Olympics: Five Networks, One Facility

As the main broadcaster for the host nation, Canada's CTV had a lot riding on its coverage
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VANCOUVER
From a Canadian perspective, the Vancouver Olympics was remarkable for two things: The record number of gold medals won by Canada, and the record size of the Canadian Olympic broadcast facility. The former was due to the efforts of Canadian athletes; the latter was due to the five TV networks that made up Canada's Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium (OBMC); all of which required their own on-site facilities.

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Olympic Prime Time host Brian Williams on the CTV set "We had to provide studios, control rooms, editing, graphics, and engineering areas for the English language services CTV, TSN and Rogers SportsNet, plus the French language services RDS and V," said Allan Morris, CTV's senior vice president of engineering, operations & IT, and the man in charge. "We also provided content to OMNI1, OMNI2, OLN, RIS, APTN, ATN and MuchMusic; CTVOlympics.ca and RDSolympiques.ca; and Rogers and Corus radio stations nationwide."

To meet this Olympic-sized challenge, the OBMC built the largest complex housed in the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) on Vancouver's waterfront. Located on two floors, it covered 40,000 square feet and was home to more than 800 production, operations, and engineering staff during the game. "Executives from another very large network that shall remain nameless dropped by for a few tours," Morris notes. "After looking at it, one of them said, 'These are the first Olympic games that we have been to where there is someone larger than us.'"

HISTORIC FOR CANADA

The OBMC's plans were unprecedented in Canadian broadcast history. No one in the Great White North had ever attempted anything this big, and this complex.

To make it possible and practical, the OBMC's engineers made a few key decisions. First, all five control rooms were built to be essentially identical (with two extra, smaller control rooms being provided for ancillary duties). Using a cookie-cutter approach ensured that technicians trained for one facility could be assigned to all of them. It also simplified the process of procurement, setup (first in a Toronto warehouse where everything was tested, then on site in Vancouver) and maintenance.

Standardization was clearly the name of the game. Each of the network control rooms was equipped with Ross video switchers, Lawo audio mixers, Evertz distribution and multiviewers, EVS slow-motion recorders, Harris Inscriber character generators and RTS intercom systems. The six broadcast studios and several venue locations were equipped with Hitachi HD cameras, fitted with a wide range of lenses.

The signal routing was done with an Evertz 328x530 video routing switcher with a 6000x6000 audio matrix. A smaller backup router was used for redundancy of all key feeds into and out of the facility.

All control rooms were connected to a Harris Nexio server, backed up by a smaller Nexio server (incoming video storage and play-out only). "The Nexio was the heart of our operation," said Morris. "It handled up to 32 incoming video/audio sources where highlights were identified by individual logging stations using low-res proxies, 13 edit rooms using Harris Velocity NLEs, and 20 play-out channels—everything."

To allow for faster and more accurate logging, a custom front end was user-defined by sport, with the athletes' names pre-entered. The Velocity edit suites were allocated by sport staffed with knowledgeable production teams in each room. Additional editing including promos was done on 8 Avid Nitris systems with shared ISIS storage. All content was file-transferred between the Avid and Harris Nexio systems.

In previous Olympics, CTV had used videotape and other physical media. But to manage all the demands in Vancouver, the OBMC saw no alternative but to go entirely tapeless. "There is just no way that we could have managed to provide for all of these live and edited feeds with people running around with tapes," said Morris.

Worth noting: Web content for the Games was assembled in Toronto (CTV, TSN, Rogers SportsNet, RDS, and V) using clean studio feeds from Vancouver. Longer form Web documentaries and live streaming media were packaged in Las Vegas in a partnership between OBMC, NBC and Microsoft. "If you watched any of our coverage online, what you were seeing came from Vegas," Morris said.

REDUNDANCY

With the vast majority of Canadians watching the OBMC's video during the Vancouver Games, signal failure was not an option. To prevent this, the consortium selected Harris NetVx for its encode/decode infrastructure; operating at MPEG-2 50 Mbps. All feeds were transported by two OC-48 (2488 Mbps) fiber-optic lines; one following a northern land route and the other following a southern route.

"We also delivered the five main control room clean feeds via C-band satellite in MPEG-4 at 10 Mbps," Morris says. "When we temporarily lost the landline between Toronto and Montreal, the satellite covered us."

That's not all: Each of the OBMC's production video switchers and audio consoles had access to two feeds via separate routing and distribution. In other words, there was a fully redundant backup available at all times to board operators, at the push of a button.

There were also backup routers, the backup Nexio server noted above, and two large Liebert Uninterrupted Power Supplies to keep everything running (save the majority of studio lights) if power went down.

Based on round-the-clock viewing by this reporter, the OMBC met its ambitious goals during the Games. "Still, all of the equipment we had in place for Vancouver; all of the clever solutions and backups would have come to nothing had it not been for the dedication of the engineering team," says Morris. "I cannot believe just how hard people worked, how long the hours were that they put in and how dedicated they were to this project. As well, the technical people from Harris, Lawo, Hitachi, Evertz, Ross, RTS and Juniper Networks (who interfaced the network feeds to Bell Canada's OC-48 lines) were incredible. They were with us on site throughout the Games."