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Television Captures World Cup Passion

World Cup fever is upon us again. Few sporting events can get fans as hyped up as the soccer does. European soccer has been known to stir the passions of the fans to the point where police and riot squads were needed to restore order.

#9 Luca Toni of Italy and #14 Scott Chipperfield of Australia during a round of 16 match of the 2006 World Cup, played between Italy and Australia at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Photo credit: ESPN/Rob Tringali It’s that kind of passion in the audience that drives the relentless development of better television coverage for the soccer matches. The audience really cares. They want to see everything. They want to miss nothing. And they want to see it up close. And they want to see goals replayed immediately over and over, from multiple angles and in super slow motion too. And now, in 2010, they’ll be able to see 25 of the World Cup matches in 3D. It’ll be just like being there — only safer (joke).

With the heavy responsibility of uninterrupted FIFA World Cup television coverage squarely on their shoulders, two companies are on the bleeding edge of what has now become commonly known as “big event” broadcasting: HBS and EVS.

HBS stands for Host Broadcast Services — a European company that has made its mark on live major sports event broadcasting so well, that national broadcasters who traditionally hosted the major sports event coverage when it was in their country, are now more than happy to step aside and let HBS do the heavy lifting.

And HBS’s long-term technology partner for the World Cup coverage is EVS, the Belgian server manufacturer that has cornered the world market for live event recording and live slow motion replay and highlights editing.

Cooperating closely for the past ten years, HBS and EVS have jointly evolved a very comprehensive end-to-end solution to handle the demands of the FIFA World Cup broadcasts. To see just how the 2010 World Cup coverage has grown in comparison to previous years, Table 1 lists the camera inventory for each match:

The bottom line is that the number of cameras to cover each match for this year’s contest in South Africa will be double that of HBS’s first World Cup coverage in 1998. And given the fact that there’ll be sixty four matches played this year across ten different venues in the span of just one month, the required broadcasting resources multiply rapidly.

HBS’s fundamental approach to managing the coverage of the World Cup is to divide the event broadcast into four sequential areas of operation, described by HBS as the Global Production Workflow, and it goes as follows:

1. Venues Production — this is the original capture of the action during the matches at each of the ten venues. The EVS equipment tally for Venues Production is in the order of 130 EVS HD XT[2] servers, 150 MulticamLSM remote controllers, 20 IPDirectors, 20 XF[2] removable storage platforms, and 32 Xedio Media Dispatchers.

2. IBC Johannesburg — HBS Production — This is the collecting point for all the match material being captured at the venues. This is the media ‘stock exchange’, as the users like to call it — the place where all the rights holders can access the content they need for their home country’s broadcast coverage of the matches. The HBS Production System at the IBC in Johannesburg has direct gigabit Ethernet connectivity to the OB trucks at the venues.

HBS crew at the IBC can browse the servers in the OB trucks, while also ingesting up to 18 live video feeds coming from the venues to the IBC. HBS packages the content into a fully formatted programme feed for wholesale delivery to Media Rights Licensees.

The EVS equipment tally at the HBS Production facility is 50 HD XT[2] servers, totaling 1900 hours @ 108 Mbps (DVCPro HD), plus another 1100 hours of hi-res media in an XStore[2] storage platform. 140 IPDirectors are for logging, browsing and content management. 6 XF[2] units are for removable storage. 32 Xedio Media Dispatchers are for P2 file selection, clipping and transfer.

3. IBC Johannesburg — MRL Production — this other half of the IBC comprises the studio and production facilities set up individually by each of the visiting broadcasters, as well the home broadcaster, SABC. Deemed “Media Rights Licensees”, the abbreviated form “MRL” is now the common term to describe the visiting broadcasters and those who stayed at home but nonetheless paid for the rights to rebroadcast the FIFA World Cup matches in their geographical zone.

Collectively, the MRL’s in the IBC will be making good use of 60 EVS HD XT[2] servers, 30 IPDirectors and 20 XF[2] sets of removable storage.

4. Distribution — now somewhat more complicated than it used to be due to the emergence of web and mobile video distribution pipelines in addition to the traditional terrestrial, satellite and cable outlets. Extremely fast turnaround of packaged clips is part of the system design. The HBS promise is to deliver craft edited clips for mobile devices within three minutes after the live action.

In a seminar at NAB Show 2010, Peter Angell, Head of Production for HBS, acknowledged the admirable efforts of EVS to improve the interoperability between the EVS servers and Final Cut Pro editors in order to achieve the fast turnaround of craft edited live material.

The overall plan is for the action to be captured at the ten venues by 300 cameras in 40 OB trucks supported by another 40 ENG crews. The International Broadcast Centre (IBC) in Johannesburg will house the main HBS production facilities, along with the production facilities of the many Media Rights Licensees. The MRL’s will set up their own studios for commentary, editing and interviews in their home country’s language.

The HBS production facilities will revolve around the “FIFA Max Centre” media server system, which itself comprises a tightly coupled network of EVS live production servers. The FIFA Max Centre allows the MRL’s to efficiently access all the content captured by HBS. The MRL’s will be able to browse, log and exchange all the match footage, as well as a lot of additional unseen footage captured by roaming FIFA TV ENG crews.

What’s different about this new type of major sports broadcast is that the MRL’s receive far more than just live camera feeds or HBS packaged programme feeds. They have complete online access to all the content in the FIFA Max Centre servers. HBS is providing a web-based browse and retrieval utility to the MRL’s, and not just to the MRL staff in the IBC, but also to MRL staff in their home countries. Radio feeds in particular can easily be browsed and previewed remotely via the HBS web portal, and then the requested files can be delivered by SmartJog to the MRL in their home country.

Perhaps the unsung heroes of major sports event broadcast coverage like that of the World Cup are the OB trucks. Less than ten years ago, we’d have been impressed with an 8 or 10 camera truck. Now it’s not unusual to hear of 24 to 30 cameras in one OB truck. It’s a major engineering accomplishment to support that many cameras in one truck. Providing mains power, UPS and aircon for that much equipment is not a trivial design or construction exercise.

HBS expects to produce up to 3,500 hours of content during the 31 days of the FIFA World Cup. This content will all be produced in HD with Dolby 5.1 audio, and some of it in 3D. Besides the official International feeds, both clean and dirty, there will be a lot of otherwise unseen footage captured by roving ENG crew and that footage will be compiled as clips and made available to the MRL’s in a clip compilation server.

FIFA World Cup soccer is one of the most demanding of all major sports broadcasts. The intensity of the action during each match is unrelenting, and the height of emotion erupting whenever a goal is scored is a thrilling and challenging thing to capture for the viewers at home. HBS brings the benefit of experience to the task every four years to make a bigger and better coverage so that none of us will miss any part of the action.