Sports television is going through a technological revolution as fiber costs fall. Major venues already have fiber connections, but the affordability of fiber now makes it possible for smaller or little-used venues to also benefit from the connection.
In the past, such venues would have relied on microwave or satellite occasional use links to backhaul event coverage.
Once fiber is in place, it opens up new opportunities for the sports director. The advent of the second screen and the rise of mobile viewing, means highlight packages become an important part of the sportscast. So replays, interviews with players, coaches and managers, and historical replays are a vital part of the viewer experience.
Delivering those packages to the content delivery networks and mobile operators is a whole lot easier with an IP connection over the fiber. Feeding edited packages and highlights back to base can be done using FTP and TCP, but is not ideal for large media files.
I recently met with Aspera CEO Michelle Munson, who outlined some of the advances her company has made to support sports broadcasters. Aspera has developed its fasp high performance transport technology that offers much improved performance over FTP, plus extra features like encryption.
Wide-area transfer of media files has been used for some time for distribution of content; for review and approval, and the delivery finished programs and commercials. As available fiber bandwidth increases it has become possible to use fiber circuits for contribution beyond just basic live backhual.
With many sporting events being across an ocean, FTP becomes even more impractical as packet loss and propagation delays work against it, severely impacting performance. As an example, a 10GB file (that’s about 25mins of XDCAM 50) sent via FTP transfer from Europe to the U.S. could take 20 to 40 hours to transfer.
Using fasp over a 100Mb/s connection, it will take nearer 15 minutes, that is more like wire speed.
Is it being used for sportscasts? Well, yes, several major sporting events this year have used fiber circuits to full advantage to return simultaneous live feeds and edited packages for delivery to multiple viewing platforms.
Short-duration events often require a large amount of storage for just a few weeks to store all the highlight packages. This is where the cloud comes into its element. Storage is on tap, and can be used for the duration of a tournament without the need for capital expenditure. Aspera has integrated its wide-area transfer platform with Amazon S3 and EC2 to provide on-demand content transfer. The company announced support for Microsoft Azure at IBC2012.
One example of a sports body using wide-area file transfer and cloud storage is UEFA (Union of European Football Associations). During the Euro 2012 tournament, the Association used the Aspera platform. The Association runs LIVEX, a library service that is used for publishing and distribution to broadcast partners around the world. Throughout the event, the LIVEX On-Demand digital video service relied on Aspera and EVS technology to deliver over 3,000 near-live in-match and post-match video clips, amounting to nearly 27TB of HD content, to official partners around the world for broadcast.
Aspera point-to-point clients were installed at Digital Media Lounges at each sports venue across Poland and the Ukraine to provide high-speed upload of content to the UEFA International Broadcast Center (IBC) in Warsaw. It also went to the Aspera Enterprise Server at the central facility where it was edited, transcoded and prepared for final broadcast using EVS equipment. This allowed ENG crews to send time-critical video content to the IBC at maximum speed using Aspera’s fasp transport.
Aspera Orchestrator was used to manage automated processing and publishing tasks. High-resolution files were automatically transferred to Amazon S3 cloud storage, with proxies published to an ordering portal. Broadcasters could deliver content for final delivery using using Aspera’s faspex again.
This complex content delivery workflow, combining on-demand, cloud-based infrastructure with Aspera solutions, provided complete flexibility and massive scalability in handling publishing and delivery for large volumes of digital content with hard-to-predict spikes in activity, and was tailored to a time-limited event, for which the investment in on-premise resources would have been cost-prohibitive.