SVG Trade Mission to Brazil Highlights Opportunities, Risks
The Sports Video Group this week led a trade delegation to Brazil to help SVG members and sponsors better understand market opportunities related to the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, two events that have the potential to transform the Brazilian economy and broadcasting industries. Major Events International (MEI) coordinated the event that included visits to Band Sport, ESPN, Rede Record, two major stadiums, and meetings with executives from the Rio World Cup and Olympics organizing committees and Rio and Sao Paulo government leaders.
There is great optimism within the country that the two major sporting events can help transform the world’s perception of Brazil as a third world country (something it is not) as well as improve infrastructure and services so that the nation’s citizens have long-term benefits that extend well beyond 2016. But there are also many challenges as work on World Cup stadia is already behind schedule.
Even if construction of stadiums and hotels were on schedule, there are issues related to safety. The trade mission became uncomfortably familiar with the crime situation in Brazil as two delegates were robbed in two separate incidents: one by gunpoint in Sao Paulo and a second by knife point in Rio (neither was physically hurt). Those events, and the constant need to be diligent and modify plans in order to avoid unsafe situations, point to an additional stress level that will be a near constant during the launch of any commercial efforts related to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics.
Expanding Coverage Through Improved Broadcast Technology
There are plenty of technical advances taking place in broadcast facilities throughout the nation. Improvements to the ESPN Brasil facility in Sao Paulo embody some of the changes that will occur across the nation in coming years. ESPN’s home in Sao Paulo since 1989 is one of the most historic broadcasting facilities in the nation, first constructed in 1950. Earlier this year, the network moved its business operations to a different building and began converting the empty space to new technical facilities.
“We were studying alternatives for a new digital center but we could not wait to move before improving our facilities to support upcoming events,” said Fernando Castelani, engineering manager, ESPN Brasil.
ESPN Brasil, for example, has the cable rights to the 2012 London Olympics and expects to broadcast as much event coverage as it can over its three TV networks in the country. The new build that includes a move to a 100% tapeless and all-HD operation is part of that 2012 preparation. It includes three master control rooms with Ross production switchers, 24 Quantel editing suites, and six voiceover booths. The facility will also have a 3Gbps infrastructure based on Evertz routers and distribution gear that supports (possibly eventual) 1080p and 3D broadcast needs and Yamaha audio consoles. Other gear includes Harris playout servers and processors, frame rate converters from For.A and Snell, Aveco automation, a Front Porch archive system, Vizrt graphics, and cameras from Grass Valley, Panasonic, and Sony.
Also, transmission will make the move to MPEG4 distribution, cutting down on bandwidth requirements and opening up transponder space for additional services and the network expects to double the capacity of its fiber connection to ESPN facilities in Bristol and London from 155 Mbps to 300 Mbps.
A visit to Band Sport showed a different approach as the facility, one of four TV networks owned by Grupo Bandeirantes, is located in Sao Paulo and relies on Omneon Mediagrid storage, Vizrt graphics and asset management, and more than 50 Apple Final Cut Pro editing systems.
And a visit to Rede Record, the holders of the broadcast rights for the 2012 Olympics, gave a third perspective as the network is delivered to 196 stations across the country covering 96% of the country.
Networks Strive to Deliver First-Class Viewing Experience
Jose Marcelo Amaral, director of engineering and operations for Rede Record, says that sports is a big opportunity for the network that also has a 70,000 square meter production center in Rio that produces five soap operas at out of 11 buildings as well as 84 ENG crews producing eight hours of news in HD each day using the Sony XDCAM format.
Sergio Hilinski, Rede Record sports manager, refers to coverage of the Vancouver Olympics last year as the kind of commitment the network has to sports. “We had five athletes, but a crew of 150 and eight hours of daily coverage,” he says. “We left for Vancouver expecting to do only 1.5 hours a day but it expanded to eight as viewer reaction was good and they were glad we expanded the coverage.”
Next year, expect 320 Rede Record staffers to be in London as the network focuses on having announcers on site instead of working off tube watching the events in Brazil. Eduardo Canastra, an expert in sports rights, says the Rede bid for the 2012 games left TV Globo without over-the-air Olympics coverage and that much of the Brazilian TV industry will be watching to see whether Record can match Globo’s ability to deliver a first-class viewing experience.
A fourth network, Esporte Interativo, was represented by Mauricio Portela during a workshop in Rio. Esporte Interativo delivers sports content via free-to-air C-band satellite, the Web, and mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad. Portela says the pay TV market is still relatively small in Brazil, as only 20% of TV viewers subscribe to a service. That led the network, which delivers more than 1,000 live events this year, including NBA games, Champions League football, FIFA women’s World Cup, and the WWE, to deliver a free service via satellite (and it now reaches 31.1 million viewers).
“We do a lot of local production,” he said in reference to more than 70 hours of original content produced each week. Studios in Rio and Sau Paulo are used for interview and talk shows and the next step is to go HD.
“We are just now beginning our project on going SD to HD and we really believe we have a great opportunity to get our content onto platforms other than TV,” said Portela.
In terms of business opportunities within Brazil, the transition to HD provides one for nearly all equipment manufacturers. Today, there are less than five HD capable production trucks and then need will exceed 20 sooner rather than later.
Gearing Up for the “Mobile Olympics”
In addition, the growth in Internet connectivity and mobile video is expected to grow by upwards of eight times the current market size by the time the first ball is touched at the World Cup in 2014.
A presentation by Cisco, however, underlined the challenges in matching that growth. The top broadband speeds are typically 2 Mbps and cellular networks are still ramping up 3G, 4G, and LTE services. That makes the use of network management and adaptive bitrate technologies more important than ever to match the quality of the video to the available bandwidth.
There is also almost no optical fiber installed for video needs, as it is not common for the telecommunications companies to handle video transmissions over fiber. So the fiber that will be installed in the main venues for the World Cup and Olympics will be new.
Michelle Naili, an expert in sports broadcasting, said that with an event like the 2016 Olympics most likely to be the “mobile Olympics” in terms of viewers consuming the games on mobile devices and tablets.
“We need a lot of new technologies because if we receive the world they will expect to be able to use those devices,” she explained. “And in Brazil, we are looking for new technologies and there are many points developing a lot of new technologies and programs. But we also need help from other companies around the world.”
Infrastructure Issues Linger
For now, however, many of the efforts within Brazil, in particular Sau Paulo and Rio, are focused on revamping current stadiums so that they are ready for the 2013 Confederation Cup, a football tournament that will serve as a warmup event for the FIFA World Cup a year later. One government official from Sau Paulo laid out the challenge: decisions that are being made now with respect to construction and infrastructure should have been made long ago. And both cities are in a battle to see who can move most quickly as they attempt to snag events like the opening match that features Brazil, the opening and closing ceremonies, and more. Make no mistake: it is competitive.
In Rio, for example, the Maracana stadium, built in 1950 and one of the most important cultural sites in the country, is being rebuilt so that it can meet FIFA standards. The stadium is deep into the process of being torn down before being rebuilt with a roof over all seating, 10,500 parking spaces, VIP areas, and more. Pacaembu Stadium in Sao Paulo, meanwhile, is undergoing a similar rebuild as 17,000 temporary seats are being added to the 48,000 seats to get it to the 65,000 seats FIFA requires; work that has still not begun. Work on the former stadium is a $700 million investment and the latter is $480 million.
“FIFA is very demanding,” says Naili of the requirements requested for the World Cup stadium renovations.
But FIFA isn’t alone in being demanding. The IOC, broadcasters, freelance production professionals, journalists, and fans are demanding as well. The question now is whether those demands will be met, giving both Brazilian citizens, visiting fans, and professionals working on the events a safe, enjoyable, and profitable event. The answer will begin to come into focus in 2013 for the Confederation Cup. But all bets are off as to whether the experience meets expectations.