Wednesday May 15, 2013 saw the biggest ever broadcast operation for a single day football match in Dutch television history, when the UEFA Europa League final took place at the Amsterdam Arena. Vying for this major European football title were England's Chelsea Football Club and SL Benfica from Portugal. The reported worldwide television audience was around 175 million viewers.
Facilitating host broadcasting, comprised of three HD video feeds distributed globally, was Infostrada Sports, who produced the final on behalf of RTL Netherlands and UEFA. Infostrada chose Dutch company United as the technical supplier, and started its preparations for the final in August 2012. Eventually the game would make use of 36 cameras, including many special slow motion models.
Handling multiple feeds for the big match was a Technical Operations Centre (TOC), built and equipped by international full service hire firm Broadcast Rental, together with United. Here all signals were distributed for more than 20 international broadcasters on site and off site.
"At Broadcast Rental, we've supplied equipment for football matches and most types of events," said the company co-owner and CTO, Martijn Swart."Even for a Europa League game, which is generally smaller than the Champions League, this was massive. There were around twenty different broadcasters who wanted to use the signal."
Planning for distribution
"Things like camera planning are all started months in advance," said Martijn. "However the exact specifications of what you need to supply in terms of video distribution aren't firmed up until after you know who is to be in the final. So you can't know exactly how many broadcasters will take all the signals and therefore how much you need to supply, until about a week before the match. The TOC was just an empty portacabin when we started working there on the Friday [before the match]."
An integral part of the video distribution in the TOC was the Blackmagic Universal Videohub 288. This 3 Gb/s SDI and deck control router offers the ability to send and receive video signals over long distances using optical fiber. The format used at the Europa League Final was 1080i 50, over HD SDI.
"It's perfectly suited for TOC operations, where you basically have it function as a large distribution system," said Martijn. "It's able to accommodate and to be flexible enough to provide all the external broadcasters with the signals they require. The host OB van provided the main feeds and some backup feeds, as well as lots of isolated camera angles. We used the Universal Videohub to distribute those signals to all the broadcasters who were patched to us."
Martijn explained there were two types of broadcasters using the TOC for video distribution, "A broadcaster with a satellite van can just take the signal and uplink it to their home country. Others are broadcasters with a fully equipped OB van, who create what is called a unilateral show around the multilateral signal. They could switch their own cameras in between the host feed, or take some of our isolated cameras to do all kinds of highlights, create vignettes or features based on certain players or the coach."
The 288 x 288 crosspoint size of the Universal Videohub used in Amsterdam offers the potential to to add up to 72 SDI and optical fiber SDI interface card, each featuring 4 inputs and 4 outputs, plus a breakout cable port for deck control.
"We put the Blackmagic Universal Videohub into one of the racks of a large flight case system," said Martijn. "It's about two thirds full with in and out ports, so we're capable of handling roughly 120 inputs and 120 outputs. We just go on site, put the flight case in, and start connecting the signals. We configure it and do the naming of all the in and out ports using the Blackmagic video application, all on site. That gives us flexibility and that's key in our workflows. We're able to quickly respond to whatever a broadcaster wants, so if they turn up on site and want to change anything, we can easily give them a different signal before the lockdown stage. For us it's just really important to have a cost-effective solution that is able to accommodate all those different broadcasters, and the Blackmagic Universal Videohub just does that for us."
Martijn continued, "All the signals and video distribution were fine and we didn't have to implement any backup plans. It was a great final, all the way to the end, when Chelsea scored in extra time."
Photography: Alex van Knippenberg