Skip to main content

NBC uses workflow orchestration for online Games coverage

Major sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup operate a host broadcaster to serve the world’s broadcasters with unbiased live radio and television coverage of the event.

This transmission is called the International Television and Radio (ITVR) signal or the World Feed. Broadcasters can then supplement this feed with their own coverage, which can focus more on the competitors from their own country.

For the London Games, the host, Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), will again be at the heart of the International Broadcast Center. OBS was established by the IOC in 2001 to give a consistent approach to the broadcast operations, and to allow experience to be carried forward.

Major international networks want to add their own content, and for the leading Olympic broadcaster, NBC, this has become a full-time task to plan for and to cover the alternating Summer and Winter Games. NBC has been airing the Summer Games since Seoul in 1988, and Winter Games since 2002. At the last Summer Games in Beijing, the network had 215 million viewers. NBC is a rights-holding broadcaster, in common with the EBU, representing the European broadcasters, and the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU), as well as Channel 7 in Australia, the Korean Poll and the Japan Consortium.

The Beijing Games saw innovation, with linked servers in Beijing and U.S. allowing production staff the select and edit shots in the U.S. using proxy video, and pulling over broadcast resolution content as needed. This year, the live television will be complemented with live streams of every event via cable, satellite or telcos that carry MSNBC and CNBC.
This year sees more innovation, with the NBC Highlights Factory based around a media service oriented architecture (SOA). A Sony Media Backbone Conductor (MBC) system will orchestrate workflows through capture, rough cut and craft editing, and delivery. This year, NBC will be publishing highlights as VOD, and to the web and mobile, on top of regular television.

Sports coverage differs from most TV programming in that the metadata is vital for the viewer. They need a constant feed of results and stats to accompany the video feed. Metadata is also essential to manage the delivery of clips to the destination for onward distribution to viewers. The orchestration engine uses the metadata to drive the requisite services. Multi-platform delivery is just one more complication.

Each process will be kicked off by a work order. The MBC then draws on services from Avid Interplay MAM for craft editing, Forbidden Technologies’ FORscene for cloud editing, Aspera to transcode and deliver files and Deltatre, which manages the web publishing. ScheduALL provides resource management. Because the MBC is orchestrating all the processes, it can provide a dashboard that allows the crew to view the operations, and track the workflows.

The operation of such a complex system without workflow orchestration is difficult, and requires much manual tracking and phone calls. It provides a level of control and visibility that was just not possible before.

Workflow orchestration also gives a flexibility. Each service, editing, transcoding, file delivery, is managed as a service from the orchestration engine. Custom interfaces, or adaptors, exist between the service and the engine. Swapping a service, or adding a new one does not affect existing services, they are decoupled from each other. The advantages of this cannot be overstated. As the online world moves so fast, if a new platform is to be supported, a SOA gives the flexibility to add it as a new service without disrupting existing, working, processes.

The SOA is not just for temporary systems like NBC’s Highlights Factory. It is equally applicable to the management of core broadcast operations. The Sony MBC saw first deployment at the Swiss national broadcaster, SRG-RSI. It has also been adopted by France Television. Sony is a partner in the joint AMWA/EBU project, Framework for interoperable Media Services or FIMS. The project is developing specifications for a framework that uses SOA methodology to the special needs of the M&E sector. The MBC is one orchestration engine that can be used to power a media SOA.

As broadcasters grapple with the issues of efficiently operating multi-platform delivery, the SOA is proving to be a method that provides many answers. It provides solutions to loosely couple disparate systems from multiple vendors, and a way to orchestrate processes seamlessly across those systems. The NBC Highlights Factory is a prime example of how many systems and services can be operated as a whole, and also how the operators gain visibility into the progress of processes as jobs work though the system. With NBC offering unprecedented coverage of the Games across multiple online platforms, it would be difficult to provide this coverage without the application of such an IT platform.