CTV at the Winter Olympics

To call the technical feat that CTV accomplished in covering, mostly live, this year's Winter Games impressive is an understatement. In building a 40,000sq-ft temporary HD-SDI facility at the International Broadcast Center (IBC) in Vancouver to support 11 television, radio and online networks, what the network did was downright Olympian.

This was the first major Olympics production for CTV, Canada's largest privately owned network, since the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. (The network had a limited role at the Winter Games in Lillehammer in 1994 and the Barcelona Summer Games in 1992.) The previous Canadian rights holder was the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. This year, the network produced and broadcast 4800 hours of coverage, including the opening and closing ceremonies as well as men's hockey. (In previous Olympics, the host broadcaster and NBC usually handled the production, and the other broadcasters used that same feed.)

This year, the network was a founding member of the Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium (OBMC), the official host broadcaster, in partnership with multimedia provider Rogers Media. Together, they provided coverage in English, French and other languages on multiple platforms from Vancouver to accommodate Canadian viewers. The OBMC was formed to support 11 television channels and one radio network, with CTV's temporary facility sustaining all of them. Literally every second of Olympic competition was available live on radio, TV or online during the Games. The network was responsible for more coverage than NBC or any other broadcaster.

Allan Morris, senior vice president of engineering, operations and IT at the network, said that although planning had occurred 18 months before, most of the technical facilities were designed, configured and tested months before the start of the games in a 13,000sq-ft warehouse in Toronto across the street from the network's main broadcast and production facility. The various systems were laid out and connected to replicate what they would be doing in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics. In October 2009, once it had been tested and the staff trained, the equipment was packed into 16 tractor-trailers and shipped off to Vancouver, where it took six weeks to reassemble in the IBC. Crews and talent began showing up in late January.

Temporary broadcast-quality facilities, permanent results

Six studios and seven control rooms were built at the IBC. There were five main control rooms for the five main OBMC members — CTV; V, a French network; The Sports Network (TSN); RDS, the French version of TSN; and SportsNet, Rogers Cable's sports channel — and two studio and two control rooms at the Whistler Resort, which was home to many of the downhill events. These remote operations were fully accessible from any control room at the IBC facility and could be closely monitored for internal use via a 180-channel IPTV system.

Production personnel sitting at any desktop in the IBC could see any network, any channel and any venue with the click of a mouse. This included talking with venue production personnel via intercom or VoIP phone while watching the images from the camera as they came into the IBC. People could also look at the incoming IPTV signals on larger monitors using Amino boxes attached to televisions. This saved lots of time and greatly increased efficiency.

Some consortium members also had control rooms off-site at their respective home facilities, so signals were sent from Vancouver to the network's main production facility in Toronto and then on to the distribution platform of choice.

Tapeless production control

The control rooms featured Ross Video Synergy production switchers, Lawo signal audio consoles, Harris Inscriber G7 graphics (created with various applications on Macintosh workstations located adjacent to the control rooms), an Inscriber Connectus centralized graphics management system, an EVS (4 × 2) XT[2]+ replay system, Evertz MVP and VIP multiviewer software displayed on Panasonic flat-panel plasma HD displays and TVLogic monitors in critical viewing areas. Evertz supplied nearly all signal-processing equipment. The control rooms also used a large RTS digital intercom system (576 × 576), as well as Harris Videotek and Tektronix test and measurement gear.

Forty-two Hitachi SK-HD1000 HD cameras with Canon lenses, on tripods and handheld, were used in the studio and at many venues. In the field, operators used 15 Sony XDCAM HD camcorders with Canon lenses.

The primary workflow for broadcasting in HD was a tapeless environment — there was one Sony HDCAM and one Betacam SX machine just in case — so that everything that came in never touched videotape. Sources coming in from fiber and satellite feeds, on-site production trucks (supplied by Game Creek Video based in the United States and Dome Productions in Canada) and other sources were routed through the various control rooms. For complete redundancy, all events took two separate paths using dual Evertz routers (one with a large 576 × 576 matrix and 6000 × 6000 audio matrix), video servers and production switchers to protect against system failure and ensure that the network never went off the air.

Comprehensive centralized storage

Harris was a major supplier to the OBMC, providing integrated broadcast and production systems that allowed the network's team to centrally receive,manage and create program elements and distribute them to multiple stations across Canada. The equipment package included NEXIO AMP advanced media platforms with Velocity HD editors, which were used to build video clips for all program platforms in both English and French. Harris NetVX transmission systems using MPEG-2 4:2:2 at 50Mb/s delivered all content back to home base master controls across the country.

The company's equipment also supported the consortium's online coverage on CTVOlympics.ca and RDSolympiques.ca with a backup control system for FTP file transfer. The system consisted of NEXIO Remote software, which monitors and controls channels on servers over a local area network, and the NEXIO PlayList event-sequencing application, which enables clips to be selected from the database and arranged in any order for frame-accurate transmission.

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All broadcast material was recorded to a large NEXIO AMP server (with dual 15TB arrays and 32 ingest ports), and editors picked from it as necessary. Two or more editors could access the same clip simultaneously, which happened often during the games. Each port had a logging station associated with it, and low-resolution (proxy) files were instantly created so that editors could begin working as soon as the material came in from a venue. A Dixon Sports system helped organize media clips based on the sporting event and provided pre-made graphics templates that helped maintain a consistent look for each sport. These clips were then made available to desktops throughout the the network's portion of the IBC via a massive network that supported 13 Velocity HD edit workstations. Each edit room was dedicated to a particular sport, in both English and French. There was also a Digidesign Pro Tools room for mixing 5.1 surround-sound elements.

To streamline the workflow and make things happen faster, the network's engineers wrote custom code and their own applications to facilitate seamless file transfers between the server, the Avid Nitris DX edit systems and a multinode Isilon IQX-Series server.

The Nitris systems were tied to a centralized 24TB Avid ISIS storage system. All content going into the NEXIO was transferred to a 200TB Isilon digital file storage system for longer-term storage and to serve as backup files. Leveraging the networked, file-based system in Vancouver, highlight reels for live events could be turned around in a matter of seconds if required. (During the closing ceremonies, one sponsor wanted a clip from the Canada-U.S. hockey game included in a 30-second spot. The game had just ended that afternoon, but the crew was able to do it with time to spare.)

Fast HD turnaround times

The NEXIO servers provided 20 playout ports to send content to the various control rooms for inclusion into the various consortium partners' main broadcast feeds as well as to a number of off-site facilities operated by consortium members.

All audio and video clips (and associated metadata) were eventually archived to the IQ X-Series system in Vancouver. They were then moved via file transfer to the network's Storagetek systems back in Toronto on a daily basis.

Redundant OC-48s at 2.45Gb/s were used to deliver all real-time and recorded content, VoIP telephony, corporate business system applications, IPTV, and various low-bit-rate/low-latency monitoring feeds. This ensured that content was never lost and was available to anyone who needed it. As a further backup, the network used one C-band transponder to deliver the outputs of the five main control rooms using MPEG-4 at 10Mb/s. It was continually downlinked in Calgary, Toronto (two different sites), Montreal and Halifax to be used if required.

Unprecedented technical complexity

Perhaps the most impressive part of the CTV's coverage was that the IBC facility provided 24/7 content to all of the various channels simultaneously, in a file-based environment, in two different languages, for three weeks. When the network compared its operations to other broadcasters in the IBC, there was little in common. Its operations were so critical that it required two Leibert UPS units to feed dual AC power cords to every piece of equipment at the IBC. Smaller UPS units were used in all venues.

The complexity of feeding five clients in two languages was enormous, but somehow the crew pulled it off without a hitch. The system never hiccupped, and not a single clip was lost. Many in Canada thought this year's Winter Games were the best they had ever seen. It was certainly the country's most watched Winter Olympics.

Morris said the key was that video was everywhere it needed to be. From any desktop, producers could look at single or multiple feeds simultaneously. In addition, the systems deployed were of such a large scale that new twists (and custom software applications) on file-based architectures became critically important. Along the way, they learned a few things that will serve them well going forward, both for future Olympics coverage in London in 2012 and for the network's production facilities in Toronto.

A project of this magnitude was only possible because of the expertise and dedication of the engineering team members and support staff.

Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industries.

Design team

Allan Morris, senior vice president of engineering, operations and IT

Albert Faust, senior director, media technology systems

Curtis Skinner, director of engineering, CTV Olympics

David Dickson, director, media technology systems

Robert Miles, manager of audio engineering, CTV Olympics

Mark Weeres, manager of video engineering, CTV Olympics

Brian Learoyd, director of mobile engineering, logistics and installation

Technology at work

Nitris editors
ISIS storage

Canon lenses

MVP and VIP multiviewer software
Modular gear
Routing switchers

EVS XT[2]+ HD replay servers

Inscriber G7 graphics
Inscriber Connectus graphics management system
NEXIO AMP server NetVX video networking systems
Velocity HD editing platforms
Videotek test and measurement gear

Hitachi SK-HD1000 HD cameras

Isilon IQ X-Series storage systems

Lawo MC56 and Zirkon audio consoles

Panasonic flat-panel plasma HD displays

Ross Video Synergy production switchers

RTS digital intercom system

Sony XDCAM HD camcorders

Tektronix test and measurement gear

TVLogic monitors