November 30, 2012
By Jason Dachman, Managing Editor
The use of file-based workflows has become a standard at remote-production compounds across North America and all over the world, allowing remote sites to exchange files among multiple trucks at a time or even with a home broadcast facility thousands of miles away. Nowhere is this workflow more prevalent than in the International Broadcast Centers (IBCs) that pop up every two years at the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.
“To give you an idea of how much the world has changed, at our first Olympics [in 2006], there was a question as to whether moving file-based media around even made sense,” Signiant CTO Ian Hamilton said during a session at SVG’s recent TranSPORT event. “Now it is just assumed that it is going to happen. We work with major broadcasters around the world, and they are all routinely moving files back and forth in large quantities and sizes at every Olympics.”
The London Games this past summer served as a coming-out party of sorts for mass deployments of file-based workflows within sports production. The ability to exchange high-quality files between the IBC in London and home bases oceans away became a reality, allowing many broadcasters to leave crew at home and save on expensive accreditation and travel costs.
“File-based workflows allow [broadcasters] to deploy less people while also providing better coverage of the Olympics,” Hamilton continued. “With a much smaller group of people in London, they could provide all kinds of great second-screen experiences that file-based technology enables.”
These workflows continue to evolve at a breakneck pace, creating more and more opportunities for Olympic-rights holders to deliver more coverage faster and with less manpower. NBC, for example, used Brevity’s platform to exchange files between London and its 30 Rockefeller Center broadcast facility in New York with great success.
“One of our goals at the Olympics this year was to be able to do more for less,” said Mike Jackman, VP, business development, Brevity. “With that in mind, we were able to maintain a very high resolution in the file as we moved it. We were compressing it down, but that high visual quality was then re-created on the other end — either as a transcoded [file] or in its original format.
“For NBC, that allowed them to save about 50% of the bandwidth,” he added. “There were days where 300-400 GBs or more were moved, but the actual bandwidth that we needed was equivalent to about 150 GB. That allowed them to use that [extra] bandwidth to do more elsewhere.”
Aspera CEO Michelle Munson has seen file-based workflows evolve drastically at the Olympic IBC since they were introduced just a few years ago. For instance, at the Turin Games in 2006, Aspera provided an Avid integration for Canadian rightsholder CBC that is now commonplace for several broadcasters at the Olympics IBC.
“They wanted to allow editors to send directly between Avid stations, with the fast protocol providing the high-speed transport from the events side back to CBC. That kind of concept was very experimental at that point in time. But the primary bottleneck in that scenario was the I/O speeds [to and from the Avid] Unity storage system.
“To give you an idea of how much the world has changed, that same type of Avid workflow [used by CBC in Turin] was rather fundamental for NBC,” she continued. “We ended up transferring 700 hours of HD video for NBC with that same Avid integration. But what was so satisfying was that the old storage bottleneck could be eliminated. For me, that has really been the hallmark of how sports-event file-based workflows have evolved over the course of our company from the 2006 Olympics until this year.”
However, the linear telecast is obviously no longer the only consideration for Olympic-rights holders. The multiscreen revolution has forced broadcasters to use these same file-based workflows to deliver video content — both live and non-live — to viewers across a variety of screens and devices.
“The advent of over-the-top and online content has created a whole new world as well,” said Munson. “We powered all the transfers to YouTube for NBC this year at the Olympics. That content did not even exist in our first Games, and now the consumer experience demands it. A day will soon come when you have this mixture of real-time, near-time, and next-day content, where the backend of this is very efficient and all file-based.”