Live from London: Sky Italy delivers for Olympic viewers via fibre
Vincenzo Flores, head of production for Sky Italy sports channels, took time out of his busy schedule yesterday to chat with SVG about the massive effort Sky Italy is putting into a service that will deliver a wealth of Olympic content to viewers, thanks to a massive fibre pipe to Milan, a mosaic of 12 live channels of coverage, a 3D service, and an interactive service that, at the push of the button, brings up medal standings and results for specific sports.
And then there is an alert that can be set up. “Whatever channel you’re watching,” says Flores, “if an Italian wins a medal or if a medal event is starting, you will receive an alert.”
Sky Italy’s production is headquartered within the IBC but has OB units at the Olympic Stadium and Aquatics venue and studios around London, including one overlooking Olympic Park, another at Trafalgar Square, and a third near the HMS Belfast with a dramatic view of Tower Bridge. More than 270 personnel are on hand to ensure that Olympic fans throughout Italy receive more than 88 hours of live coverage every day spread across 12 networks. And the pressure, like that on the athletes, is immense.
“You don’t have a learning curve,” says Flores. “You have 15 days to do your best because there is no opportunity to do it again.”
The key to maximising the quality of the viewer’s experience in Italy is the use of a fibre network that connects the IBC to Milan.
“We use JPEG2000 encoders and transport signals at 130-240 Mbps so the quality is very good,” says Flores.
The Sky Italy IBC operations, installed by Rome-based rental company SBP, are centered on two production galleries, a master-control room, an EVS server with two IPDirectors, and an Avid Interplay system with editing suites. The IPDirectors manage clips that are ingested and then push them to the Avid Interplay system for editing. Clips are then pushed back to the EVS server for play to air out of the galleries and master control.
“The master-control room has 46 channels of incoming feeds from OBS plus signals from our unilateral facilities,” Flores explains. Those unilateral feeds come in from the Betanews OB van used at Olympic Stadium and a Cine Video OB unit stationed at the Aquatics Stadium.
“We also have one unilateral camera position at those venues,” he adds. “So the director can integrate those shots into the multichannel distribution programme supplied by OBS.”
Flores says the first gallery is used to produce the first channel, the equivalent of a hub that offers top highlights and interviews but also keeps viewers up to date on what is happening on the other channels so that fans won’t miss the events they want to see. The second gallery is shared by Sky Sport 24 and Sky News 24, the two news networks that offer updates to viewers throughout the day and evening.
There are also six channels of EVS in each gallery as well as Vizrt graphics. With 12 channels of coverage, there is also plenty of need for commentators, and Flores says that 70% of the sports are commented live from the venues, 20% off tube from Milan, and 10% at the IBC from two booths within the Sky Italy production area.
“We want to be here in London and in the middle of what is happening as interviews and information are better when you are here,” he says of the large presence in London.
ENG crews also play a part in keeping Sky Italy in the middle of things, with seven ENG crews armed with Panasonic P2 recorders and another three with the P2 gear plus audio mixers. Those systems are used in mixed-zone operations, where Sky Italy has installed dedicated fibre connections, allowing interviews to be sent back directly to the IBC with maximum quality.
It has already been a good couple of days for the Italians, who are third in the medal count.
Ditto for Sky Italy’s efforts. “Things are going well,” says Flores.