NBC Olympics breaks new ground in workflow for Sochi Games
Beginning tonight, NBC Olympics’ coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, will give new meaning to the phrase “spanning the globe,” with production teams at each venue, the IBC, and back home in Stamford, CT, connected more closely than ever.
Since the 2008 Beijing Games, NBC Olympics has used the large fiber and data pipes to do much more than just backhaul content. The goal has been to give production personnel, no matter where they are located, access to the content they need when they need it and with true autonomy. This year, NBC has accomplished that goal: Not only are the two main production centers in Sochi and Stamford connected, but all the venue production teams are as well.
“We’ve never tried having connected venues, and the idea of doing this is a huge leap,” says Darryl Jefferson, VP, digital workflow, NBC Sports & Olympics. “[The connected IBC in] London was a huge leap, but to extend off of that and make spurs for every venue in the coastal cluster and a spur for the mountain cluster is huge. At the Alpine event, someone can log into the system, find a clip, and then send it to themself.”
Server and media-asset–management (MAM) technologies from Avid, EVS, and Harmonic play the key role in both Sochi and Stamford as the FileCatalyst file-transfer platform allows users to search for content within EVS IPDirector and then move files back and forth across the Atlantic (and then some) via Level 3 circuits.
“The big change now is, there is just one MAM system,” says Sascha Tischer, solution engineer, Interplay MAM delivery, Avid. “In 2012, there was one MAM in London and one in Stamford, but now there is just one.”
One of the more fascinating aspects of the system is that, when staffers in Sochi want to find a clip or piece of content, they find it courtesy of metadata input by a logger in Stamford, where events will be logged as they happen. The metadata from the host broadcast, Olympic Broadcaster Services (OBS), is married with the logger’s metadata to provide a complete picture of what happened and what makes it worth using.
“OBS is on the hook to deliver the objective metadata, like when the race started, who is racing, and who won,” says Jefferson. “And our loggers will log information like an athlete hugged their mom or fist-bumped a teammate. Those subjective log notes are important.”
As that information is logged in Stamford, production teams using 41 Avid editing systems and four EVS playback machines at the IBC in Sochi and additional gear at the venues can use the metadata to begin assembling content for air. About 288 TB of Avid Media Grid storage and 85 TB of EVS storage is on-site at NBC’s IBC operations, and more than 5.5 PB of archived material is in Stamford.
“Most of the venues have Avid systems, some just EVS, and some a mix of Avid and EVS,” says Jefferson. “The format flavor of the day is [a Sony] XDCAM OP1A file, so the systems will then take that content in and transcode it for the EVS servers.”
The team in Stamford includes more than 300 staffers working on everything from logging to creating a number of programs. The Gold Zone will take viewers from one event to the next, keeping up with the hottest action between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET (and, this year, Andrew Siciliano, host of DIRECTV’s NFL Red Zone Channel, will co-host along with Golf Channel host Ryan Burr).
Also originating out of Stamford will be Olympic Ice, a daily half-hour studio show that will stream on NBCOlympics.com and Live Extra starting at 5:30 p.m. That program will feature overviews of all the figure-skating action, of which there is plenty this year, thanks to a new team-skating event that began yesterday.
Olympic News Desk will also be produced out of Stamford, offering updates throughout the day at NBCOlympics.com.
And then there are the promo and marketing departments, which will access content to build needed elements, and the curling coverage, in which five baseband signals will be sent to Stamford, where announcers will call the action off-tube.
“Half of the education is figuring out where stuff is and then identifying and keeping track of assets, as each group works a little bit differently,” says Jefferson.
The Olympic Games provide an example of the growth of “at home” efforts: A centralized production team like OBS does much of the camera and event production work, allowing the rightsholders to concentrate on editing and building story packages.
“You certainly want a presence on-site, but you can often do just as good of a job from far away,” says Jefferson. “The difference today is that technology is no longer in the way. … We are not waiting for another advancement. It’s really a matter of what you are trying to do.”