BT Sport has designed, outfitted and is now testing the infrastructure and procedures necessary to go live with its sports channels in August.
This feature is taken from the June/July issue of Broadcast TECH. Click here for the digital edition.
It will be barely 14 months from when BT entered the live sports market by landing live Premier League rights to the launch of its new channels on 1 August – and it will have taken just seven months for the entire technical operation to boot up.
That’s an incredibly tight deadline for such a high-stakes bet (£738m for the football alone) that will see the BT Sport Production Hub output at least 38 Barclays Premier League matches and 69 live Aviva Premiership rugby union games a year, plus WTA tennis and assorted French, Italian, Brazilian and North American football leagues.
“Without question, the timescale has been the biggest challenge,” says BT Sport chief engineer Andy Beale.
“We didn’t get the keys to the facility until 4 February. When we talk with our colleagues in the industry about the scale of what we are building to meet the August deadline, we are met with looks of disbelief.”
The broadcaster’s first task, which fell to BT Sport chief operating officer Jamie Hindhaugh, was to find a home for the new channels BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and ESPN. He reportedly assessed Dock10 and Pinewood Studios before opting to lease 80,000 sq ft at iCity, the joint-venture development of the Olympic Park press and broadcast centre by data centre Infinity and real estate investor Delancey.
With little internal experience of live sport broadcasting, BT knew it had to source external expertise. One of its first appointments was Timeline Television, to act as managed service provider for the technical operation.
Timeline’s initial job was to lead the design and equipment specification of the new facility.
“We split the task into three parts: studios, connectivity and tapeless workflows,” explains Timeline managing director Daniel McDonnell.
Work began with a blank sheet of paper, or rather a cavernous ware- house with 11m high ceilings at the former Olympic broadcast centre in Stratford. BT’s brief called for a 10,000 sq ft centrepiece and two further studios of 3,500 sq ft and 2,000 sq ft, all of which could be combined into one large space and lit by energy-efficient LED panels.
Four smaller presentation galleries on the building’s upper level will predominantly cater for European football packages. Twenty edit suits, eight voiceover booths, a dubbing theatre and a QC suite round out the facility.
“The plan was to ensure that all the spaces are integrated and flexible, so we can route any camera and any mic to any space from any of the galleries,” explains McDonnell.
The same philosophy informed the build of the Master Control Room. Each gallery is designed to control each of the other two studios, allowing maximum flexibility of staff, equipment and space. There are CCU slots for 24 cameras, though BT has initially purchased 15 Sony HDC-2400s. In addition, the production can use locked-off Shotoku TG-18 camera heads in the studios. These can be fitted with the Sony 2400s or smaller Sony H1 cameras.
Radio-link technology from Cobham allows multiple aerials to be deployed across the facility both inside and out, so someone operating an RF camera can walk between areas without any picture disturbance.
“For example, a presenter could walk from the studio floor down the corridor and outside to the stadium all in one shot,” says McDonnell.
Calrec Artemis Light desks feature in the main audio control rooms, with Hydra connectivity allowing any sound source to be called up instantly on any mixer. There are Wisycom wireless mics and in-ear monitors for the on-air presenters, plus Yamaha CL3s in the smaller galleries.
All media is captured in AVC-Intra at 100Mbps, “because you can achieve a high-quality image for a smaller file size”, says Beale, and also because it is the format ratified by the Digital Production Partnership for HD delivery.
“One of the advantages of starting from scratch is that we can work end to end in the same codec, and specify that to suppliers, which is incredibly useful with a large tapeless system as it saves on transcode time,” says Beale. Sony MVS-3000 mixers with two mix effects and 32 inputs were selected ahead of the more fully featured MVS-7000, as they were considered to be powerful enough, and standardising on one switcher system “simplifies operator training and retains operational agility,” says Beale.
These deliver images onto Evertz VIP series multiviewers and 46-inch NEC monitors. Binding the whole facility together is a Snell Sirius 850 router. “Every output has redundant cross points, which are a big advantage over some matrixes,” says Beale.
“If you don’t have full redundancy then, likely as not, that will be the point that falls over on air. So we’ve eradicated that as a risk.” It’s also 3G-capable, which means BT has insulated itself for 4K broadcasts, although this is not part of its short-term plan. To ensure failsafe transmission, the entire operation, including MediaGrid and Avids, is mirrored at BT Tower, with the parallel systems linked by 10Gb cable.
The third major design criteria was for a fully tapeless workflow, the backbone of which is EVS technology. Media entering the MCR on one of 100 lines is fed into one of the 32 ports on EVS XS servers.
This media is then streamed in both high res and low res onto a 1Pb Harmonic Media- Grid central content store. From the MediaGrid, low-resolution footage can be accessed by any of the 200 desktops using EVS IP Browse.
Both live and archive material can be browsed and clipped. Assembled clip sequences can be sent to Avid Symphony for finishing or direct to any of the 10 EVS XT3 playout servers (below), ready for TX. Completed edits can also be sent from the Avid suites to the galleries for live transmission or to Red Bee Media for playout later.
Red Bee playout
All content will be produced at iCity but playout, via four direct lines, is from Red Bee, which will handle all repeats or re-runs. All galleries and VTs will be switched down these lines, with permanent talkback to the Red Bee transmission galleries.
Edits and completed packages will be delivered as files using an Aspera server. “There’s no point having a tapeless system if you can’t find what you are looking for,” says McDonnell. “The whole process is conceived around comprehensive logging profiles, which will range from basic entry of major incidents, such as scores and red cards, to detailed logs about who is being interviewed.”
BT’s production partner Sunset + Vine has yet to announce its OB supplier but Beale says remote production – the idea of controlling certain OB operations from the studio – won’t be practised from day one.
“It’s something we are looking at, but for the first stage we will be doing it the traditional way,” he says. “With [dedicated IP network] BT MPLS [Multi-Protocol Label Switching] we get good data connectivity from OBs, so in future we can access more clips and angles live from the hub.
We are looking at trialling EVS C-Cast, but as this is such a big install, we can’t go down every route at once.” “Operational testing has begun and while we will have about 25 permanent staff, we will employ a large pool of freelancers, VT editors and camera-operators,” adds McDonnell. “As well as taking on experienced staff, we are going to work with Ravensbourne and other education facilities to train graduates.”
Graphics and analytics
Sunset + Vine’s remit includes live graphics and analytics, for which it has subcontracted Moov Graphics in a five-year deal.
Moov will install live graphics systems, a cloud-based ordering platform and second-screen integration tools in seven studio galleries and a graphics suite at BT Sport’s Stratford complex.
It has selected ChyronHego as its graphics systems provider, with the firm’s BlueNet workflow system to be used for sharing content across the network and managed in the cloud. Moov will install iMoov, a new service that allows production teams to use a web browser to build and share graphics before sending them to a studio playout or render engine.