Sports Entertainment Summit: Fox Sports Blazing New Trails in File Transport, Media Management
Every NFL Sunday afternoon as fans across the country are just sitting down on their bar stools and couches for kickoff, Fox Sports Media Group is already entering the fourth and final stage in its weeklong NFL-media-management workflow. With hundreds of hours of game content and thousands of clips in play each week, the NFL on Fox remote operations, file-transport, and postproduction teams are in a constant battle against the clock that culminates each week with the Sunday kickoff.
“It’s a monumental task when you think about it,” Joe Coffaro, VP, Engineering, Fox Networks Engineering & Operations, said last week at SVG and Variety’s Sports Entertainment Summit in Los Angeles. “We receive these vast quantities of files each week from the remote [productions], then process that media, apply metadata, and log that information. Then add on the fact that comes in all flavors [of formats]. And that is all before the [producers] get their hands on it.”
The Four-Step Cycle
Each week during the NFL regular season, Fox’s media management operations are essentially split into four segments: processing the hundreds of hours of media that came in the previous Sunday, creating new content for the following Sunday, preparing that new material for distribution to the remote productions, and supporting the live broadcasts on game day.
As game day unfolds, all content is assigned with time-of-day metadata to determine when certain key events took place, allowing editors and producers to more easily find the necessary content for features and highlights. Once this content arrives at Fox’s Los Angeles broadcast center, the metadata assignment process begins.
“For example, if Aaron Rodgers throws five touchdowns, as the content comes in from the truck, those files are brought into our asset management system, a low-res proxy is created, and metadata [is assigned],” said Coffaro. “A producer can then look at the screen that has all that information on it and can perform a search for ‘Aaron Rodgers touchdowns’ and find everything he needs quickly.”
Eien Hyett, Executive Director, Post Production Operations, Fox Networks Group added: “At the end of the day, producers can browse or search and find the exact content they’re looking for the next weekend. That is a pivotal part of the week. If you are producing content and you can’t find the shots you need, then that can be a very tough day. If you don’t have good tools and you don’t have good, consistent naming conventions, it can get very difficult.”
A Next-Gen Workflow for the NFL A Game
Although extremely complex, this workflow is nothing new for Fox – or any sports network, for that matter. However, a substantial differentiator in this process came along last season when Fox began experimenting with a new highlights workflow on its NFL A game that directly connected the on-site EVS server network with the Los Angeles-based broadcast center. This provided the L.A. production team with access to camera angles that did make air when creating highlights and game updates.
As a result, producers have immediate access to multiple looks or super-slow-motion replays of key plays during a game, allowing them to create more compelling highlights for in-game updates or Fox’s The OT postgame show.
“We wanted to make this whole process more immediate and leverage the power of the studio to help create better content on game day,” said Mike Davies, VP, Field Operations, Fox Sports Media Group. “We wanted L.A. to be able to go and choose content that may have made air or may haven’t to give them more flexibility and make their highlights more interesting. So, on The OT, we would not just be showing the exact same highlights of what [the viewers] had already seen.”
This workflow is made possible by a Level 3 Vyvx VenueNet+ fiber connection that provides Fox with a 100 Mbps pipe to transmit clips back and forth between the remote and the broadcast center.
“There are two ways to use this – a push and a pull mechanism,” said Davies. “The push mechanism is a bit easier for everyone. The EVS people know what is going to be good for our edit so they put a dollar sign next to those key clips. Now those key clips go into a folder that can be accessed from [the Fox broadcast center]. The other way allows a person from the studio to browse the network, put clips in a shopping cart, and bring them back.”
Beyond the NFL A Game?
Although the workflow was used regularly on Fox’s NFL A game last season, it was primarily in the experimental phase as producers back in L.A. gradually gained experience in using the system. This season, however, Fox expects this strategy to become a normal part of its A-game workflow.
“By midway through last season, we were very successful in getting high-value content back to our studios in LA,” said Hyett. “We then incorporated that into our pieces that aired that same day in the postgame show. I think we can really build on that this season.”
As bandwidth costs and venue connectivity continues to become less of an issue for broadcasters (“It’s going to get more and more affordable…but we don’t see it happening in college or NASCAR [venues] anytime soon,” according to Davies), Fox believes this file-based workflow could dramatically change the face of remote production as we know it.
“In the future, we want to get to a point – if the pipes are there – where we can deliver our producers on the truck not only content from game day, but actually give them access to our entire library,” said Coffaro. “If they need a shot of Walter Payton during the game, we want them to be able to go into our library, pull that clip into the truck, and use it in a feature immediately.”