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2014 FIFA World Cup: Game Change

RIO DE JANEIRO—What a difference four years makes. The last time the world gathered itself together for the FIFA World Cup, the second biggest tournament on the global sporting calendar after the Olympics, all the talk was of 3D. This time round it’s likely that there won’t be a single frame captured in the format.

You have to track back all the way to the Athens 2004 Olympics to come across a sporting event that has been the cause of quite so much panic and uncertainty in its build-up. Bedeviled by significant infrastructure problems that have reached all the way from the airports that will receive the international arrivals to the stadia of the 12 host cities that will stage the games, hamstrung by the communications problems caused by an overloaded telecoms system and marred by protest and unrest, broadcasters the world over have learnt the painful lessons that Modern Brazil is at best an awkward place to operate in.

In fact, even with the tournament just around the corner as of this writing in early May, there are some significant worries regarding the production of the unilaterals ahead, though happily these have coalesced round the logistics of production rather than the production itself. As far as that goes the consensus is that host broadcaster HBS has done its usual sterling job, especially in ensuring diversity connections and implementing an impressively redundant form of production that has seen 12 identical, containerized production centers built in Germany and shipped over to Brazil.

Moving equipment around the country, especially after the group stages are over, was always going to be a major problem, and it’s one that HBS has decided it doesn’t want to be involved with. All of which is part of the reason why EVS loaded 234 servers on a container ship bound for Rio sometime in March. But it’s what some of those servers are doing when they’re installed that is probably the real story from Brazil 2014.

Forget the headlines surrounding the ultra HD effort, it is with remote production that this year’s World Cup really, and appropriately enough, moves the goalposts. Not just simply an add on, remote production lies at the heart of the HBS production workflow in Brazil

Sixteen EVS XT3 servers are to be installed at each venue and, alongside them, two of the company’s C-Cast Agents which represent the sharp end of its connected content production architecture.

C-Cast Contribution will be used to link the IBC and the twelve venues across the country together, live streams passing through the two C-Cast Agents at each venue where they will then be transcoded and transferred into an Amazon Cloud-based infrastructure. About 45 seconds later at the most they will then hit the C-Cast Central servers, which will then govern the material’s distribution on the network. This means passing the footage on to the Adobe Premier-based HBS production teams (there are 36 Premier suites in the IBC) and other rightsholders at the IBC and further afield too.

The servers automatically generate proxy files, allowing the various remote teams to access content at low resolutions, create clips and then import a high bandwidth version.

“I think in total there are 75 media rights licenses distributed for the IBC in Rio, and in addition there are offsite production teams that have web browse access from their own home cities, and there are 83 licenses distributed so far for that,” said Nicolas Bourdon, senior vice president of marketing at EVS.

There have probably been more distributed since too, as this is far more than just a plain vanilla distribution of the nine feeds from each venue round the world. Mirroring the way the C-Cast second screen app works, the remote teams can add content—including camera angles and highlights—that have not been made part of the world feed into their coverage, switching it from a gallery as if they were in a truck outside the stadium.

It’s a neat solution, especially for multi-venue live events, and the number of broadcasters deciding to ‘dial-in’ from their home territories into the FIFA MAX server in Rio makes it feel like a genuine game-changer.

FIFA’s estimates are that around 50 million people will be downloading its official application, which is being white labelled and has been picked up by more than 100 rightsholders so far.

“Broadcasters can have a white label app that they can put their own logo on,” Bourdon said. “Viewers can then access different types of content, up to six live camera angles, clips and key actions from a game, statistics, and a full language translation of all the logs and captions.”

C-Cast Central manages availability of material via APIs, and while the white label smartphone and tablet apps, not to mention a customizable web player (based around deltatre’s Diva system), are proving popular, many of the major broadcasters around the world are folding the multiple C-Cast streams into their own fully-featured apps. Add these figures to FIFA’s 50 million and you undoubtedly have the biggest outing yet for the technology.

Content will reside on an Amazon server farm controlled by EVS from where it will be passed to deltatre’s platform (deltatre is also the main data provider from the tournament). From there it will be either be encoded for delivery using Elemental technology over the Akamai CDN or, if the stream is to be integrated into a broadcaster’s own efforts and a third-party CDN, via the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

Expect to see some interesting new features crop up too. HBS will be using the as yet unreleased C-Cast 3.0 out in Brazil, with the idea that this will then be productized into C-Cast v3.1 in time for IBC.

Four years ago, Sony was limbering up to broadcast 25 matches from South Africa in stereo 3D. Measured against that, the 4K effort for Brazil 2014 seems relatively minor: a mere three matches being captured in the format, all from Rio’s Maracanã Stadium. However, the significance is the same: the company is using the World Cup to seed demand for the format that it hopes will break through to the mass market by the time of the following Olympics. Maybe this time it will work.

4K trials—indeed trials of pretty much all of the World Cup workflow—were held at the Confederations Cup last summer and though the Telegenic truck that was shipped from the UK for them isn’t available this summer, the crew will still be sourced from the British OB provider, albeit working in a 4K-capable Globocast truck.

The matches will probably represent the most comprehensive coverage afforded a 4K production yet, with 12 Sony F55 cameras slated for each game and a number of the speciality cameras from the standard HD broadcast also being upconverted for the occasion.

What’s more it seems that the final will now be actually broadcast in the format as opposed to being simply being beamed into cinemas or destined for a souvenir film for online distribution. Names aren’t being discussed as yet, but it seems that there is a queue of interested broadcasters and, according to Sony, “More than one will broadcast the feed.”

How many will be watching is, of course, another matter entirely.