Live from Euro 2012: Venue Operations Find Smooth Sailing
“You have to adapt to the local culture,” says Fuehr of how an international organisation must approach working with local venue operations, construction, and other personnel. “You can’t just say, ‘This is how we do it.’ We have a framework and have adapted it to the local culture, whether it is manpower, setting up, or other assistance. You need to make the team work together.”
That work has paid off so far because all eight venues, both those that are new and those that have existed for decades, have a similar feel when it comes to broadcast operations. Each has a broadcast compound between 5,500 and 7,000 square meters, plenty of room for the multilateral production trucks for the TV signals and scoreboard video and those from broadcasters doing unilateral coverage. Camera positions are the same from venue to venue, and technical offerings like pitch-side studios, internal studios, lighting, and camera connections are consistent in feel, connectivity, and location.
The goal is simple: to minimise the amount of technical setup required for each match.
“The only areas a unilateral broadcaster will need to run cables is the mixed zone, their unilateral camera positions, and the press-conference area,” says Fuehr. “Even the trucks just arrive and plug into the compound [for camera signals]. It avoids having messy cables, safety risks, and having us assisting on cable runs.”
Each venue has approximately 180 people on-site working on the TV production. The core production teams work at two venues, and now, with the tournament heading into the next phase, only four venues will be in use: Warsaw, Gdansk, Kyiv, and Donetsk.
Although the crews have moved between venues, the OB units have not. Fuehr says the distances are too large, road conditions and traffic too uncertain, and, most important, this year, the OB unit is used to produce content the day before the actual match.
“We are delivering coverage of training and practices so that full production day cuts off another travel day,” he adds.
Broadcasters have a number of options to have an actual presence within the venue. Four pitch-side studio locations, each measuring 4 x 3 meters, are available with pre-cabling and available first to the broadcasters from the two nations that are playing. And inside the stadium (and near the tunnel that leads to the pitch) are eight unilateral flash positions complete with lighting.
“Those all have the cables hidden nicely so that broadcasters can just plug and play,” says Fuehr. “It’s super clean because there are a lot of people in the area prior to and after the match.”
And new this year are two studios on simple platforms located on the tribune level, where the other larger broadcast studios are located. Positioned in the corner of the tribune level, they provide a panoramic view of the pitch and also give the broadcasters a chance to be on-air right up to match time.
“It’s better for broadcasters because the pitch-side studios need to be off the field 10 minutes prior to the match, and that final 10 minutes is an interesting time,” says Fuehr. “So we constructed two fully equipped platforms.”
And even the commentary positions have a new offering. They are tight quarters, with commentators located in a large section in the second level overlooking the pitch. But small robotic cameras can be located behind each commentator table and, coupled with touchscreen tablets, can allow broadcasters to stand up, turn to the camera, and deliver images with the pitch behind them, perfect for pre-game, halftime, and post-game coverage.
Audio signals from the commentary positions are delivered to a commentary control area inside the stadium that then delivers the signals via fiber circuits to the IBC where they are then delivered to the correct broadcaster. Signals can also be passed out to unilateral production trucks in the compound.
The success to date is the latest example of how proper planning and coordination with stadium personnel can make a difference when the event begins.
“Quite a lot of the venues were new, and we were able to be part of that process and allocate our space needs quite early,” adds Fuehr. “And we’ve also been able to work alongside other departments in UEFA to help us with technical areas and allocation of studios.”
UEFA Puts Broadcasters Front and Center
Euro 12 is under way, and, for UEFA and 44 broadcasters around the globe, it got off to a good start technically in the first two weeks. The team, headquartered at an International Broadcast Center in Warsaw as well as eight stadiums across Poland and the Ukraine, delivered deeper match coverage to a wider range of distribution platforms than ever before. “It’s a big production covering two countries from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, and they are vast,” says Bernie Ross, head of TV production for UEFA.
A number of advances have been made since the last Euro, held in 2008 in Austria and Switzerland. In terms of match coverage, the biggest change is the addition of a second high-speed camera for all matches, a reverse camera to get shots of VIPs, two reverse-coverage cameras, and an RF handheld camera to capture fan reactions.
“The main focus will be on fan reactions and showing a bit more of the richness and sense of the event in the stadium,” explains Ross. “Broadcasters can exploit those dedicated fan cameras that include the RF camera and a couple of dedicated super-slow-motion cameras.”
Logistics are often the biggest challenge for an event this size, and Euro 12 is no different. Driving from Warsaw to Kiev, for example, covers 820 kilometers, but estimated travel time by car is more than 13 hours, an average of only 60 kilometers per hour. Those relatively slow speeds seem about the norm across the two countries.
“In 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, if we couldn’t get from Vienna to Salzburg or from Zurich to bern on one way, there were three other ways to get there, but here it’s different,” says Ross. “So we keep the trucks at each venue.”
Those OB units will produce 31 matches with a record 32 cameras covering the game, plus an additional seven cameras per match covering team arrivals, press conferences, and fans. Another new camera this year is the Cueball, a system that will be placed close to the net of the goal.
“We want something that gives different angles but is not a gimmick,” says Ross. “There is no real space for a gimmick at this level because it becomes a distraction.”
While the additional cameras will give a better sense of what it is like inside the stadium during a match, the broadcast partners delivering Euro 12 to viewers around the world also want to give a more personal touch from the stadiums. Assisting this year are broadcast announce platforms that will be located alongside the broadcast studios and provide an additional option for broadcasters who want talent to be in the stadium where atmosphere is maximised.
A massive EVS infrastructure at the venues will be located in each OB unit, featuring eight XT3 eight-channel servers; two six-channel XT3 LSM Hypermotion (plus extra cameras mode); three four-channel XT3 LSM and IPDirectors for clipping, content management, and highlight creation; and one six-channel XT3 for infotainment needs.
Of course, technology is only part of the equation. The directors have a great influence in shaping the coverage. Francois Lanaud is directing matches in Lviv and Kyiv, including the final; Jean-Jacques Amsellem is in Poznan and Wroclaw; Knut Fleischmann is in Donetsk and Kharkiv; Jamie Oakford is in Gdansk and Warsaw; and John Watts directed the opening ceremony and match.
Meanwhile, at the IBC
Match coverage is delivered back to the 14,000-square-meter IBC, where all incoming signals are received via diverse fibre networks from the venues and passed to the master-control room. There the signals are synchronized, pass through quality control, and are then switched and distributed out to rights holders.
For each match, broadcasters have eight feeds available: the Live Stadium Feed at the core of the broadcast; a Clips Channel offering different replays; a Fan/Reaction Channel; two team feeds that focus on the benches of each team; a Tactical Feed from the behind-goal high camera angle; and an uninterrupted feed from the main match camera, camera 1.
“HBS [Host Broadcast Services] handled the main activity of building the IBC to the design we wanted, including the master-control room and the commentary systems,” says Ross. “They do a very good job.”
More than 400 UEFA production personnel are on hand at the IBC (plus about 100 are at each of the eight stadiums), handling everything from booking locations at the venues to transmission and quality control to editing and content creation for TV, the Web, mobile devices, tablets, and more.
“We have the burden to deliver solutions [for what the broadcasters want to do],” explains Ross. “There is a large amount of video content on the Website, and the Internet production team shares all the content on the SAN [with the broadcast team], which is a new concept.”
The content available to broadcasters includes much more than just the game action. More than 20 camera crews are traveling around Poland and the Ukraine with the teams, getting video of players leaving and getting on buses, practices, and more. And beginning in December, UEFA delivered eight 26-minute magazine shows and 30 minutes of raw footage to rights holders.
“We took our magazine shows up to the next level, and when you add in the live matches coming in every day, we will create about 2,000 hours of content,” says Ross.
At the center of all IBC operations is LIVEX, a content-delivery service that was first used successfully at Euro 08.
“LIVEX is a server provided in conjunction with EVS that delivers all the internal services for broadcasters,” says Ross. All match feeds, footage, and more than 400 hours of additional UEFA programming are searchable via a fully logged digital library and available for browsing at low resolution. The file format is AVC Intra 100 within an MXF wrapper.
At the core of LIVEX are six EVS XT3 systems used to ingest 24 HD-SDI channels onto a SAN that can store 6,000 hours of content and has 30 Gbps of bandwidth, allowing UEFA staffers to browse low-res proxy video using 25 IPDirectors and then pull out high-resolution versions. There are also 13 Apple Final Cut Pro editing systems with IP Link (allowing them to access the IPDirector database and import clips in real time), seven Xedio CE editing suites for ENG rushes, and 15 XTaccess systems to exchange and transcode media.
Also available is LIVEX-On Demand, a password-protected Web interface that allows clips, packages, and other content to be browsed at low resolution via Web browser, ordered, and then delivered, through a cloud-based system from Aspera, in the XDCAM HD 50 format.
“It’s working extremely well, as already more than 1,600 items [as of June 21] have come straight into the server for editing and then pushed to broadcasters,” says Ross.
With the tournament not ending until July 1, there will no doubt be thousands of additional items available by then. But even given that large amount of content, it is guaranteed that Euro 12 will be a quaint memory come 2016. When the next tournament begins, in France, there will be an additional eight teams and an additional 20 matches, placing an even larger burden on staff, infrastructure, and logistics.
UEFA and its rights holders will be ready.
UEFA, EVS Innovate with New Tablet Publishing Workflow
UEFA prides itself on providing all the tools and content necessary for broadcast rights holders looking to get the most out of Euro 2012 rights. The newest way is a white label app for tablet devices and a new workflow for getting video content into the app quickly and easily.
The core technology behind the app is EVS C-Cast, a system that makes it possible to easily build a highlight clip that synchronizes multiple camera angles without a tremendous amount of manual assembly. Those clips are then published to the app and allow the fan to view the replay in a nearly limitless number of ways.
C-Cast was introduced at IBC last September and Luc Doneux, EVS, head of EMEA, APAC, and events, says its use at Euro 2012 is the first deployment where the content is being assembled and published at a central point, in this case the IBC in Warsaw, rather than at the venue.
“We can clip the segment we want from the live feed here at the IBC and send a command to the server on the truck at the venue and then get the 23 camera angles transcoded in MPEG4 at 2.5 Mbps,” explains Doneux. “We can then transfer, preview, and approve the angles we want to have published to the app.” To ensure the clips are published within three minutes of the actual event occurring only four or five angles are made chosen.
“You could put 20 angles but then you would create a [processing] backlog so we try to keep to four or five angles and then during halftime or after the game republish another 50 angles of plays,” says Doneux.
The app publishes the clips in a number of formats and quality levels to best suit the fan’s capabilities. The app is also integrated with Twitter and is available in five languages.
The new workflow proves out the possibility for a TV network to have an app publishing team at a network facility monitor EVS servers at multiple simultaneous matches or games and then create clips for numerous games rather than requiring a dedicated crew in the field for each match.
While UEFA and EVS have proved out a workflow and created a white-label app for all of the broadcast rights holders the big challenge now appears to be getting the app development teams at the rights holders comfortable with the concept.
“They want to know how it fits in with their app or if it is in conflict with their app,” says Doneux. “But TSN in Canada offered it for free and the feedback was really good and they were very happy with it.”