By Michael Grotticelli, Broadcast Engineering
During the World Cup Tournament, Burlington, MA-based bandwidth management solutions provider Signiant is helping ESPN move files between the sports network’s HD production facilities in South Africa and its headquarters in Bristol, CT. Signiant software is also facilitating the transfer of audio and video files between venues and production facilities in South Africa.
All content will be acquired in 1080i HD (100Mb/s) and then converted to 720p, ESPN’s house format, for delivery to subscribers at home. Some SD material will be upconverted and added to the broadcast as necessary. The Signiant software delivers the file and generates a confirmation of receipt. It also helps accelerate and manage bandwidth usage to ensure seamless connectivity.
ESPN has secured dedicated fiber paths running under the sea from New York to Johannesburg and back. From New York, files will be delivered to Bristol in real time for some of the main matches as well as within minutes for pre-edited segments. Some satellite transfers will be used for live events (e.g., opening ceremonies and final round games).
“Everybody wants files delivered as near to live as possible,” said Michael Kidd, associate director of technology development at ESPN. He’s in charge of making sure all of the connectivity is running smoothly during the tournament. Most content will be edited in Johannesburg, but some highlight reels will be done in Bristol.
“It’s not signal strength that will be the biggest problem, but speed of light traveling such a large distance,” Kidd said. “FTP and other forms of file transfers tend to break down after so many miles, so you have to use a file acceleration technology to overcome any latency issues.”
Because of bandwidth considerations, ESPN crews will be sending one or two files at a time, but no more. That’s because, according to Kidd, it’s always more important for one have one file complete then two files half done.
FIFA will produce the 3-D content in 1080i HD, and ESPN will convert it to 720p for use on its new 3-D channel. The 3-D channel will be handled separately from the traditional ESPN HD channel, which will carry all of the World Cup matches.
“This event will tax our infrastructure even though we do file transfers from coast to coast on a nightly basis,” said Kevin Stolworthy, vice president, technology. “The is by far the largest event we’ve ever done, however, we’ve been doing X-Games for many years so we have some experiences with multivenue events like the World Cup.”
ESPN will offer coverage June 11 to July 11 from 10 stadiums in nine cities across South Africa. All 64 matches will be aired live and in HD (720p) on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, in addition to alternative coverage on ESPN360.com and ESPN Mobile TV. All World Cup studio programs, including prematch, halftime and postmatch segments, will also be presented in HD.
Breaking down the coverage, ESPN will air 44 World Cup matches from South Africa – the most ever for the network in one tournament. ESPN2 will feature 10 matches. ABC will broadcast 10, beginning with the U.S.’s team tournament opener vs. England 2 p.m. ET Saturday, June 12, in Rustenburg. The tournament will conclude on ABC with the title match at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, July 11, from the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg.
Signiant technology was also used by NBC Universal to deliver on-demand video to NBC during the network’s online coverage of the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games in February.