Red Bull Goes Virtual With Motorcycle Race Production

BASINGSTOKE, England — At-home production as an alternative to rolling OB production vehicles to a venue is growing in popularity as broadcasters, leagues and conferences look for ways to maintain a high level of sports production while shedding much of the expense of sending trucks and crews to distant events.

Sony Professional Solutions Europe has taken this concept to the next level by removing the need for centralized production and pushing video switching, graphics and other production elements into the cloud.

[Read: NBC Sports Live Streams Of Major Events Rack Up Big Numbers]

Last weekend, Red Bull Switzerland deployed Sony’s Virtual Production solution for its livestreaming coverage of the Alpenbrevet motorcycle race in Sarnen, Switzerland. The remote, mountainous region where the race takes place made deploying mobile production infrastructure challenging.

However, by leveraging 4G connectivity and cloud-based services, Red Bull was able to capture the race and stream it with just the cameras it deployed and a single laptop used to access the Sony Virtual Switcher GUI.

“While the scenic route of the race is a big draw for our participants, it poses a significant challenge for our broadcast team who want to capture and livestream the event across the globe,” said Hubert Zaech, production manager at Red Bull Switzerland. “Sony’s Virtual Production was the perfect solution for our event as it gives us the freedom, flexibility and agility to capture and distribute content quickly, without having to deal with the logistical nightmare of installing physical infrastructure in these remote locations.”

The Sony Virtual Production workflow is straightforward. Production personnel using Sony’s acquisition kit, log cameras into a personalized virtual production portal, synchronize cameras and stream content on a pay-as-you-go basis. Cameras on location feed their signals via wireless transmitters to a virtual production switcher hosted in the Amazon Web Services cloud.

At the same time, a video switcher located anywhere around the world logs into the Virtual Production service using an ordinary web browser. Camera feeds can be switched, graphics, logos and captions added and the show streamed to various platforms, including YouTube and Facebook Live, from the cloud.

Sony is positioning virtual production as bridging the gap between traditional live production and consumer live streaming and with good reason. Two seconds of switching latency reportedly was introduced by the virtual production setup; however, depending upon circumstances a short delay may be acceptable.

Brad Cheney, Fox Sports VP, Field Operations, put the latency question into perspective. “On events where we are one of many parties with production rights, two seconds is a long time to be delayed in production, as it becomes additive to the entire distribution chain,” he said.

“In other cases, where we are the single production provider, a delay of two seconds becomes more acceptable as the benefits outweigh the delay. With multiplatform uses expanding with cloud production, this timing gives us more capabilities for producing content for our viewers. We know the delay will only continue to be reduced in the coming year and garner more attention as an alternative to current production practices.”

Sony will make its Virtual Production Service available throughout Europe beginning in September. It also will be discussing the service at IBC 2018.

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Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.