Live from Vancouver: Sotiris Salamouris, Olympic Broadcast Services, Head of Engineering
For Sotiris Salamouris, Olympics Broadcast Services (OBS) head of Engineering & Technical Operations, and the rest of the OBS team in Vancouver, putting the host feed together this year hasn’t been without its challenges. But all involved are happy with the first ever all-HD and Surround Sound production of a Winter Olympics. “All of the weather situations created more pressure on the installations but everyone worked hard and I think we’re doing well despite those challenges,” he says.
The well-documented lack of snow, for example, changed plans and delayed installations. “All of our plans are based on the fact that there is going to be snow and if there isn’t snow there is water and mud, not a nice paved area,” says Salamouris.
The snow also needs to be in place because the broadcast production infrastructure is the final piece of the infrastructure puzzle. But if Snow Cats are crossing a ski course moving snow then cabling can’t be laid down. Camera platforms also needed to be changed as they originally were built to stand on snow.
“It was a big problem but now we’re in good shape,” says Salamouris. Helping in some of those efforts were the use of fiber and Telecast Fiber sheds that allowed for multiple camera signals from along a course to be sent down one cable, reducing the still massive cabling needs.
Weather issues aside, OBS has been more than happy with the way some of its new workflows and services are working out. For example, this is the first Olympics where OBS is distributing five channels of SD content around the world via satellite. Four of the five channels deliver a combination of host coverage of events and previously feeds were only available in the IBC, leaving it up to the broadcaster to figure out how the signal was going to get to their broadcast facility.
“The five SD channels during the day switch to one HD and one SD channel at night,” says Salamouris. “And a good number of broadcasters, like those in Taiwan, Mongolia, Hong Kong, South Africa, and Latin America are using those signals.”
In terms of production workflows the biggest change is the ongoing development of the Olympic News Channel, a 24/7 channel that is the fifth of the four channels distributed worldwide. The channel is completely produced with highlights, interviews, live event coverage and more and is designed to be a turnkey solution for broadcasters looking for a higher level of production.
“In Beijing we had the proof of that concept and here the production level is many times higher,” says Salamouris. “We have 20 ENG teams that have Panasonic P2 cameras and create so much more content than we had in Beijing.”
Two important technical enhancements are making that service incredibly timely. Each crew has editing facilities at each venue where they can pre-edit packages using laptops with P2 editing, Apple Final Cut Pro, and EVS editing systems. The latter allows for metadata to be logged in with the content and when the content is received back at the International Broadcast Center (IBC) the content prepped with the EVS system can immediately be available for playout.
Another major technical enhancement is the use of 1 Gbps curcuits from each venue. “That allows files to be sent faster than real time so a 10-minute clip in DVCPROHD100 can be sent as quickly as six minutes,” adds Salamouris.
Salamouris says dealing with change, like weather conditions, is the essence of Winter Games coverage. “The Summer Olympics are three to four times as large as the Winter Games in all aspects but it is more static and if you have a plan you can follow it with little changes. But Winter Games are much different.”
This year, with all HD productions and Surround Sound at all venues that difference is about more than just the weather.