LONDON— NBC’s massive London
Olympics effort was the fruition of a decade
or more of work that saw the network
conceive, develop, and deploy multiple
strategies to make the production of
thousands of hours of coverage possible
from a facility that gets built, tuned, used,
and torn down all within a few months.
“I think we’ve got most of our cards
face up,” said David Mazza, NBC senior
vice president of Olympic Engineering,
in response to a query about how much
“proof-of-concept” testing of developing
technologies and techniques took place in
London. “I don’t think we had much low
profi le testing going on… I think we deployed
everything we had.”
Mazza said that many of the designs
and systems NBC Olympics had developed
and refined over the years since
“Olympics 1.0” in Atlanta had evolved in
to stable, productive pieces of a complex
system needed to achieve a daunting task.
In London the production entailed more
than 5,000 hours of coverage during the
two week event, from July 26-Aug. 11,
spread across broadcast and cable outlets, clip-based online coverage in a dozen
or so formats for multiple consumer devices,
and live streaming of all content. By way of
comparison, Atlanta was a 170-hour broadcast
with nearly nothing that could be called
“new media,” certainly no video.
Elements of NBC’s Olympics technology
that have evolved include its “@home” split
production between the host city and the
United States, an enterprise-level MAM and a
“Highlights Factory” for clips-based new media
production. Other tools and techniques
were new to NBC Olympics but had been
refined in test events in the run up to London.
Examples include a new 3-/6-channel
way of managing stereo and Surround audio
production that could become the norm
across NBC’s broader sports coverage, and
the use of Avid Multi Stream ingest recorders
at venue sites.
MAM: BEYOND NEW MEDIA
NBC Olympic’s Enterprise Asset Management
workflow has been a decade-long project
that has evolved both in its goals and its
components. Initially, the system started in
SD as a way to track hours of content coming
in from Olympic venues, and its proxy-based
video was seen as a way to better manage the
big HD files on the horizon.
By the big broadcast from Beijing in 2008,
the system had progressed to become the
production workflow centerpiece of something
that was only vaguely in mind a few
years before, a massive new media production.
London saw the system evolve into a
live production tool for both the broadcast
and new media parts of the production.
|NBC Olympics Editing Room
“Finally having the hi- and low-res tied together
[in the MAM], which we’ve wanted to
do from the very beginning, is a big deal,” said
Mazza. He added that the process was helped
along tremendously when Avid bought Blue
Order, the creator of software which had
been an important component of NBC’s
system, and which became Interplay MAM.
A full year of development of Interplay MAM
by NBC staff and Avid developers was key to
ironing out the integration, said Mazza.
In London the MAM was location independent—
it no longer mattered where a
user was retrieving clips from, or where they
were being sent. The workflow’s hardware
component included Sony XDS XDCAM recorders
and EVS servers at ingest, while Harmonic
MediaGrids were central to storage
and cross-Atlantic file transfers. Avid played
its role in craft-level production, and its Interplay
MAM desktop interface
allowed users to have
a single ingest point serving
multiple outputs. It provided
overarching media management
and stored all related
Darryl Jefferson has been
director, Post Production
Operations and Highlights
Factory Project Manager,
NBC Olympics, since the
system was deployed in Beijing.
He said the real change
between Beijing and London
was as much cultural as technological.
“As technology guys, I’d love to say we can
fix it all with technology,” Jefferson said. “But
it’s more cultural—it’s harder to convince
the person that has been using tape for their
whole career that, ‘It’s OK; you can put that
“In Beijing, if you asked an Avid editor
hat was going on at the Highlights Factory
[new media production using the MAM],
they wouldn’t have been able to tell you,” he
But in London the Avid editors were getting
most of their competition shots from
the MAM. They were using the product that
used to be mainly for the Highlights Factory.
“We made it through a Games and people
just used files,” said Jefferson.
GRAPHICS: TRANSCODES &
Three things were highlights of NBC’s
broadcast graphics production, according to
Phil Paully, director of Graphics Engineering,
The first was the use of Brevity Systems
software, a graphics transfer and transcoding
system which certainly helped the @home
infrastructure. Brevity was basically the shipper
of all graphics data between London and
a 30 Rock supporting facility in New York.
At a point a few days before closing ceremonies,
around 4 TB of graphics-related data had
been sent back to New York, far exceeding
the amount sent for the last four Games combined.
|NBC Olympics marked the first use of Chyron’s new Desktop Multi-Viewer in a live environment.
Both speed (roughly 6x at prior Games),
and transcoding were benefits of the software.
“Basically whatever standard, whatever
format we’re in, whatever wrapper is on the
file doesn’t really much matter,” said Paully.
“We tell it what we want it to be at the other
end… so when we ship a file from here in
25 [fps], it ends up in a different wrapper in
29.97 in New York.”
And cross-platform transfers were possible—
if a graphic is manufactured on a
Mac, it goes into the Brevity system and can
be transcoded into an EVS file format. Such
transfers with Avid formats have worked in
tests, but were not done in London. The system
also performs lossless compression on
the fly, which meant that the more than 4 TB
of data actually involved less than 2 TB bandwidth.
“It’s been a tremendous advantage to
us here, to say the least,” said Paully.
Another new graphics tech story was the
deployment of the Chyron iStore, which basically
converts a HyperX 3.1 two-channel
graphics system into an independent twochannel
clip player. Where NBC has used
graphics bugs in the past—which were single
channel on a Mac—these are now two
channels. “So we can have a moving background
for the video wall here, and while
that’s going on, on one channel, we can be
changing the “Coming Up Next,” the program
guides, and the teasers and billboards
can play independently,” said Paully.
A third story was the first use of Chyron’s
new Desktop Multi-Viewer in a live environment.
NBC had three copies in London—
one used by Chyron support personnel, the
graphics producer copy, and Paully’s copy.
The software allows a viewer to see the live
canvas of any networked Chyron station and
take control of a machine if needed. Diagnostics
and software patches or upgrades
can be pushed to all the machines in the
venues and the International Broadcast Centre.
ON TO SOCHI
London is a modern large city with lots of
fibre connectivity and great infrastructure.
Although several NBC Olympics staffers
have visited Sochi, Russia, at this point the
resort town remains a bit of an unknown
less than two years before it hosts the 2014
Winter Olympics. There is massive construction
taking place, according to Mazza, who
has visited Sochi twice.
As for the production of the Games, the
weather is always uncertain and often difficult,
and dealing with venues split between
a downtown and mountain area is always a
potential challenge. Sochi is currently constructing
a train that promises to keep the
transfer time between the two venue clusters
to approximately 30 minutes.
The transition between Summer and Winter
Olympics is 18 months, much shorter
than the 23 months between Winter and
Summer Games. The short transition encourages
few revolutions in how the production
gets done. But the rate of technology change
on the consumer end means there is no rest
for the production side of a broadcast.
What’s the takeaway?
“I keep thinking and praying that it’s going
to get a little bit easier and it never does,”
said Mazza. “I guess I should have learned
this over the years, but I keep having to relearn