TV, a creative and technical facilities company, in order to formulate ideas for the new channels. Sports broadcasting is very competitive, and to succeed it is vital to differentiate the program style and content from other broadcasters. Part of this is the live coverage but another area to differentiate is the studio production. BT Sport aim to bring fresh look to studio discussions and analysis, and this has driven many of the design decisions. Sunset and Vine are the primary production partner, and Timeline will staff the production facilities.
The former International Broadcast Centre (IBC), built for the London Olympics, was chosen to house the facility. It is part of the new iCity media production hub located at the Queen Elisabeth Olympic Park in east London, set up to be part of the Olympic legacy and to offer an alternative to the many facilities in west London.
The IBC building is a large empty space with good fiber connections, so formed an ideal site for a TV operation needing many live feeds, as well as studio space. Unlike most sports productions which use a small studio, just big enough for presenters and a few guests, BT Sport wanted a large studio space for what they believe will be some innovative approaches to sports television.
Chief Engineer, Andy Beale, working with Timeline’s Managing Director, Dan McDonnell, to formulate a production specification to deliver the three channels. In concert with systems integrator, Megahertz, the detailed technical design proceeded. Equipment choices were influenced by the need to have the studio operational within a short space of time, and to use equipment that would be familiar to the production staff.
The resulting design called was for a large studio space, with a pool of 24 cameras available to the three studios, and a file-based platform for fast turnaround sports program production. The three studios comprise a 14,000 sq ft (Studio 1 and 2), 2,000 sq ft (Studio 3) and provide a flexible space that can be used as one large area or independent studios. The studios claim to be the largest in Europe with all LED lighting.
Timeline TV’s staff have a solid background in broadcast, and considerable experience in live sport including Wimbledon, the Volvo Ocean Race and [horse] Racing UK. Timeline has a special expertise in EVS IP Director implementations and a history of enhancing the operation of IP Director in areas like logging. Timeline brought in Megahertz as the systems integrator for the video and audio equipment, with Timeline provided the IT systems.
The building was chosen November 2012, and the on-air date set for August 1, 2013 ahead of the Premier League football coverage starting August 17. With a short timescale and a fixed on-air date, the parties made conservative equipment choices.
They wanted to run a sophisticated file-based operation with studio equipment that would be familiar to operators. Cameras and switching comes from Sony, with the HDC-2400 and DVS-7000 production switchers. Production graphics are created and aired from the Chyron platform.
EVS provides the production platform with a total of of 12 XS and XT3 servers. The XT3 servers are used in the production galleries for general clip record and playback. Sound desks are from Calrec, a favorite for live production, with the Artemis mixers and Hydra backbone.
The design was finished around January, and onsite installation started February. With run up and rehearsals starting June/July that left under six months to source equipment, install test and configure—no mean task!
EVS XS servers provide 32 ingest channels under control of IP Director. The incoming feeds are controlled and logged with IP Director using templates and a schema developed by Timeline to handle all manner of sports, as the broadcaster will not only be handling association and rugby football. The system can log anything from field hockey to golf.
In the production office, 200 desks are equipped with EVS IP Browse for preview media, clipping and general media management. If necessary producers can rough cut with EVS CleanEdit. For craft editing producers can send clips to one of the Avid rooms where the producer can sit with an editor to refine the material.
Video and audio editing
Twenty seats of Avid Symphony provide craft editing for packages and promos. Symphony was chosen over Media Composer for the additional color correction, often a requirement with the uncertain color temperatures of live sport. Audio editing is handled by two Avid Protools suites. The Avid applications are backed by ISIS 7000 storage.
The Avid craft editing is fully integrated with the EVS platform, which provides media management across Avid, nearline Harmonic MediaGrid and a Spectra Logic LTO tape library.
The house codec is AVC, 100Mb/s, with file delivery to the UK's Digital Production Partnership (DPP) file-delivery specification. This makes which makes BT Sport the first UK broadcaster to be compliant. In the DPP initiative the majority of broadcast partners in the UK have developed a common specification for program delivery on videotape and as files. The DPP specification was formulated in association with the Advanced Media Workflow Association as MXF for Distribution, AS-11.
As well as live feeds the system can accept camera cards, P2, and XDCAM discs, which are ingested using Amberfin iCR. Incoming files from live venues can be transferred by Aspera to iCity. Incoming files are written to the MediaGrid nearline, where they are immediately available to browse from the desktop. The use of Aspera is based on previous experience with the big system deployed for the EUFA cup in 2012.
Saturday Night Fever
It is always a challenge for sports producers to come up with new ideas. The main studio has a suspended floor lit from below. It allows the marking out of the field of play for many different sports, giving the look of painted lines on grass. The technology would be at home as the pulsating dance floor in the movie Saturday Night Fever but this feature is to form part of the programming. Aspects of play can be explained with players in the studio, acted out on this virtual field of play, a very different look from the CGI analysis commonly used to explain action on the pitch.
Live transmissions leave the building by fiber, but files for linear broadcast or VOD are coded as AVC-I 100, and then passed though a number of processes within an Amberfin iCR system. This rewraps the MXF OP1a files from Avid as AS-11, performs a QC check and photo-sensitive epilepsy flash test (a British curiosity which is the bane of post-production) and final the insertion of DPP production metadata, as well as the creation of an XML sidecar with the same metadata. This also carries an MD5 checksum, so that the playout service provider Red Bee can check the file has not been corrupted.
The Broadcasting Landscape
BT Sport has risen from the ashes of two previous broadcasters. Setanta had a brief life, before ESPN took over many over the rights in their foray into Europe. BT Sport has acquired ESPN’s rights when the broadcaster retreated from Europe. BT will air many U.S. sports from the ESPN days to complement its solid coverage of European sports.
BT has a strong commitment to this operation and has pulled in an impressive roster of talent to present and analyze.
For business watchers, the interesting aspect will be how an IPTV operator will fare against the incumbent terrestrial and satellite platforms. This is a fiber delivered product, although it can also be viewed on DTH and on PCs and mobile devices. So it is multi-platform from the outset. Most of the distribution will be handled by Red Bee, soon to become an Ericsson division.
This is the telecommunication sector teaming up with production companies to make television entertainment. It breaks the mould of the traditional broadcaster. On one side broadcasters have YouTube and Netflix with VOD, on the other the telco sector.
This is going to be a battle royal.